Extra Pass: Sixers face Zion-less Pelicans as Simmons saga continues

Published October 20, 2021, 5:00 PMMiguel Flores

The Sixers head to New Orleans without Ben Simmons, who was suspended for their season opener due to “conduct detrimental to the team”.

There is a reason why we, as humans, just have to stop and stare at road accidents – even if it causes more traffic. From the mangled bits of cars on the road to the owners piecing together what happened, we just have to slow our cars down, cause bottleneck traffic, look out our car windows and say, “Anong nangyari dito?”

That's precisely the appeal of tomorrow's 8:00 AM clash between the Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans, which you can catch on NBA League Pass. There's a good chance that the match will serve as a good starter for hoops-hungry fans. But the season premiere for both teams started way before the first tip tomorrow.

Starting with the less dramatic of the two squads, the New Orleans Pelicans had a rocky offseason of continuing to try and build around their foundation Zion Willamson. After choosing not to re-sign the much improved Lonzo Ball, they decided to trade for the Charlotte Hornets’ third best guard in Devonte’ Graham – a solid player, but nowhere near the two-way fit Lonzo was with Zion. They did also trade for the highly-underrated Jonas Valanciunas to pair with Zion upfront, and in the process, shed some salary by dealing away Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe.

But the Pelicans again suffered from a problem they have in common with governments around the world: transparency. Two weeks ago, the Pelicans announced that Zion Willamson had suffered a foot injury in the offseason that would need to be treated. Last week, their GM David Griffin announced that there was no timetable for Zion’s return and that his foot would be re-evaluated in two weeks.

This is par for the course with the Pelicans and Zion. New Orleans has been cautious with how they treated and released news regarding their young star’s health, so as not to irk him or his handlers. Zion’s been great through his first two seasons in the league, but he hasn’t been the prodigious force many hoped he would be by now, mostly due to injuries and whatever’s keeping him from staying healthy. That’s a pretty murky way to start the season for a Pelicans team that otherwise has other exciting young talent in Brandon Ingram and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

On the other corner, we have the Sixers. Ben Simmons kept our offseason interesting with his workout videos and bickering with the Philadelphia front office. Simmons went from requesting a trade, naming the teams he preferred to go to, tanking his trade value even further after the playoffs, to reluctantly going back to Sixers’ practice when, surprise, no one wanted to trade for a volatile star with an estranged relationship to shooting the ball.

Wednesday morning was a treat for NBA/reality show fans. Footage surfaced of Simmons practicing with the enthusiasm of a toddler for nap time. It later came out that head coach Doc Rivers had to kick Simmons out of practice after refusing to participate in drills. There was already plenty of doubt as to Simmons’ availability, but the Sixers sort of nipped this issue in the bud by suspending their former top draft pick for one game.

The Sixers sans Simmons is still a solid team. They have MVP candidate and reluctant babysitter Joel Embiid flanked by veteran shooters, defenders, and other promising young players like Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle.

But tomorrow’s game still feels like the second episode to the NBA’s version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Will Simmons ever play for the Sixers again? What juicy quotes are we getting from his teammates and coaches after the game? Find out tomorrow!

It’s sad that basketball will be secondary to all the drama surrounding this game. Still, expect an exciting battle from both squads. Embiid vs. Valanciunas could be as intense and physical as the gorilla fight videos that Karl Anthony-Towns watches for pre-game motivation. Ingram vs. Tobias Harris should also be a fun matchup between two solid, all-around swingmen. Then we have Maxey and Alexander-Walker taking the first step in what should be their breakout season.

There’s going to be plenty of talk about the players not on the court tomorrow. Let’s not forget to appreciate what happens on the court.


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