Boomers stars react to Simmons’ exit
Australia's basketball World Cup campaign may have a Ben Simmons-shaped question mark but the Boomers are still confident of making waves.
While Simmons wasn't the only Aussie NBA star to pull out - his 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden pulled out for personal reasons over the weekend - the first Aussie NBA All-Star was the biggest name.
The 22-year-old superstar pulled out of the World Cup after becoming our richest athlete when he signed his five-year $AU241.6 million contract with Philadelphia.
Originally set to play in the World Cup, Simmons decided "it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season".
And his Aussie teammates were quick to back the superstar.
Aron Baynes, the seven-year NBA veteran who was traded from the Boston Celtics to the Phoenix Suns in the off-season, said it was easy to understand the decision.
Speaking on the shores of the Yarra River alongside NBL's Melbourne United captain and Boomers teammate Chris Goulding at the launch of Kayo's basketball World Cup coverage, Baynes said Simmons was doing what he needed to do and felt was right for his career.
"You can't really judge someone until you've walked in their shoes," the 32-year-old said. "I definitely haven't walked in Ben's shoes so he's got a lot on his plate as well so I'm not going to pass any judgment on that. He's doing what he feels is best and what he feels he needs to do for his career and his family."
Goulding agreed, but added that while it would be great to add a player the calibre of Simmons to the Boomers squad, he hasn't been able to play in major international tournaments for the past four or five years.
It means the side can continue to develop around the players who have consistently been putting their hands up for the Boomers.
"Everyone completely understands it," Goulding said. "A lot of the guys that are in the NBA have been in his position as well. Sometimes you need to look after the personal side of things.
"Whether that happens one year or two years or whatever it is, everyone understands these guys are making a serious amount of money, it's their livelihood, they can set their family up for the rest of their lives. Of course some people need to do what's best for their club but there is no animousity or anything like that because half our team has been through something like that and it's just part and parcel of playing at the pinnacle of the sport.
"When someone like Ben and Dante (Exum) are available to play for the Boomers, of course some things will change and game plans will change but until then we'll just continue to work around our core group as best we can."
For Baynes, who has been in the NBA for some time, he took up his $5.4 million player option with the Celtics before being traded to the Suns.
While it's not in the same ballpark as the Simmons pay check, Baynes said he didn't consider skipping the World Cup because of what Australian basketball has done for his career.
"For me personally, my career wouldn't be where it is without playing for the national team," he said. "So I'm very thankful for all the opportunity I've been given and I feel honoured and privileged to be able to pull on the green and gold jersey, so I don't take it lightly.
"For us (the Boomers), we don't care about the 'what if', we care about what we do have moving forward and what we have to do to prepare to get all the talent we do have to play as a group. That's what we're focused on right now so there's not too many external distractions that are coming between that."
After the Cup, Baynes will play his first season in Phoenix and said he's looking forward to the new team.
But before he heads back to the States, Bayne will be a key member of the Boomers team trying to shut down the US side.
While missing a host of stars, the Americans have plenty to spare and are still bringing a strong side to Australian shores before the World Cup.
There has been plenty of talk of who is missing from the side but Baynes fears it may give the remaining player a chip on their shoulders.
"They're still the reigning champs and have one of the best coaches going around as well," he said. "There are All-Stars and future All-Stars so it's going to be a great team. There's no better preparation for us than to play the US on Aussie soil in front of 55,000 fans so I'm looking forward to it."
Goulding said the Boomers were just trying to improve on their performances against Canada.
In a two-game series of warm ups in Perth, the Boomers lost by 20 to an under strength team in the first game before bouncing back on Saturday.
Despite the mixed result, Goulding said the Canada games were a welcome reality check.
"I think we got a realisation of what our identity is and that we have to be a better team than we were the first night," he said. "Offensively, if we can push the ball and try to get some easy looks, we probably look a little better in that regard. The biggest takeaway for me was how locked in and how many levels we have to go up to compete with the best in the world."