He is the preeminent journalism voice for the currently embattled team. His matter-of-fact approach to reporting gives fans a true insider view to the daily happenings of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 10-9 shorthanded 76ers fell to the the NBA leading 16-2 Golden State Warriors in San Francisco in their last game. In that backdrop, Pompey stopped by Sportskeeda to discuss about the Ben Simmons situation, and how that could impact their 2021-22 NBA season.
Keith, what’s your impression of the Philadelphia 76ers, and how they move forward in the absence of Ben Simmons and now Joel Embiid (Covid)?
Keith Pompey: It’s weird because when you look at the Philadelphia 76ers, they beat the Denver Nuggets, and they also beat the Sacramento Kings without Joel while they were undermanned.
It was a good win for the team, but at the same time, I feel like moving forward, the 76ers are going to struggle without Joel. When you ask how good are they or what’s going on with them, it’s one of those things where it’s hard to say. They’ve only played six games out of 19 with their starting five. We really don’t know how good this team really is.
How would you evaluate Doc Rivers and his management of the team in this current flux?
Keith Pompey: I think Doc is doing what he has to do. I know a lot of people are like I didn’t like that substitution, or why did he stick Shake (Milton) in so long? Aww man Furkan (Korkmaz) is missing all these shots. For me, it’s like who else do you want them to put in? Right now, who else are they going to put in there with all these other guys hurt? So, you just gotta ride with these guys.
There was one day where they played at OKC, and I know that’s OKC, but Doc was coaching his tail off. When they went to Chicago, he was coaching his tail off. Joel was playing, but they were missing a lot of other players.
There will be people critical of Doc Rivers for not calling timeouts or not challenging a call. But at the same time, he is doing a good job of coaching these young dudes who really don’t get a lot of playing time, or woudn’t be in the rotation at all if not for the injuries.
How do you see a player like Paul Reed? Obviously, the Philadelphia 76ers fanbase loves him. He’s a cult figure here. Bball Paul as they call him. Does he have a shot to really make an impact on this team?
Keith Pompey: I think he does, but I also think he’s realistically a couple of years away. Paul Reed has all the tools. He’s extremely athletic. He has the length. The reach. All that. I think that sometimes Paul Reed is his worst thing. What I mean by that is, Paul Reed sometimes thinks too much instead of just going out there, reacting and play.
So when people ask why he isn’t in the game, a lot of it has to do with him making sure he’s always in the right position. When he doesn’t think, that’s when it happens. He’s a better reactor. I think he messes himself up thinking too much.
Another young player who is making a huge impact is Tyrese Maxey. Coming out of Kentucky, he was a surprise in how Doc was putting him in playoff situations to score at will. He was streaky good with the 3-point shot, and gave the 76ers a jolt when they needed it in the playoffs. How do you see him coming off a playoff high and settling into the season yet with added responsibility now?
Keith Pompey: He’s doing well. You gotta realize, he’s been Mr. Reliable; Mr. Dependable; Mr. Consistent; Mr. Taking Big Shots; Mr. 4th Quarter. He’s a guy you said early on 'ok, they’re going to lose somebody'.
They are going to try and get a scoring two-guard and try to convert him into a point guard. He had 14 consecutive games scoring in double figures. He has scored in double figures in 17 of 18 games.
Over the last 6 or 7 games he had one game where he had 31 points, another where he had 33, and then 28. The question I have about him is: is he going to be able to keep that up? How are they going to be able to incorporate his strengths when Tobias Harris is back; Danny Green is back; Seth Curry is back and Joel?
Will they be able to give him some opportunities to do what he does best? Right now, and I know that Embiid is bad dude, and I know the 76ers play better with him, but right now? Based off what Tyrese has done in these 18 games and playing in all 18, you would have to say that he is the MVP for the 76ers.
Born here, so I think back to 1983 with the Boston Strangler, Andrew Toney and what he did from a scoring standpoint. I’m hesitant to say his name and associate it with Tyrese Maxey, is it possible that his ceiling is that high that he can become a player like Andrew Toney? Not comparing him to Toney, but more his effectiveness.
