The exceptional half — truthfully, the unhappy half — is that youthful basketball followers know Penny Hardaway primarily as the pinnacle coach of the Memphis Tigers.
He’s an excellent coach; he’s on the doorstep of a fifth 20-win season in 5 years on the college for which he as soon as starred as a participant.
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However there was a second — so fleeting — when Hardaway was one of many greatest basketball stars on the earth. His first 4 years with the Magic went this manner: All-Rookie first crew, All-NBA first crew, All-NBA first crew, All-NBA third crew.
The Magic, with Shaquille O’Neal and Hardaway paired, had been the perfect present within the NBA throughout Michael Jordan’s sabbatical. Even after Jordan returned and Shaq fled for L.A., Penny was poised to be a marquee participant for a decade to return.
After which he tore his left meniscus.
“And you would see it in him,” his previous teammate, Nick Anderson, mentioned on the terrific ESPN 30-for-30, “This Magic Second.”
“He wasn’t Penny Hardaway anymore.”
Hardaway caught round. He turned a journeyman, roaming from the Suns to the Knicks to the Warmth. In his two All-NBA first-team seasons, he’d been good for 21.3 factors, 7.1 assists and two steals per sport, capturing 51.3 per cent from the ground; his final 10 seasons, he averaged 11.8, 3.8 and shot .428.
“I ought to’ve retired eight years prior to once I did,” Hardaway admitted in that documentary. “It made it worse for folks to see me in that mild however I cherished the sport a lot I performed via the ache.”
It’s onerous not to consider Hardaway if you see Ben Simmons scuffle for the Nets, and for a similar melancholy causes, the New York Put up studies.
Simmons wasn’t almost the full offensive weapon Hardaway was, however at his greatest, with the Sixers from 2018-2021, he certain was one of the crucial enjoyable gamers within the NBA: unselfish, a hawk on defence, good with the ball.
He was by no means a high-volume shooter and to today has taken solely 36 3-pointers in his profession — however that, too, was a part of his enchantment. He knew his limitations. He knew he had different guys to shoot the three, and a beast beneath in Joel Embiid. And he’s nonetheless a exceptional 56.5 per cent profession shooter on 2-point makes an attempt.
“He is aware of what it’s wish to be an incredible, nice participant,” Pat Williams mentioned of Simmons a couple of weeks in the past. “There aren’t lots of people who can say that.”
Williams was Hardaway’s basic supervisor in Orlando and he’s now a eager observer of the league, by which he labored for 51 years, as a radio commentator in Central Florida. He has seen his share of gamers — Hardaway and Derrick Rose to call two — whose careers had been perpetually altered by harm at a painfully younger age.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he mentioned throughout a break in his radio present. “It truly is.”
Heartbreaking is a sort method of placing the place Simmons is correct now. For the Nets, he’s a high-end enigma, due US$77.9 million.
For his or her followers, for now, he is a continuing reminder of the big-name experiment the Nets invested within the final 4 years.
Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden — traded to the 76ers for Simmons — are all elsewhere now.
Simmons — or the impostor carrying No. 10 — stays.
He earned that contract primarily based on early pace much like Hardaway’s.
He was Rookie of the Yr. He was third-team All-NBA as soon as, first-team All-Protection twice.
He and Embiid — like Penny and Shaq a era earlier — had been going to be a power to be reckoned with perpetually.
Besides perpetually turned out to be 4 years, and the tip for Simmons in Philly was as ugly as any star’s departure has ever been.
Now he fights for backup minutes behind Nic Claxton. In 20 quiet minutes in Wednesday’s 116-105 Nets win over the Warmth at Barclays Heart, Simmons took two photographs and scored two factors.
“Attempting to determine what line-up suits round Ben, what place suits for Ben, how we are able to make him look good at each alternative,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn mentioned of his costly spare piece.
“That’s the objective and I’m nonetheless making an attempt to determine that out. That’s on me to determine.”
Like Hardaway, bodily accidents have performed a component in Simmons’ plunge, although there may be additionally an added mental-health element to it and that makes you marvel if he might ever channel Hardaway — “I cherished the sport a lot” — as a result of locked someplace inside Simmons is one thing apart from a second-string centre.
Fifteen minutes in the past — or thereabouts — he was a foundational participant on a contender.
Has that actually all simply vanished, at age 26?
If that’s the case, Pat Williams had the appropriate phrase for it. It truly is heartbreaking.
– This text first appeared within the New York Put up and was republished with permission.