Jonathon Simmons has one of the most incredible stories in the NBA. But for him, it is not about where he has been, but what comes next.
If anything, Jonathon Simmons has a good sense of perspective on things.
The somewhat quiet new guard for the Orlando Magic grew up a lot in the San Antonio Spurs organization. That was the franchise that gave him a chance. But really he is not quiet because of the Spurs or their culture.
Really, Simmons is quiet because his game has had to do the talking for most of his career.His game speaks volumes with his thunderous dunks and highlight-reel blocks. Simmons can speak loudly on the court.
He just needed someone to listen. Now everyone is hearing him. And he hopes his game speaks even louder in the coming years.
By now, everyone knows his story. Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said it is one of the most amazing stories he has heard in the NBA.
Simmons was on the fringes of the NBA universe, paying $150 for a D-League tryout. He worked his way up the chain to the Spurs and into the rotation to a three-year, $20 million. Simmons had a good sense of humor about it saying that $150 was his second-best $150 purchase. He deferred to a pair of Jordans as his best purchase.
It has been a long road. That road is well talked about. What comes next is what matters most to Simmons.
"“I’m very proud,” Simmons told Orlando Magic Daily. “It’s been a long road. There is a lot of work to be done still. It was a grind and the love of the game helped me appreciate the grind even more and to be able to have this surreal feeling right now.”"
Simmons signing the guaranteed contract he signed with the Magic is a culmination of that journey. It was everything he worked for. It is something of the completion of everyone asking him more about his journey rather than about his play.
Now Simmons has to go back onto the court and prove his worth again, expanding his game and proving he belongs in the NBA even more.
The perseverance, humility and hard work that built him to this point is part of who he is. It has become part of his DNA as a player. He struggled to shoot the ball even with the Spurs, but he thrived defensively. The Magic are expecting him to bring that attitude. And Simmons remembers the days where he had to be hungry for his chance.
Orlando signed him to that deal for all of that. But also for what the team hopes he can become. Like everything else, Simmons is looking forward to the opportunity that comes with the Magic.
Simmons is now trying to prove he is more than just his story. He is a quality NBA player.
"“I think Jonathon’s story is well known throughout the league,” Weltman told Orlando Magic Daily. “And I think it is one of the coolest stories I’ve ever heard. That he would pay his own way to a D-League tryout and end up where he is today says everything you need to know about Jonathon Simmons. When you talk about a fighter, then just watch him play. That’s all you need to do. If you have enough guys like that, you’ll be OK.”"
Simmons averaged just 6.2 points per game last year in 17.8 minutes per game. He filled a role for that team as an energy guy. Occasionally he would step up and hit a lot of baskets in a row and change the game. Think about that opening game against the Golden State Warriors last October. He scored 20 points in the 29-point victory.
In the Playoffs, Simmons stepped up his game even more. He averaged 10.5 points per game and increased his efficiency to a 50.4 percent effective field goal percentage. With Kawhi Leonard missing games throughout the back half of the Playoffs, Simmons stepped his game up.
But the situation for Simmons in San Antonio was not perfect. In free agency, he sought an opportunity to showcase himself even more. He wanted a better fit for his game.
Simmons said he sometimes felt stifled in the Spurs offense. While he did his part and played his role to the team’s ultimate success, Simmons said he prefers to play in more open, fast-breaking offenses.
That is the kind of offense the Magic want to run. He admitted to Scott Anez on ESPN Orlando on Tuesday, he felt he did not fit the Spurs’ half-court-heavy system.
The Spurs are famous for telling guys when it is time to leave their organization. They may have done that here, giving him a favor by rescinding his qualifying offer and making him an unrestricted free agent. But this is also an opportunity for Simmons to further expand his game.
Simmons sensed that too. He said he expressed to the Spurs his desire to expand his game, fearing the Spurs’ depth would bury him on the bench.
Thus he ended up in Orlando.
"“Everyone has their own journey,” Simmons told Orlando Magic Daily. “It’s what you make the best of. I think I made the best of the little opportunity I had and kept pushing from there.“Anybody can make it if you work hard. Everybody doesn’t have good opportunity. You have to be honest with yourself and go from there.”"
Simmons will have to keep what made him great. He will have to continue to establish his defensive bona fides now outside the Spurs and their league-best defensive rating. That part is still within him.
He will also have to remain grounded and hungry. The same qualities that got him from no NBA future to a three-year contract.
Simmons has made himself as a NBA player. Now he is working to make the next part of his career.