Ben Simmons makes his long-awaited return to Philadelphia, some nine months after parting ways with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2016.
While both teams have moved on from the February blockbuster, Simmons has yet to play against his old team at Wells Fargo Center, and the Aussie is expecting plenty of noise from the Philly faithful.
“Come on now, I know what’s coming. It’s a part of the game,” Simmons said ahead of the matchup.
“One thing about Philly fans [is] they’re incredible. They’re die-hard Philly — everything Philly, whatever it is. I respect that about the city — it’s a sports town.”
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Simmons’ tenure in Philly ended on a messy note — from a playoff meltdown against the Hawks to trade requests and an extended absence from the team, souring what was otherwise four productive seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.
While it’s easy to remember how he left, Simmons’ time with the 76ers was filled with highlights and accomplishments, beginning with his barnstorming rookie season.
After sitting out his first season due to injury, Simmons took the league by storm in 2017-18, averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds on 54.5 percent shooting from the field.
In his NBA debut, Simmons recorded 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, with former 76ers head coach Brett Brown unleashing his gigantic point guard on the league.
“It felt like I was playing 2K, honestly,” Simmons said postgame. “I was using my size and speed to my advantage, and I think I did a good job at that. I could have done it a few more times, maybe we would have won, but we’re gonna get there.”
A 6-foot-10 point guard with elite defensive ability was something the league hadn’t seen in years … or maybe ever. The Aussie looked set to usher in a new era in Philly, helping them go from 28 wins the season prior to 52 wins that year as the 76ers burst into the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.
From the flashy behind-the-back dimes to the bulldog-like defense and his ability to punish teams in transition, Simmons was a nightly highlight in Philly.
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Simmons would go on to be named Rookie of the Year and join Andrew Bogut (2006) as the only other Australian to be named to an All-Rookie First Team. More importantly, his emergence alongside Joel Embiid signaled the success of “The Process” with two elite talents as the cornerstones for the franchise after years of losing seasons.
Simmons ultimately brought hope that “The Process” was not in vain.
Let’s not forget, there was a real argument over Simmons and Embiid and which player the organisation should build their future around, with Simmons enjoying some of his best games in a 76ers uniform when Embiid was out, including a 42-point near triple-double against the Jazz, a 34-point triple-double with five steals against the Nets and, of course, the winning streak at the end of the 2018 regular season, which saw Simmons average 15.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 2.0 steals in the eight games Embiid sat.
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Simmons would earn three All-Star selections, two All-Defensive First Team nods, an All-NBA Third Team selection, lead the league in steals once and finish runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year, with the 76ers finishing no lower than third in the Eastern Conference standings in each of Simmons’ four seasons.
Failing to make it out of the second round, Philadelphia’s playoff frustrations grew on the fanbase as did the constant chatter surrounding his lack of shooting and his numbers, while solid, stagnating since his rookie season.
What was a productive regular season combination, the Embiid-Simmons dynamic fell short in the playoffs. With the court shrinking and the duo occupying the same spaces on the court, it seemed like a matter of time before they were broken up, giving Embiid the space to become a dominant low-post threat and Simmons an opportunity to run his own team, surrounded by shooters as he blurred up and down the court at warp speed.
Sure, that hasn’t exactly panned out for Simmons, with injuries, off-court drama and a new landing spot in Brooklyn changing his role on the court for now, but he is slowly finding his feet with the Nets, looking more like the player that was an All-Star lock early in his career.
As he prepares to walk out in front of the vocal Philadelphia crowd Tuesday night, it will be a night of mixed emotions. Simmons arrived in Philadelphia on the back of a ton of losing and left with them as a perennial Eastern Conference power. While the messy divorce left his relationship with the 76ers fans in tatters, there’s no denying Simmons was a certified star in Philadelphia.