Its been a rough few weeks for Philadelphia 76ers fans.
First, it was announced that Sixers rookie Ben Simmons would not play this season because his injured foot is not healing as quickly as expected. Then on Wednesday, the team announced that burgeoning star Joel Embiid would miss the rest of the season with a torn meniscus. These two announcements come on the heels of an impressive month of January that saw the Sixers go 10-4, during which Embiid was playing like a franchise-changing superstar.
For fans of the long-moribund franchise, the January spurt and Embiid’s otherworldly play had provided the first true glimmer of hope and spark of excitement in a very long time. The Sixers were playing an exciting brand of basketball with Embiid putting on a show on a near-nightly basis. For the first time since “The Process” began, basketball in Philadelphia was fun and fans had tangible evidence that their team was on the right path.
Fast forward to March 1, and all that good will, excitement and hope have spiraled down the drain. With the loss of their two most promising pieces, Bryan Colangelo’s laughable trade deadline performance, and the Sixers handling of Embiid, the franchise is suddenly left with more questions than answers. The future in Philly looks just as foggy as when former GM Sam Hinkie set his bold plan in motion.
Stunned Sixers fans must find themselves asking, “Why can’t we have nice things?”
The team bungled the handling of Embiid’s latest injury, further diminishing the fans’ confidence in the current regime to see the plan through and make the past four years worthwhile. After suffering a “knee contusion” in a January 20th win over Portland, Embiid missed three games before returning to score 32 points a week later against Houston. From there, he was shut down again, with rumors of a small meniscus tear. Since then, the Sixers have been wildly inconsistent with their reports on Embiid. He went from day-to-day, to an announced return against the Knicks on February 25th, to being out “indefinitely,” to ultimately being ruled out for the season on Wednesday.
The handling of the Simmons injury hasn’t been much better. On the final day of training camp in September, Simmons suffered a broken foot. The expected timetable for his return was 3-4 months. Five months later, Simmons not seen the court and he won’t see it until next season. Those 3-4 months are likely to turn into almost a year. One could draw the conclusion that either the Sixers have the worst doctors in all of sports, or that they have been wildly dishonest with their fan base over the past six months.
It remains possible that the Sixers are simply trying to continue the patient and prudent approach started by Hinkie. Perhaps, in a season that wasn’t expected to bear fruit in terms of wins and losses, the team sees no reason to risk further injury to its two most important pieces. If that’s the case, most Sixers fans would be on board. But the way they have navigated that approach has been less than ideal.
At best, the team has been less than forthright with the fans. At worst, it has been outright dishonest. This is a bad look for a team that has asked its fan base to endure the losing and roster changes of the past four years. After three seasons of watching a team that was purposefully devoid of legitimate NBA talent and trusting the organization that this would lead to a payoff down the road, Sixers fans at the very least deserve some honesty and transparency from their team.
It's been a rollercoaster ride with this team since last June. They experienced the excitement of drafting Simmons out of LSU and the devastation of his injury. They’ve anticipated a January or even a post All-Star break return to be given further disappointment of losing him for the season. They got a tantalizing taste of what Joel Embiid can do on a basketball court, only to have that snatched away while being strung along by management. You could even say that right now, fans wonder whether the collective hopes of the 2016-17 season have been one big tease.
As if the bitter pill of the past six weeks isn’t hard enough for Sixers fans to swallow, yet another incredibly important draft looms on the horizon. The actions of the organization under Colangelo, from his inability to move Jahlil Okafor and the paltry return he got for Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova, to the borderline disrespect displayed in the management of injuries, has left Sixers fans with little confidence in Colangelo’s ability to see Hinkie’s plan through. For an organization in desperate need of faith from a tired and frustrated fan base, the Sixers find themselves losing ground in that battle under Colangelo.
The Sixers are caught in an interesting middle ground. They're a young team with players who have tons of upside and could elevate the franchise to new heights, but the focus of trying to progress past the Hinkie Era and win now could jeopardize the promise of what Embiid and Simmons could be. This is why Colangelo is paid the big bucks, and maybe the Sixers should stop paying him those big bucks if he can't get things headed in the right direction.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.