PHILADELPHIA -- Before the Philadelphia 76ers took the court for their home opener against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night, Joel Embiid addressed the sellout crowd from half court. The All-Star center was met with MVP chants, and when they died down, he thanked the fans for their continued support.
"On behalf of my teammates, the organization and myself, I just want to say thank you for your support for all these years, and again now," Embiid said before urging the fans to continue to show support for Ben Simmons, who has become a villain of sorts in Philadelphia following his poor play in the playoffs last season and his subsequent trade request.
"A lot has happened the last few months," Embiid added. "I urge you guys to continue to support us and our teammate Ben because he's still our brother."
Simmons' ongoing drama with the Sixers has been well-documented, but his teammates remain open to the idea of bringing him back into the fold.
"I wouldn't mind playing with him again," Embiid said of Simmons after the game, a 114-109 Nets win. "And I know my teammates wouldn't because at the end of the day we're just trying to win."
Embiid has maintained that he thinks the Sixers are a better team with Simmons on the floor, and it would be hard to dispute that based on Friday night's game. Kevin Durant did some major damage against the Sixers, as he finished with a game-high 29 points to go along with 15 rebounds and 12 assists. If Simmons were playing, he would have been tasked with slowing Durant, and he likely would have been able to limit his production, to an extent -- he was the Defensive Player of the Year runner-up last season, after all.
Without Simmons, the duty of dueling Durant largely fell to Danny Green, who isn't as physically well-equipped to guard Durant as Simmons is. If Green is your second-best perimeter defender, you're in good shape. If he's your best perimeter defender, that's a decidedly different story.
On the offensive end, the Sixers went the final five minutes and 34 seconds of the game against Brooklyn without a field goal. They were up 108-98 at one point in the fourth quarter, and they ultimately lost 114-109. The offense completely bogged down in the stretch of the game, as the team struggled to get good looks. Simmons faced a lot of criticism when this happened against Atlanta in the playoffs, but the Sixers did just fine without him in that regard on Friday night. If anything, perhaps Philadelphia would have benefitted from Simmons' ability to generate open opportunities for his teammates.
Earlier on Friday, Simmons told the Sixers that he isn't yet mentally prepared to play, and his status moving forward with the team remains a question mark. In the meantime, it's naïve to think that the Sixers won't miss Simmons' production on the floor -- he was named an All-Star each of the past three seasons for a reason. Until he returns to game action for Philadelphia, or until he's moved for another impact player, or two, the Sixers' potential potency will be diluted.