We're still on our NBA journey. The playoffs have begun, and sixteen teams vie for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Fifteen teams will join the other fifteen non-playoff teams as those who did not win the championship. If a team did not win the title, then that means adjustments must be made in order to best position themselves to win next year. Here at TSFJ, we are going to present ways each franchise can fix themselves. We will have a safe way and an extreme way to do this. Sometimes, relationships just need repair. Other times, a breakup in some form is necessary. We continue with the twelfth team eliminated from the postseason, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Record: 51-31, 3rd seed, Eastern Conference
Head Coach: Brett Brown
Playoff Result: Lost 2nd Round, 4-1, to the Boston Celtics. (The Process has been put on hold.)
With the Sixers, we must acknowledge where their rise to a playoff berth began. Rather, we must acknowledge whom is responsible. Sam Hinkie is either the smartest man ever, the most carelessly brave man ever, both or extremely lucky to have his improbable vision known as "The Process" come to fruition the way it has. Because the draft isn't an exact science, tanking — uh, accidentally not winning on purpose — does not guarantee immediate turnaround. Yes, high picks are usually among the most talented prospects. And yes, said talent is needed in abundance to breed stardom. But if it were as simple as selecting high in the draft, there would not be a long list of failed prospects — and the GMs whose jobs and reputations were lost because of luck.
Luck, as one definition, is where skill meets opportunity. Using this definition means we accept both that luck requires something we can control (skill) and something we cannot fully control (opportunity) in order for it to have a chance at happening, good or bad. The Sixers had control over who to select 3rd in the 2014 NBA Draft and who to select 1st in the 2016 and 2017 drafts. They cannot control the respective devastating injuries that sidelined those selections. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are three really talented prospects who, if healthy, will produce on the court. In year one of Simmons and Embiid together, the Sixers won 51 games and a playoff series. Even in The Process, it seems Philadelphia is ahead of schedule on their quest to capture an NBA title.
This year, that goal was thwarted rather easily by the Boston Celtics, where even without Kyrie Irving, oddsmakers were probably surprised by the outcome. Despite boasting about being the better team, the Sixers were handled and dismantled in five games. So, how do they fix it?
The Safe Fix
The Make-up Song: Gregory Porter - "Our Love"
There is a luxury of being able to start a 6'10" human being at point guard. It allows for more versatility with the rest of the lineup. Through Simmons, coach Brett Brown can put more length and athleticism on the floor in the likes of Dario Saric. He can also allow backup point guard TJ McConnell to play alongside Simmons if the opposing team's point guard is too difficult a matchup. Simmons, a natural floor general despite his limited shooting range, made the Sixers a faster team and better team in transition. With veteran marksmen JJ Redick and Robert Covington spreading the floor, it didn't matter if Simmons could shoot.
Until it did.
Boston exposed how hindered Simmons can be in half court offense. He must get better at shooting from distance. There is a hitch in his form that shows up in his paltry free throw shooting. He doesn't need to become Steph Curry, but he does need to be respectable. Just look at what the slightest improvement in shooting did for Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Embiid needs to stay healthy. Not just for the Sixers, as he is everything the NBA needs. He's the perfect antihero: charismatic, a bit of an irritant and very, very good. In addition, he wants to destroy his competition. That's key in developing into an elite player.
Markelle Fultz is lost, it appears. Something happened between that Summer League injury and the start of the season that sapped him of his confidence. Just two years ago, albeit on a bad team, Fultz averaged 23 points a game in college. The question is not about his talent. But if he is to be a part of The Process, some serious work needs to be done on his psyche. Peace to him and his journey.
The Extreme Fix
The Breakup Song: Seal - "Kiss From A Rose"
As previously stated, The Process was a risky ideal that is finally beginning to work out. Now, the Sixers must figure out if they'll allow natural talent to develop without trading it; or if they continue that bold attitude and move young talent for possible big name superstars. Their model of letting talent develop together is the Oklahoma City Thunder with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden. That core group of players reached the conference finals twice and the Finals once, so early success is possible. But eventually, those pieces were separated. Perhaps the Sixers should move some talent, because a veteran presence who can greatly contribute is a piece that young team is sorely missing.
I'm not suggesting trading Simmons or Embiid. However, Dario Saric and even Markelle Fultz may be attractive to teams looking to get younger after dead end seasons. A 6'5" scoring point guard and 6'10" stretch forward in an Association that finds both those archetypes more valuable may net that veteran scorer who could stabilize the squad when youth leads to mistakes. I don't have any names readily available, but I'm sure you can think of someone, reader.
I don't have the perfect formula to speed the Sixers' process up and get them a championship next year, but I do know something must change. Happy NBA, folks.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.