Predicted finish: 4th in the East (2nd in the Atlantic, 7th in the power rankings)
Last seasons conference finish: 6th
When the Philadelphia 76ers flamed out in a sweep to the Boston Celtics in the bubble, the franchise felt lost. Stuck with massive contracts it seemed no one wanted and perceived to be hamstrung by two superstars that couldn’t fit together. Then, in the span of a month the team hired Daryl Morey, one of the league’s best executives, hired Doc Rivers to be their head coach, a fascinating upgrade on Brett Brown and sent out obvious pieces that didn’t fit in Al Horford and Josh Richardson for shooting in the form of Seth Curry and Danny Green. Add in the fact they got a steal in Tyrese Maxey in the draft and the Sixers have gone from feeling lost to quietly restocked and appearing ready to make a stronger push in the Eastern Conference.
The big question for the franchise: Is this Simmons and Embiid’s final chance to make it work together?
Of course, for them to make that push in the East, it’ll be on the backs of their two best players: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. After dominating on the court together in Simmons rookie season, the team has played progressively worse with them on the floor each of the two years after. If you ask Sixer fans, they say it’s because the team disregarded shooting and spacing for shot creators without much range, ruining the team’s depth and spacing. If you ask Sixer dismissers, they call Simmon’s rookie year a fluke and point to the fact neither of the two being able to shoot is a cardinal sin in the 2020 NBA. For me, I fall much more in the Sixer fan category of this debate. The team moved away from shooting and spacing when it obviously should’ve been their biggest goal as an organization to acquire and I don’t know how people can dismiss that. That said, Embiid is older than you think at 26 (27 in March) and with his injury history it feels like the clock is ticking. If they can’t turn it around on the floor together this year, don’t be surprised to see Simmons in trade talks next offseason.
One move I want to see them make: Upgrade the point guard position
As much as I love Simmons the player, it’s hard for me to imagine a lead ball handler not being able to shoot working in today’s NBA. People often point to Giannis and I get that but he doesn’t bring it up the floor every possession like Simmons has tried to and for me, that feels too limiting. I’d love to see them go out and get a veteran who doesn’t need it in his hands all the time, can shoot and also settle things down and run a half court set. To me, bringing in a guy like that would better accentuate the best parts of Simmons and Embiid’s games.
Offseason Grade: A-
I didn’t think they’d be able to move off Horford’s albatross and somehow they did only giving up one pick and, acquiring a guy in Danny Green who will help them this year. Similarly, I loved the move of Richardson for Curry. Richardson’s an interesting player but his fit with Philly was always off. Curry on the other hand is the ideal, Reddickesque roleplayer for this team. Quite honestly as well, I like the Rivers hiring. I’ve been critical of him in the past but I think he’s built perfectly to get the most out of Embiid in the short term motivating him. Add in the Morey hire and I really loved this offseason for Philly. If I could change one thing it would be an addition at point guard however, an A- is more than good enough for Sixers fans after where they were post-bubble.
Young player I’m excited for: Tyrese Maxey
If Maxey can regain the shooting touch from distance he had in high school, he could be the steal of this draft. They play differently but if he has that jumper I could see him being a lower-level version of Donovan Mitchell for this team, creating buckets in the half court, spacing the floor for his teammates and just adding a scoring punch on the wing they just didn’t previously have. Maxey also has the mentality to contribute in big spots right away like Herro did last year so really, if he finds that jumper consistently he could be an X-Factor for a Sixers playoff run like his fellow Kentucky brother was for Miami in the bubble.
Things were dark in Philly after the Boston series and I was honestly worried at the prospect of them wasting Embiid and Simmons primes. A couple months later though, I’m back on the Sixers hype train. I think they’re a piece or two away from real contention but compared to where they were, it just feels so much more positive in the city of Brotherly Love.