After missing the entire 2016-17 season recovering from a foot injury, Philadelphia 76ers point-forward Ben Simmons more than made up for lost time this past season.
Simmons played in 81 games and averaged 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists, shooting 54.5 percent from the field during the regular season. His stellar play earned him the 2017-18 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Simmons registered 38 double-doubles and 12 triple-doubles. The Sixers made the playoffs and advanced to the second round, where they lost to the Boston Celtics in five games.
Now that LeBron James is in the Western Conference, the East is wide-open. Experts have the Celtics as the early favorites to go to the NBA Finals since Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are expected to be healthy. Without Irving and Hayward during the 2018 postseason, Boston took James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, so one would surmise the Celtics will be even more dangerous with its two stars back.
Simmons understands the Sixers have to get past Boston to ultimately reach its end goal.
“We’ve got to get past Boston,” Simmons told Sporting News. “Those are the guys at the top right now. Beating them, that’s our next goal. Obviously, getting further than the second-round and winning the Eastern Conference Finals and then moving on to the Finals.”
At the opening of his “I PROMISE” school in Akron, Ohio, James admitted that the Sixers were one of three teams, along with the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets, he strongly considered signing with following his second stint with the Cavaliers.
Simmons spoke to James before James decided to sign with the Lakers.
“I spoke to him before he actually decided, but I just had a feeling that he’d already picked so it was kinda funny,” Simmons told NBA Australia’s James McKern. “I was reaching out to him, but I already knew.”
The Sixers were not only trying to get James this summer, but were also pursuing a trade for Kawhi Leonard and had free agent Paul George as a target as well. Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors, while George re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Despite the Sixers striking out with its top three summer targets, the franchise still has a bright future with Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the way.