Keith Pompey: He can, but it’s still early. This is his first year as a starter. I remember one of my boys hit me up and said: 'I haven’t seen anyone this dominant since AI!” I was like 'who??' (we laugh). He was like, 'Allen Iverson'. I said AI 'who??' (we crack up). I just said: 'Don’t. Nah'.
So, he’s good, and he’s all that and this and that, and he could be that dude for somebody, but I think right now, we are 18 games into an 82-game season. We gotta see what kinda tweaks they make. And then, if he can do it now, and keep doing it, then yeah, you give him some respect. Right now, I hate to put that pressure on him.
Andrew Toney was a baaaaaad man. Yes, he was!
Joel Embiid - I remember talking to Derrick Rose by the scorer’s table at an afternoon shoot around, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a feathery jumper fall. I looked over, and it was Joel.
This is early on when he was on two crutches, then one crutch to get ready and get out there. He sat around and watched back then and soaked it all up. He knows the city now, and understands how passionate the city is about the team. He seems to take that responsibility very seriously. You see that in his reaction to things. How he addresses fans. He’s going to be a legendary player here. How do you see Joel Embiid as a Philadelphia 76ers legend?
Keith Pompey: He’s gonna go down as one of the greatest. It’s unfortunate that Joel Embiid has dealt with injuries. As good as Joel Embiid is concerned, we’ve never seen him play to his full potential, in my opinion.
He’s always hurt. There’s always something. I’m not criticizing him. I’m just saying and keeping it 100%. We have yet to see this guy at 100%. At the end of the day, you look at Joel, and I’ll give you a prime example of how he’ll be remembered: Joel’s real rookie year.
I’m talking about the first time he played in an NBA game. It was a preseason game. Joel was on the court warming up. Patrick Ewing was out there. He stopped what he was doing, and just paid attention to Joel Embiid. At the time, the head coach at the press conference said: 'Man, Pat’s amazed by this kid. He said: 'Man, Pat is saying he is going to be one of the all-time greats!'
So, I walked up to Pat and said: 'I’m Keith Pompey a reporter for the Inquirer. I’m hearing you think that this guy is going to be one of the all-time greats. One of the best players. He said: 'yeeeah. Look at his footwork'.
Mind you, I didn’t know what I was looking at. I’m just seeing this tall dude scoring and making shots, but Patrick Ewing said this before he even played in a real game was raving over Embiid.
"So that should tell you how great he is when you've got a Hall of Famer raving over you during a workout."
Pat’s name comes up. Joel Embiid is called a Patrick Ewing/ Hakeem Olajuwon hybrid. He is stepping up and becoming what everyone has expected of him, but like you said, he just can’t stay on the floor.
In a sense of just how fragile this all is, what would happen to the fans of this city if something happened to Joel? It seems like it all is held together by a frayed string between this team ascending and also falling straight off a cliff. The city seems to be hinging a lot of hope on Joel Embiid, and they love this dude. He’s doing everything accordingly. Like I said earlier, he has a serious responsibility to the fans. It would be very unfortunate for something to happen to him regarding basketball from a fanbase-morale standpoint.
Keith Pompey: I don’t want to speak anything into existence, but if something were to happen to Joel, and then the fans would go out and see how the 76ers play. Some of the people who don’t appreciate Joel as much as others will understand why, because if you take Joel Embiid off the 76ers, and you know Ben Simmons was good when Joel wasn’t playing, you know, getting up and down the floor.
Without Joel Embiid, this team is struggling. He erases a lot of things. Think about this, and people are going to be hurt. Seth Curry was on fire when Joel Embiid was playing. Furkan Korkmaz was telling all his haters – all his haters were like I apologize.
As soon as Joel went down, both of those dudes struggled. They couldn’t make shots. The second game back from COVID-19, Tobias Harris dropped 32 points, and they still lost. That goes to show you how dominant a player Joel is. He cleans up a lot of things. He’ll turn the ball over. He’ll do some other things.
