Thursday will be a big day for the 76ers.
And I’m not talking about the trade deadline.
Yes, we could find out Thursday what paltry return the Sixers will receive for Jahlil Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. That assumes that they will find any takers for Okafor.
For the future of the franchise, however, the more important aspect of Thursday will be the scan of Ben Simmons’ right foot. The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported last week that a scan bone scan on Jan. 23 revealed that the Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal in Simmons’ right foot had not fully healed. In a statement released by the Sixers in response to Pompey’s story, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said that Simmons has an appointment scheduled for Thursday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Colangelo, whose reputation is still reeling from the revelation that Joel Embiid has a “minor tear” of the meniscus in his left knee, a medical fact the Sixers have known since Jan. 20 but neglected to share, has not publicly answered questions about Simmons’ status. And if he did answer questions, who would believe him?
The Sixers were loose with the truth about Embiid’s injury. Everyone this side of the most dedicated “Trust the Process” zombie has to at least consider the possibility that the Sixers were saying Embiid was day-to-day with his knee contusion – later changed to a bone bruise – in order to sell tickets.
The fact that the only game Embiid has played since injuring his knee on Jan. 20 against the Trail Blazers was a nationally televised game against the Rockets caused people to speculate that he wasn’t really injured and that the Sixers were reverting to “tank” mode. Now that we know the truth, or at least something close to the truth, the question is why the Sixers let Embiid play with a torn meniscus, regardless of the extent of the tear.
Part of the reason for the speculation and conspiracy theories was the Sixers’ silence. Head coach Brett Brown speaks with the media regularly, but Colangelo does not. After his brief flurry of interviews from Feb. 9-11, which culminated in Colangelo being far from truthful about Embiid’s injury, we probably won’t be hearing from Colangelo any time soon.
And that was before the Simmons injury situation followed the Embiid injury situation. During the week prior to the revelation that Simmons’ fracture wasn’t fully healed, both Colangelo and Brown said that Simmons, the top overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, was expected to return this season.
Putting aside the misleading statements by the Sixers (I’m being kind by not using harsher language) regarding the results of Simmons’ January bone scan, the question now is why would they play him the rest of this season.
There are only 26 games left in the regular season. Even if Thursday’s scan reveals that the fracture has fully healed, why would the Sixers risk putting Simmons on the court this season?
If his fracture had healed quickly and there was half a season left, I would be in favor of Simmons playing this year to get some experience. Now that I know the fracture still wasn’t fully healed in January, I don’t think gaining experience is worth the risk of playing Simmons this season.
Then again, I’m not trying to get fans to buy tickets.
DESTINATION UNKNOWN: The Sixers are trying their best to trade Jahlil Okafor. They’ve showcased him. They’ve held him out of the lineup because a trade was allegedly close to being consummated. But nobody has been willing to play the price the Sixers want in return.
It’s not as if the Sixers are demanding anything close to the No. 3 pick they used to select Okafor, who is a good low-post scorer, but hasn’t been a good rebounder and seems indifferent on defense. But they may have to lower their asking price.
Keeping Okafor around another season isn’t good for the Sixers or Okafor. The only reason to keep him around is if the Sixers are worried about Embiid’s health or about re-signing Nerlens Noel. Otherwise, trading Okafor for the best offer available at Thursday’s trade deadline is the proper way to go.
SARIC REMAINS ON ROLL: In last week’s Sixers Notebook, I mentioned that Dario Saric had stepped up his game, averaging 21 points during the previous three games. Saric continued his recent success with 18 points during a victory over the Hornets last Monday and 20 points during a loss to the Celtics on Wednesday. Saric had 11 rebounds against both the Hornets and Celtics.
Saric scored 17 points Saturday to help the World team beat the United States team, 150-141, in the Rising Stars Challenge as part of All-Star weekend. Jahlil Okafor scored 10 points for the U.S.
McCONNELL LENDS HELPING HAND: T.J. McConnell, a key element in the Sixers’ success while Joel Embiid has been sidelined, led the Sixers in assists in the four games prior to the All-Star break. He averaged 8.25 assists during that four-game span.
THOMAS STREAKING: One night after lighting up the Sixers for 33 points during a 116-108 Celtics win, Isaiah Thomas scored 29 points Thursday during a 104-103 loss to the Bulls. Thomas has scored at least 20 points in 41 consecutive games, breaking a franchise record set by John Havlicek during the 1971-72 season.
EMBIID SITS: Joel Embiid went to All-Star weekend, had a good time and didn’t play. That’s the perfect experience for a young player with a knee injury that has caused him to miss 11 straight games and 14 of the last 15 games.
CHEEKS OVER WEBBER: Chris Webber, who had a lackluster brief tenure with the Sixers, was selected as a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He is likely to be selected for induction this year. Meanwhile, former Sixers point guard Maurice Cheeks didn’t make the list of 14 finalists. Webber clearly has better Hall of Fame numbers, but I would take Cheeks on my team over Webber every day of the week.
BREAK IS OVER: The Sixers won’t have an easy first week when they return from the All-Star break. They return Friday (7 p.m.) at Wells Fargo Center against the red-hot Wizards, who are 9-1 in their past 10 games and have climbed to the top of the Southeast Division. After a brief reprieve against the Knicks on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) in Madison Square Garden, the Sixers return to Wells Fargo Center on Mon., Feb. 27 to host the Warriors, who have the best record (47-9) in the NBA. Two nights later the Sixers travel to Miami, where the Heat will certainly be seeking revenge for the Sixers ending their 13-game winning streak on Feb. 11.