It's official: Ben Simmons won't be playing for the Australian Boomers at the Tokyo Olympics.
On one hand, it's a surprise, because Simmons had been committed to the Olympic campaign up until this point. One the other hand, though, this isn't the first time the three-time NBA All-Star has withdrawn from an opportunity to represent Australia at a major international tournament; so, shocked-but-not-surprised is probably the better language to use.
Simmons would have been among the focal points of Brian Goorjian's preparation for these Games, so now the veteran head coach will have to adjust. No longer will the Boomers' long-time core have its opportunity - probably its final shot - to chase a medal with Simmons by their side, so adjustments have to be made from an on-court perspective to make up for the 24-year-old's absence.
Then, there's the question surrounding how the Australian men's national team's famous culture and camaraderie is carried forward without its assumed centrepiece. That, too, may require an adjustment.
But, that's where the Boomers are fortunate. There's more than enough depth to make up for Simmons' absence, and an abundance of quality young talent to carry the torch of a program that's regarded as one of the best in the world.
So, who's in the squad? And who's at camp?
The original, extended Boomers squad was 24 deep, then it rose to 25, then down to 19. Now, it appears to be 16.
Simmons is now out, while Isaac Humphries (injury) and Ryan Broekhoff (mental health) also withdrew. All three had a good chance at being on a plane to Tokyo, because of the fit: Simmons is extremely talented and versatile, Humphries was the big defensive body needed in the absence of Andrew Bogut, while Broekhoff's reputation as a shooter has inherent value.
Instead, Goorjian will be forced to make some tough decisions.
As of now, the only players from the 16-man squad not at camp are Chris Goulding and Jock Landale - both of whom just won an NBL title; they'll soon be en route to the U.S. - and Matisse Thybulle, who's expected to be in attendance shortly.
The entire squad is then: Goulding, Landale, Thybulle, Aron Baynes, Xavier Cooks, Mitch Creek, Matthew Dellavedova, Danté Exum, Josh Giddey, Josh Green, Joe Ingles, Nick Kay, Patty Mills, Brock Motum, Duop Reath, Nathan Sobey.
The squad of 16 will be cut down to 15 - the team of 12, plus three replacement players - in early July, ahead of the official Boomers pre-Olympic camp in Las Vegas. That's where the Boomers will have exhibition games against the USA, Argentina, and Nigeria.
What it means for the final makeup of the team
Let's get the assumed locks out of the way. You've got Mills, Ingles, Baynes, Dellavedova, Thybulle, Goulding, Landale.
Simmons would've been that unique player who would be a valuable ball-handler, while also being able to effectively play all five positions - particularly both frontcourt spots - in the FIBA style of play. So, Goorjian is effectively down a ball-carrier and a guy who can play both the four and the five.
With no Simmons, and no Humphries, one name that's suddenly becoming more intriguing is Duop Reath. The big-man is a legit 6'11 [210cm] and has been playing at a high level in the EuroLeague; that size is important, and it'd be risky for the Boomers to fly to Tokyo with Aron Baynes as the only true centre.
A similar argument can be made for Brock Motum, who's exclusively a four-man at this level, but has great size and has entered camp as one of the squad's better three-point shooters. Motum shot 49.5 percent from downtown, on a lot of attempts, over his season with Galatasaray, so his skillset makes up for a lot of what you're losing with Simmons, Humphries, and Broekhoff.
There's also definitely a spot in the final 12 for one or two of Kay, Cooks, and Creek, all of whom have complementary skillsets to the established core. It's reasonable to give a nod to a player like Kay because of the Boomers' lack of frontcourt depth. Cooks and Creek probably aren't international four-men, but have those energetic, athletic traits to defend multiple positions, which we know Goorjian values. Without Simmons, one of that pair could very well be in the final team.
Then, we have the perimeter spots available. The Boomers are lucky in that regard, because they have the ability to replace Simmons, a big ball-handler, with names like Exum and Giddey... also big ball-handlers. Giddey is the obvious look toward the future - Green is in that conversation, too; see below - but Exum, because we're assuming he's healthy, is that big, defensively versatile, multi-positional guard that could play a big role for Australia.
Exum played just six games this past NBA season - just 24 the season before that, and 11 the season before that - so there are obvious question marks, but those sorts of concerns also surround Dellavedova, so they could effectively act as insurance for each other. Exum's three-point shot has improved over his time in the NBA, so there's a world where you can play him alongside the likes of Mills, Thybulle, Ingles, and Dellavedova, in what could be a really versatile offensive group and very switchable defensive unit.
Blooding the new Boomers core
There are two themes going into this Tokyo Olympics campaign: redemption, and a passing of the torch.
The redemption part is simple. This Boomers core is desperate for that medal - preferably gold - in a major international competition, and back-to-back fourth-place finishes only makes that desire burn even stronger.
The passing of the torch aspect was also relatively straightforward. Mills is 32. Ingles is 33. Baynes is 34. Andrew Bogut is retired. These Games provide the opportunity for the current core to finish on the ultimate high, buoyed by a new crop of Boomers who could be immersed in the unique culture of the national team. The Boomers tradition could then be carried forward, and the team would enter the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics with a new core that has valuable experience, and maybe a medal, in their pocket.
Simmons is the three-time NBA All-Star who's only turning 25 this year. After Tokyo, Simmons would've been hoisted as the leader of the Boomers. That's no longer the case. The plan to pass the torch is still happening, but the recipient has changed.
Goorjian has spoken publicly about the responsibility he has to help breed the next generation of Boomers, and that's where Giddey, 18, Josh Green, 20, come into the picture. Both are at the 'drop-in' camp in LA and are expected to be part of the 15-man crew for Vegas. Both are versatile guards, one was a first-round pick last season and the other will be when this next NBA Draft comes around, and they've each shown a clear commitment to the Boomers.
When we talk about the NBA core that leads the Boomers, Giddey and Green are now the future leaders of it, and Simmons' decision is the best argument for both to be included in the final 12.