Sixers training camp 2021: 5 storylines to watch

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5 Sixers storylines to watch with training camp almost here originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

That was a normal, uneventful offseason, right?

After a summer that included a steady stream of updates and angst among fans about Ben Simmons, Andre Drummond joining forces with Joel Embiid, and major movement around the Eastern Conference, the Sixers will hold their media day on Monday.

A limited number of fully vaccinated, masked reporters will be allowed to attend the event at the team's practice facility in Camden, New Jersey. Training camp will start Tuesday.

Here are five Sixers storylines to watch ahead of camp:

The Simmons drama 

The latest news on Simmons comes from The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who reported Saturday that most of the 25-year-old’s teammates planned to fly out to Los Angeles to meet with him and convince him to commit to play with the Sixers this season, but they were turned away. “Simmons didn’t want his teammates, some of whom he considers friends, to make the Philadelphia-to-Los Angeles commute out of courtesy because he won’t change his mind on wanting a trade,” Charania reported.

If Simmons does indeed hold out, it’s inevitable that his absence will attract immense attention. Expect reporters to be curious about all angles of his situation, from how players feel about missing an All-Star, to head coach Doc Rivers’ relationship with Simmons, to president of basketball Daryl Morey’s approach now that the regular-season opener is under a month away. 

Neither Simmons nor the Sixers are satisfied at the moment, but we can’t properly assess any of this saga until it’s over. For the time being, questions abound. 

Embiid and Drummond 

Joel Embiid has never minded a little trash talk, but he always seemed to especially savor the physical and psychological competition of his matchups with new Sixer Andre Drummond. It remains odd to think of the two as teammates.

Drummond has already addressed his prior spats with Embiid, downplaying the notion of any true animosity. 

“I don’t think there’s anything to really hash out,” he said at his introductory press conference in August. “Again, it’s the game of basketball. Trash talking is a part of the game. I don’t think it really has any meaning to it — at least to my knowledge. I don’t really care, but at the end of the day I talk trash to everybody. It’s part of the game. I have no malice toward Joel. I’m excited to be on the same team as him and to make this work.”

Another part of what’s interesting about the Drummond signing is he hasn’t been a backup center since he was 19 years old. And, like Dwight Howard, his game is intuitively incompatible with Simmons’. 

All signs are positive thus far on the health front with Embiid, who played through a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee during last postseason. Morey said back on the night of the NBA draft that the Sixers were “not concerned about him medically at all.” 

Nevertheless, Embiid’s physical condition is worth monitoring closely. He’s coming off an MVP runner-up season, signed a supermax extension last month and is vital for the Sixers on both ends of the floor. 

Rivers and the bench 

Off-court matters are surely high on Rivers’ agenda, but he’ll have a preseason game to coach rather soon — Oct. 4 against the Raptors.

One of the easiest areas to criticize from Rivers’ postseason coaching job last season was how he managed his bench. He didn’t whiff every time — giving Shake Milton the chance to explode for 14 massive second-half points in Game 2 of Round 2 vs. the Hawks and leaning on Tyrese Maxey for 29 high-quality Game 6 minutes were successful decisions — but the Sixers’ second unit struggled in pivotal moments. Rivers didn’t mind using four or five bench players at once, and it sometimes backfired.

In theory, the addition of Georges Niang should help. The 28-year-old is a 40.4 percent career three-point shooter who should fit nicely in many lineup configurations. Matisse Thybulle fared very well at times guarding power forwards, but he’s usually best employed elsewhere. Niang can free Thybulle up to guard star perimeter players at (nearly) all times. 

Maxey set to make a leap?

Tyrese Maxey spoke often during his rookie season about the desire to get “one percent better every day.”

Based on his summer league performance, he’s on the right track. Maxey scored 52 points and dished out nine assists over two games in Las Vegas before departing to host a youth basketball camp in Garland, Texas, his hometown.

More intriguing than those numbers was Maxey’s confidence serving as a lead ball handler and his willingness to fire three-pointers off the dribble. Maxey is skillful with the floater, but he learned last year that he’s got the game to frequently make it all the way to the rim. Increasing his three-point rate — and percentage, ideally — would be another strong step in his development. 

If Simmons is dealt and the Sixers don't acquire a point guard in the return, it’s certainly possible Rivers will put a lot on the ebullient 20-year-old’s plate. Milton also shouldn’t be excluded from that discussion. 

While we’re on the topic of potential leaps, Seth Curry is fresh off of an outstanding postseason and Tobias Harris just had his best regular season. Can those two carry over any positive momentum? 

What about the other youngsters? 

For a team that topped the Eastern Conference last regular season, the Sixers are young. Danny Green (34) and Curry (31) are the oldest players on the roster. 

First-round pick Jaden Springer doesn’t look likely to see rotation minutes, but Paul Reed, Isaiah Joe and rookie center Charles Bassey (in the event of an Embiid or Drummond injury) are Sixers 22 and under with realistic paths to playing time. 

Training camp and the preseason should provide us an initial sense of whether Rivers will give any of those players an extended chance.