Sometimes people get upset because he should be down in the paint dunking instead of settling for fadeaway threes. I get all that. Look at who they are without him, and then it’s something else. They beat Denver, but Denver were just as decimated as they were.
They beat the Sacramento Kings without him, and I’m here to tell you that, that Sacramento team is the by far worst they’ve played. They can’t beat a quality opponent at full staff without Joel Embiid. If something were to happen to Joel, a lot of people would realize and understand that he was the process.
Do you see him winning MVP or Defensive Player of the Year?
Keith Pompey: I don’t know just because when you do things like that you gotta stay healthy, and you gotta play. I don’t think he can win a Defensive Player of the Year award. The reason why I don’t see him winning is because of the things that he does…
Now he may block shots, but he’s more of an eraser. The eraser kinda sorta gets overlooked from time to time. The guy who gets it all, he’s healthy. He's locking ‘em down. He’ll get to shots, and has a formidable presence in the lane, and people won’t crash the lane because of him. That’s more the coaches paying attention to it instead of the players. With regards to the media? They’re looking at stats.
MVP? If the 76ers have a great run, yeah he could possibly get it, but I also think he’ll need more help for him to put the 76ers in position for him to garner that.
Speaking of help, he doesn’t have Ben Simmons – I’ve written so many pieces on him since the summer, and I'm sure you have (too). Obviously he’s a hot-button topic. He’s enigmatic at 6' 10" with a 7' wingspan, DPOY candidate, triple-double guy doing everything we thought would make him a superstar early on when he was playing for the 76ers.
Under Brett Brown the team was growing. We were optimistic that we were seeing something special here in the city with two potential megastars. This drama has transpired all over the summer. Where do you see this going? I know on IG live you said you don’t ever see Ben Simmons playing here again. Where do you see this all falling apart or coming together?
Keith Pompey: I think they gotta trade him, man. A lot of it will be predicated on how successful the 76ers are. I feel like if the 76ers are successful, and they have a chance of going deep in the playoffs, I can see them making a move and bringing somebody in. If the 76ers are struggling, and they decide to shut it down, then I can see them holding off until they can get somebody, maybe in free agency, in a sign and trade type of thing.
I can’t see Ben Simmons being here and being a part of the team long term. Who knows? Never say never, but I don’t really see this marriage where you fine this dude, and you’re doing all this other stuff ,and he decides to all of a sudden come out and play. I can’t see that happening.
I don’t see it either. What do you think is going on with Ben Simmons?
Keith Pompey: I think Ben Simmons wanted to be traded. I feel like, he felt like how it was; people weren’t loyal to him. I do feel like he’s dealing with some stuff. I do. There were times last year that the 76ers were like making it seem like he was bothered by one thing, but they knew it was something else.
I just feel like he feels betrayed. He feels like nobody really has his back, and it’s time to move on. Not only that. He also knows that the average Philadelphian wants him outta here. They don’t want him. There’s gonna be no more hostile place for Ben Simmons to play than in Philadelphia.
That’s it in a nutshell right there. He doesn’t want to face these fans, man.
Keith Pompey: Yeah that’s some of it. That’s a lot of it, but I also don’t think people were loyal to him either.
Coming out of LSU, there were rumors he didn’t want to play here. That he wanted to play in LA. I struggle with Ben. I covered him in those early years here. He seemed totally naïve at times, yet linkng up with Klutch Sports it’s evident he’s trying to build a professional career that can be respected, based on his representation.
I’m trying not to do him a superficial disservice by just saying he doesn’t’ want to play here because it’s just about the fans. There seems to be a lot more to it. I was one of the few to write about the stuff with his sister.
That was really a measure of trying to find out what was going on with him. He’s so gifted. We know from covering sports that sometimes adversity makes the skin thick, and a player begins to take off. It seems like that’s what will happen with Ben Simmons like it did with Andre Iguodala.
