As the Ben Simmons saga was a key story surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers at the start of the 2021-2022 regular season, many believed that it could serve as a distraction. However, Doc Rivers and members of the roster insisted that all of the noise coming from the outside hasn't affected the team's focus.
Rivers was right -- for the most part. During the first ten-game stretch of the new year, the Sixers were on a roll. Without Simmons on the floor, he was replaced by Tyrese Maxey, who one coach mentioned was "playing at an All-Star level."
The Sixers topped the Eastern Conference with an impressive 8-2 record before last week's four-game slate. However, things have gone downhill lately. The 76ers dropped their previous five games and now trail seven teams in the standings with an 8-7 record.
It's clear the Simmons saga hasn't caused Philly's recent struggles. Instead, the absence of four-time All-Star Joel Embiid has. When Embiid went out last Monday after testing positive for COVID-19, the Sixers fell into an 0-5 hole.
But has the recent news dumps regarding Simmons' rocky status with the Sixers caused any changes inside Philly's locker room over the last week or so? Sixers veteran Seth Curry reiterates it's not a factor.
"Honestly, it's been pretty normal," Seth Curry told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype recently. "He hasn't really been around the team at all, so it's not like it's been a distraction or anything. It's kind of like he's been out and not here. We know who we have on our team to start the season."
Will Simmons return and play for the Sixers at some point this year? While most signs point to no, the team holds out hope he'll eventually get back in the mix. And if that day does come, Curry believes it shouldn't change too much.
"Obviously, if he comes back, we're going to integrate him," Curry added. "He's been part of the team for a long time, so it shouldn't be that hard." Recent reports have left more doubt than anything in Simmons' potential return to the 76ers. But if the three-time All-Star does have a change of heart at some point, Curry and the Sixers will welcome him back.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.