Aussie legend speaks out amid Ben Simmons Olympics bombshell

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·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
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A split image shows NBA star Ben Simmons on the left and Australian basketball icon Andrew Gaze on the right.
After a nightmare exit from the NBA playoffs for Ben Simmons, basketball icon Andrew Gaze says there is more reason than ever for the Philadelphia 76ers star to suit up for the Boomers at the Olympics. Pictures: Getty Images

Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze says playing for the Boomers at the Tokyo Olympics could be just the thing Ben Simmons needs to shake off a disastrous playoff loss.

Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers were unceremoniously dumped out of the NBA playoffs after losing to the Atlanta Hawks in game seven of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

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After finishing the regular season as the top seed in the East, going down to the fifth-seed Hawks was an embarrassing turn for the Sixers - and Simmons has been copping much of the heat after lacklustre performances to close the series.

The 24-year-old posted an NBA worst free throw percentage and noticeably was shy to take shots in the fourth quarter of crucial 76ers losses, while coach Doc Rivers and teammate Joel Embiid each hinted at dissatisfaction with the former #1 pick.

However Gaze, the first Australian to plan in the NBA and an NBL legend back home, said a run at the Olympics would be a soothing 'tonic' for Simmons after a genuine NBA nightmare.

"We can all speculate and hypothesise, but based on my experiences I would be strongly encouraging him to play," Gaze told AAP.

"You want to erase those memories as quickly as you can, and grow and learn and the Australian team has an unbelievably welcoming and supporting culture and success with individual development.

"It's a small, small period of time - we're talking three to four weeks - but it can be very influential.

"I don't think any of us would have a full appreciation of the challenges he would face on a variety of fronts.

"But I do have a very good appreciation for how beneficial an Olympics experience can be.

"It's a very healthy environment to be involved in; it won't be the be-all and end-all, but it can be very helpful."

Ben Simmons suffers brutal NBA playoff defeat with Sixers

If needed, Game 7 of the NBA Finals series will take place a day before the Olympics' opening ceremony on July 23.

That time pressure was expected to be the biggest hurdle in getting Simmons and fellow 76ers and Boomers squad member Matisse Thybulle to Tokyo.

But, one month out, there are no Australians left playing the NBA after Joe Ingles' top-seeded Utah Jazz fell in the western conference semi-finals.

Instead the barrier now for Simmons appears to be internal, with ESPN's Brian Windhorst reporting that the 24-year-old is leaning towards spending the NBA off-season "working on skill development".

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Simmons was a late withdrawal from the Boomers' 2019 World Cup campaign and hasn't played for Australia since being overlooked as an emerging 18-year-old for their 2014 World Cup campaign.

Australia's men finished fourth in Rio and at the World Cup in China, missing medals in equally cruel circumstances that have left core members like Patty Mills determined to make amends in Tokyo.

Ben Simmons is once again under fire after a rough performance in Philadelphia's game seven loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Playoffs. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Ben Simmons is once again under fire after a rough performance in Philadelphia's game seven loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Playoffs. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Coach Brian Goorjian was confident of Simmons' return to help that quest and it's understood Mills had been in regular contact with Melbourne-born Simmons and Sydney-raised Thybulle to familiarise them with the Boomers' famed culture.

Simmons' tame play-offs exit may have crushed that optimism but five-time Olympian Gaze has urged him to consider the upside of a Tokyo campaign.

Even if Simmons' offensive struggles continued to plague him his pure play-making ability and defensive attributes would still enhance a Boomers squad stacked with shooting options.

FIBA's rule variations from the NBA also mean it's unlikely a 'hack-a-Ben' strategy is employed, with intentional fouls on a player deemed unsportsmanlike and awarding possession back to the attacking side once the free-throws are completed.

With AAP

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