What does Ben Simmons' big week really mean to Australia?
The Philadelphia 76ers recently confirmed they had reached an agreement with star point guard and soon to be Boomer, Ben Simmons. The Sixers signed the Australian to the full five-year, $170 million rookie scale max, tying him with the franchise until the end of the 2024/25 season.
The news didn’t stop there. Simmons also confirmed he would not be available for the Boomers’ assault on their first medal in a major men’s basketball tournament, when he withdrew from the FIBA 2019 World Cup to be held in China later this year.
The silver lining? Simmons will take part in the four August pre-tournament exhibition games against Canada and Team USA, first in Perth and then at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne.
In a statement posted on social media, Simmons reiterated his commitment to wearing the green and gold long-term: “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honoured and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”
With the first exhibition game against Canada less than a month away, let’s break down what this latest news means for the Boomers’ chances in China come September.
Why is Simmons playing the exhibition games?
This is without a doubt, the interesting part of the equation. NBA teams often loathe it when their star players participate in national team competition during the offseason, particularly outside of major tournaments.
Simmons was already scheduled to be in Australia at that time, hosting a series of camps for junior players on home soil, and will now join the Boomers for their training camp in early August.
One reason that resulted in his withdrawal for the World Cup, was the proximity of the incoming NBA season. Simmons wanted to attend training camp in Philadelphia, which begins in September. The Sixers have acquired a number of new pieces over the free agency period, and it makes sense for the point guard to train with his new squad, as the franchise eyes its first potential NBA Finals appearance since 2001.
Brian Michael Jacobs of The Painted Lines, also mentioned that sources around the 76ers confirmed Simmons’ primary focus is his shooting this offseason, and that his decision to not play for the Boomers was not a Sixers ultimatum.
Injuries can happen at any time; one would have to believe the Sixers front office will be holding their breath during the warmup games, with Paul George and Dante Exum providing recent examples of national team accidents that ended in devastating fashion. It is particularly so for Exum, who has struggled to remain healthy since tearing his ACL playing for the Boomers in August, 2015.
Moving away from the pessimistic angle, Simmons’ suiting up and declaration of intent to play at the Olympics is a major development for an Australian team, that is set to contend at the top level for years to come.
Can the Boomers still win a medal at the World Cup?
Simmons’ withdrawal is a huge blow to the Boomers’ chances. He joins Thon Maker (focus on NBA), Ryan Broekhoff (personal) and Dante Exum (injury) on the list of NBA rostered players to miss the World Cup.
Before the omissions were known, Australia was already facing a ‘group of death‘. A collision course with the formidable Canada squad would open their campaign up on 1st September.
Canada unveiled a 29-man training camp squad this week, headlined by a host of NBA talents including Jamal Murray (Denver), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City), Corey Joseph (Sacramento), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland), and R.J. Barrett (New York), among a host of others.
The sixth-ranked Lithuania squad is also in the same group, creating a dangerous path for the Boomers to reach the quarter-final stage with a depleted roster.
Now that Simmons will not be part of the Boomers’ World Cup squad, the Boomers will likely roll with the veteran guard duo of Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills, who will once again carry the responsibility for a large portion of Australia’s offence and playmaking.
That being said, replacing Simmons’ stifling defence, dynamic playmaking and fearsome transition attack will be simply impossible. The path became significantly more daunting, but with a number of teams clustered in the pack behind Team USA, the Boomers will give themselves some chance of reaching the podium, beginning with that marquee clash on 1st September in Dongguan.
To celebrate or commiserate?
From a selfish point of view, Simmons’ inclusion in the exhibition games is a monster coup for Australian basketball, with arguably the best talent ever to come out of Australia set to thrill the growing number of diehard hoops fans in the nation.
For years now, Australian basketball fans have rubbed their collective hands in anticipation for this September, particularly after the Olympic devastation in Rio against Spain, believing a full-strength Australian side could legitimately challenge for a gold medal at the World Cup.
Simmons’ withdrawal is undoubtedly disappointing, but before you bring the tissues out, let’s celebrate the announcement for what we will get, and that’s a chance to see an Australian who’s also a top 25 player in the world, actually play on home hardwood, something we have arguably (if you are feeling argumentative) never seen before.
Boomers head coach, Andrej Lemanis will be looking to finalise preparations for China with the players who will be available, making it difficult to predict how many minutes Simmons will actually see. But with every fast break dunk, every no-look pass and every swatted shot, Australia should celebrate, as this will be more than just an exhibition game. It’s a symbol of how far the game has come in Australia.
Simmons got paid, and committed to the 2020 Olympics within hours. It’s been a good week for Australian basketball.
Thank you for loving Aussie hoops! From Kein, Damian and #TeamPnR