After stints at Paris Junior College, Midland College and eventually the University of Houston during his collegiate basketball years, Jonathon Simmons decided to forgo his senior year at Houston to declare for the 2012 NBA Draft.
Unfortunately, he didn’t hear his name called.
Just like that, his dream of playing in the NBA seemed like a long shot, to say the least.
However, in September of 2013, he decided to give his dream one more chance and paid $150 to try out for the Austin Toros (the G-League affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs). He was one of 60 men fighting for an opportunity.
With kids to support at home, Simmons had a backup plan: obtaining his barber’s license to cut hair for a living.
It’s safe to say that he won’t be doing that anytime soon.
After dominating that tryout and eventually breaking onto the scene with the San Antonio Spurs when he got called up to the NBA level, Simmons established himself as a valuable rotational piece for Gregg Popovich. This past summer, he was a coveted free agent and agreed to a three-year, $20 million deal with the Orlando Magic.
Simmons left San Antonio for two reasons: playing time and money.
“That’s just a part about me: improving and wanting to be better and having a bigger role,” Simmons recently told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “I expressed that to Pop. I said, ‘I can be good over here, but I can’t be great.’ I want to be able to go against the Kawhis night-in and night-out.”
So far this season, Simmons’ decision to leave San Antonio seems to be the right one for him personally. Last season for the Spurs, he averaged 6.2 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 17.8 minutes over 78 contests. This season with the Magic, he has averaged 15.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.3 minutes over 14 contests and counting.
Although he has started just one game, he has made a clear impact when he’s gotten the opportunity, thus validating the interest he received in the offseason.
Simmons also revealed that LeBron James called him in an attempt to get him to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer.
“I even talked to LeBron James over the phone, and he was like, ‘We want you in Cleveland.’ And I said, ‘No, I want to play against you.’ I want to be able to play against elite guys and be able to, in a couple of years down the line, be just where they are,” Simmons explained.
“Plus,” Simmons added, “it wasn’t enough money, anyway. I have a family. I expressed that to him, which he kind of already knew. He said, ‘I respect that and I’ll see you soon.’"
Simmons’ revelation directly refuses the reported premise that James wasn’t actively recruiting free agents in the offseason.
At 28 years old, Simmons will have the rest of this year and the next two seasons to make himself even more money in his next contract. It remains to be seen if James will come calling once again when that time arrives.