It has been 174 days since the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Ben Simmons with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Simmons donned the 76ers' uniform during Summer League, but he is yet to see any playing time during the regular season after suffering a fracture to the fifth metatarsal in his right foot on the final day of training camp.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown has previously stated there is no timetable for Simmons' return, but he was optimistic the star would be available in January. Today, during Philadelphia's practice, Simmons appeared on the floor, free of the moon boot and shot free throws.
"That is significant," Brett Brown stated with matter-of-fact emphasis.
Sixers fans worldwide refuse to get ahead of themselves with excitement, but Brown believes things are finally heading in the right direction for Simmons.
"He walked out on the court in sneakers and he shot free throws," Brown said. "So, that is significant to me. You're like, I got yah. Here we go."
Since beginning rehab a little over two months ago, Simmons and Brown have been conducting one-on-one tutoring sessions to develop his on-court game.
"We took him through, 'Here, you got the ball, you're the point guard," said Brown. "What do you see? What do you do? What do I call this? What are the reads? What can he do?
On Tuesday, Brown put Simmons through his first exam.
"We went through that for a half an hour [Tuesday] morning."
"From a non-medical standpoint and just his coach, the evolution that he and I have been able to have in a classroom and on a court, in talking things through over the past few months, is fantastic."
The 76ers have been in this situation before, with a previous high draft pick limited to the moon boot and enduring endless rehab. Joel Embiid knows the heartaches and struggles that you go through during rehab, and he understands that shooting free throws without the boot means a lot to the individual.
"Definitely," he said Tuesday. "I asked [Simmons] the first thing when I saw it, I was like, How do you feel? You could see that smile on his face."
Embiid missed two seasons before finally making it onto the NBA floor, and he is now soaking up the limelight. After seeing Simmons on the practice floor, Embiid was optimistic about a potential return.
"Now, you can get back on the court, you can start doing more stuff, you can start shooting. It just frees you up, and I'm sure he's happy about it.
"I got better. I'm sure he's going to get better, too."
Brown is not getting ahead of himself.
"We're all going to be just extremely careful; everybody needs to hear that, and we know that. We're going to be extremely careful with how his progression into the team goes."
No matter how you look at it, Simmons is edging closer to his first professional game of basketball and all signs are pointing up.