The New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers both will be without a marquee player when they open their seasons Wednesday night in New Orleans.
Pelicans forward Zion Williamson is out indefinitely as he works his way back from offseason foot surgery.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers on Tuesday suspended guard Ben Simmons for one game because of “conduct detrimental to the team.”
Simmons had backed off his holdout and reported to Philadelphia for a mandatory COVID test Oct. 11, then passed through the NBA protocols and returned to practice Sunday.
Rivers reportedly issued the suspension after Simmons had half-hearted participation in practice and refused to join a defensive drill.
“I just thought he was a distraction today,” Rivers said Tuesday after practice. “I didn’t think he wanted to do what everybody else was doing. It was early. It wasn’t a big deal. I just told him he should leave. We went on with practice.”
The Sixers (49-23) were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season, but were knocked out of the playoffs at home when the Atlanta Hawks prevailed 103-96 in Game 7 of a conference semifinal series.
Simmons averaged just 9.9 points in the series, made one-third of his free throws and passed up a layup down the stretch of the decisive game. He later demanded a trade.
Philadelphia is expected to be one of the top teams in the NBA again, with returning starters Joel Embiid, Seth Curry, Tobias Harris and Danny Green. But the uncertainty surrounding Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, has complicated things.
“Chemistry’s huge, and I think overall our chemistry is phenomenal right now,” Rivers said. “And we want to keep it growing.”
Simmons isn’t the only point guard who will be absent Wednesday. Shake Milton, who normally would fill in for Simmons, isn’t expected to play because of an ankle injury. Second-year guard Tyrese Maxey would be next in line to start.
New Orleans’ starting lineup also is uncertain as first-year coach Willie Green evaluates his roster and prepares to go without Williamson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
“We’ve got a ton of guys who can play,” Green said. “I have some decisions to make.”
The Pelicans fired Stan Van Gundy after the team finished 31-41 in his only season. They hired Green from former New Orleans coach Monty Williams’ staff with the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns.
In addition to the coaching change, the Pelicans overhauled their roster, trading Lonzo Ball, Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe and bringing in Jonas Valanciunas (Memphis), Devonte’ Graham (Charlotte) and Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple (both Chicago).
“This group is building toward taking care of the basketball, getting out and playing with pace and force, getting stops, rebounding,” Green said. “If we play that way, we’ll give ourselves a chance. We didn’t do it as much as I would have liked in the preseason, and that’s what we’ve been working on.”
Green said the Pelicans “were prepared both ways,” in case Simmons played or didn’t play.
“They’re a good team,” Green said of the Sixers. “They’re well-coached and experienced. We’ve got to play a really solid game in order to give ourselves an opportunity to win.”
–Field Level Media