Things have suddenly shifted, and it sounds like we won't see Ben Simmons in the Australian Boomers' green and gold in China this year.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Simmons' status for the upcoming 2019 FIBA World Cup is "doubtful", via agent Rich Paul. The point guard is looking towards offseason preparation for the Philadelphia 76ers' next season.
This isn't entirely unexpected. Among other factors, Simmons' commitment hinged on his rookie extension deal being inked, and so far, it has been a work in progress.
What surprised everyone, was when Simmons announced on his Twitter in mid-May, that he would be a Boomer for "upcoming events".
There was also a sneak peek of him in a Boomers jersey, in June.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed on 3 July, that a five-year max extension was offered to Simmons, with details to be hammered out. Thanks to the new salary cap, that figure has risen to $170 million.
Exact details were unknown, but Fox Sports Australia's Olgun Uluc made projections on how the max rookie extension would look like, starting from $29 million in the first year, and climbing to $38 million in the 2025/26 season.
Under the Rose Rule, Simmons' salary could skyrocket, should he make MVP, Defensive Player of the Year or an All-NBA team next season.
The Pick and Roll's Ben Mallis also pointed out the time factor in this negotation, given how close the Boomers are to the World Cup and that the contract should ideally be signed before Simmons puts the green and gold on.
There was also always going to be the risk of injury, with fellow Australian Dante Exum' injury against Slovenia, being an example in recent years. It made sense to be safe and continue personal development.
With Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum unavailable as he returns from injury, and Dallas Mavericks sharpshooter Ryan Broekhoff ruled out due to the arrival of his first child, and Detroit Pistons big man Thon Maker ruling himself out, Simmons' absence would be a further setback to Australia's World Cup medal aspirations. The 6'10 point guard is the kind of athlete Australia has never before boasted at international level, and has the ability to help the Boomers achieve a first ever medal this World Cup or the coming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
While Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis will have to adjust his plans minus Simmons, Simmons' potential withdrawal from the World Cup campaign could also adversely impact the warm up games set to be played against Canada and Team USA in Perth and at Melbourne's 55,000 seat capacity Marvel Stadium in August.
Yet there could be a silver lining for Simmons bypassing national duties in 2019.
As reported by Ben Mallis in February, multiple NBA scouts who spoke with The Pick and Roll were unanimous on this: Simmons must commit an entire offseason to his jumpshot, if it is to improve.
“He needs to lock himself in a gym all summer and break down his shooting mechanics,” said an Eastern Conference scout. This will be a near impossible exercise should Simmons commit to the Boomers World Cup campaign, as national team duties would occupy him from early August through to the beginning of NBA training camp in mid-September.
With an expected five years, $170 million (USD) contract (approximately AUD$243 million) on the table, Simmons is set to become Australia’s highest ever paid sportsperson the instant he signs. His earning potential as a player is likely to exceed half a billion-dollars over the next twenty years, possibly even more when allowing for endorsement deals.
If Simmons does officially withdraw from national duties for this World Cup campaign, it is hard not to forgive him as he looks to work on his game, improve his outside shot, and enhance his future earning potential, as well as career in the NBA.
Simmons has always placed the Olympics as a priority when discussing the chances of him pulling on a Boomers jersey. If Simmons improves on his game this offseason, it could only enhance the chances of Australia standing on the podium in Tokyo 2020.