After the Philadelphia 76ers were swept in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, questions must now be asked of the organisation from top to bottom. Sixers fans have been through a lot in recent years. They went five years without an appearance in the post-season from 2013 to 2017, while tanking aggressively during this period. They also had to watch lottery picks sustain injuries or under-perform for the team. After three seasons of playoff basketball, fans are now worried that their success has plateaued. This year’s humiliating exit now begs the question: Where do the Sixers go from here?
Trusting “The Process”
After missing out on the 2013 NBA Playoffs, the 76ers decided to fire Doug Collins as Head Coach and to rebuild their roster. Brett Brown was brought in to guide the team through “The Process”. This period saw the team go 75-253 over four seasons, including a record low 10-72 campaign. “The Process” was so brutal that the NBA have changed their draft lottery rules to discourage teams from following suit. Sam Hinkie was also removed from his position as General Manager for orchestrating this strategy.
The 76ers used their picks in the Draft to varying degrees of success. With two 1st picks and two 3rd picks the Sixers drafted Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Embiid and Simmons are the two cornerstones of the franchise while Noel and Fultz have since been shown the door. The emphasis on youth in the franchise also created a large amount of cap space, which they spent on Tobias Harris, Al Horford and JJ Redick. The Sixers also traded for Jimmy Butler midway through the 2018-19 season.
Return to contention
After five seasons away from the post-season, the Sixers returned to the playoffs in 2018. They entered as the 3 seed and dispatched of the Miami Heat in 5 games before losing to a Jayson Tatum-led Boston Celtics in the same number of games. This serious also featured the now-infamous overtime loss where confetti was shot onto the court at the end of regulation despite the game not being finished. Given the team’s failures over the previous seasons, this season was deemed a success.
The following season saw similar success for the Philadelphia 76ers. Although they had one less win in the regular season, the Sixers made light work of the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. The Sixers would have a much more difficult task ahead of them in second round however, as they faced the Toronto Raptors. The series was highly competitive, and the Sixers would go 2-1 up after three games. The series would eventually be decided with the final shot of Game 7, as Kawhi Leonard hit that shot to send the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Sixers’ squad changed significantly after their unfortunate exit to the eventual champions. While Tobias Harris signed a max contract, Jimmy Butler was traded to Miami for Josh Richardson and Al Horford was signed on a $97 million contract. JJ Redick also left in favor of the up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans. With these squad changes, the Sixers were expecting to push themselves to the next level this season. However, things would not go to plan.
One step forward, two steps back
After playing in two consecutive Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Sixers were expecting to be neck and neck with the Bucks, Celtics and the reigning champion-Raptors in the race to the top of the Eastern Conference mountain. However, injuries to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons hindered their ability to compete during the regular season. Simmons and Embiid missed 16 and 21 games respectively in the regular season. The mid-season break caused by COVID-19 should have helped them recover. Unfortunately, Simmons injured himself yet again after three seeding games. These injuries contributed significantly to the Sixers only being the 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
In spite of their best efforts, the Sixers could do little to stop Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and co. as they were the first team to be eliminated from the playoffs. Joel Embiid performed well throughout the series, but there was nothing he could do to stop the C’s. Tobias Harris was particularly poor for three of four games, with a field goal percentage of just 38%. Al Horford’s inconsistent offense has been matched with uncharacteristically mediocre defense. Josh Richardson was poor, but looked especially bad given the success of the opposing backcourt.
What next for the Sixers?
What can the Sixers do from here? Did injuries dictate the Sixers’ failures or is the current roster doomed to fail? Is it simply a coaching issue? What about the head office? These are all questions that the Sixers and wider NBA communities are asking in the aftermath of this series. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, coach Brett Brown has been fired by the 76ers. The directors may well relieve Elton Brand of his duties as General Manager given the number of failures from his off-season moves.
What is more important is the futures of both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Any change in the GM office could see attempts to move Tobias Harris’ and Al Horford’s large contracts, although it’s difficult to see any takers right now. If Brand or a new GM chooses to blow it up and start again, they will likely move one of Embiid and Simmons. The fear for Sixers fans is that this leads to another stretch without playoff basketball. This fear is completely justified, given the injury records of both players. Between the pandemic affecting future cap space and the blockbuster free agency coming next summer, it’s hard to see the Sixers being able to get better this year or next.
In my own personal opinion, I see the Sixers running it back next season out of necessity. There will be a new coach in place, and possibly a new GM, but the Horford and Harris contracts are almost unmovable. As for Embiid and Simmons, it’s unlikely that a satisfactory package will be offered. Both are amazing (even if flawed) talents, but they both represent serious risks because of their bodies. Every avenue represents a different risk for the Sixers though, which ensures that nothing is set in stone just yet.
So where should the Sixers go from here? Should the Sixers run it back and hope for an injury-free season? Or should they blow it up and build one of their stars, and if so then which one? Let us know in the comments below, and check me out for more NBA content!