Keith Pompey: Yeah, it will. I’m not going to hold it against him for not wanting to come here. Let’s keep it real. If the 76ers were so bad that none of these dudes wanted to come here. If you ask them straight to their face off the record like you, did you really want to come to the 76ers or did you want to go to the Lakers, or did you want to go somewhere else? They would all want to go elsewhere.
They all would.
Keith Pompey: That’s because first of all it’s LA! There’s palm trees; beautiful weather; beaches. You know, it’s all that. And then you look at the 76ers, they won like what ten games? Thirteen games. Stuff like that.
So when you hear that, it’s one of those things where I’m not gonna hold that against them. All they knew of the 76ers were a team that was tanking. Getting blown out; getting embarrassed. I’m not gonna hold that against them. Now I will say this about Ben: if Ben was playing right now, and Joel was out, Ben would dominate.
They’d have him playing all types of positions. He would get to the rim. He would do whatever he would. You look at him, and he says (hypothetically): 'Well dag, if I’m dominating now, and then I come back, and I’m not any more like maybe I want to go somewhere where it would be my team'.
I know some people will say that’s selfish, and maybe they got to work on coexisting, but if you really want to be 100% real, that has a lot to do with the culture they came from. Doc Rivers did it last year where he brought them into the room, and said 'You guys work better together'. Well somebody should have done that in their first year, and we probably wouldn’t have had this.
Yeah, Brett Brown. I tried to get him to speak more about basketball back then in pressers just to see what he could do with these young talented men. With Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, the 76ers defensive potential was crazy. So, are they trying to get with a specific trade partner to ensure they get a plus defender back who can also score?
Is that what essentially they are looking for? Are they looking for pieces because you can fill your roster with someone like Ben if you make the right type of trades. Are they building this team with thoughts of competing with Brooklyn because of what they have offensively? Is that why they have so much trepidation in trading Simmons?
Keith Pompey: They are trying to build this team to be able to get somebody to help them win a championship. That’s what it is. They are looking for a Damian Lillard type; a James Harden type; a Bradley Beal type.
Someone they can pair with Embiid, and they can have an elite one-two punch, and then you incorporate Tobias Harris and Seth Curry, and then you’re like: 'Whoa, Ok, I see you. I see what you’re doing. That’s what they’re looking for.'
If they can also get a couple of other guys who can help out, with their depth and all, yeah they’ll do it. We’re talking about what’s on the top of their wish list of things, but I think it’s to a point where it may come down to the best deal. They are still going to hold out. They're holding out, if the 76ers struggle, then it’s easier to hold out.
If they are in contention, then it’s like we are going to have to hurry up and make a move because Joel’s clock is ticking. If they’re struggling, they can say: 'Alright Jo, this is a lost year, and we’re going to try to go all in next year'.
If they’re not struggling, and they can’t get that A-list type of guy, then I can see them getting a bunch of B-list dudes.
To finish up Keith, where do you see this thing going this year. Do you think the 76ers will have a positive season despite all the turmoil?
Keith Pompey: It’s hard to say because we don’t know what this team is going to look like come February (NBA trade deadline). That’s the toughest part about this team. We don’t know.
I will tell you this: the flair that they currently have in the locker room? These dudes love each other. It’s kinda like a high school basketball team with a bunch of dudes who just wanna have fun. They’re on the road. They’re having fun. They’re laughing and joking. They don’t care who scores. Look at it. Joel Embiid was doing what? Distributing the rock. They were doing whatever they wanted. Then it’s like 'yo Jo, we need you. Ok, I’ll take over'.
I would say from a chemistry standpoint? They good, but at the same time, we don’t know who will be here after the trade deadline. Another thing, they are 4-2 with their starting five. The six games they’ve played. So they’re good with that, but at the same time, we don’t know.
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We don’t know. We don’t know how good they are gonna be because we haven’t seen enough games, and we don’t know who will be on the 76ers' roster.
Q. Will Ben Simmons ever play for the Philadelphia 76ers again?
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