Where Do The Sixers Go From Here?
The Philadelphia 76ers have had a rough season. Just a year ago, they were a couple bounces away from the franchise’s first Eastern Conference Finals appearance in nearly two decades. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were 25 and 23, respectively. The team’s monster in-season trades seemingly had paid off. The expectation was that the Sixers would re-sign Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick, and run it back. The fruits of the Process were finally beginning to ripen.
As we now know, that is not what happened. The Sixers blew up the roster, signed Al Horford and Harris to massive contracts, and let both Butler and Redick walk. Many pundits talked themselves into the team in the preseason, but it was evident from the start that this team was built to fail. In a season where they were supposed to “bully ball” the league, in the words of Brett Brown, en route to a title, the Sixers slogged through an injury-plagued season with more off-court drama than on-court. A team that was unanimously picked to finish as a top two seed in the East will likely finish in 6th place, depending on how the NBA handles the remainder of the season.
So the question is, what happens next? There’s been daily speculation about the Sixers needing to break up the young duo of Embiid and Simmons, mostly due to fit reasons. Is that really the path to go on? The answer is a resounding no. Embiid just turned 26 and has developed into a superstar talent, capable of becoming a perennial MVP and the best player on a title team. Simmons is just 23 and already a two-time All-Star, and likely on his way to an All-Defensive 1st Team selection at the conclusion of the season. The fit isn’t perfect, but breaking those two up after just three seasons together would be madness. It is especially more confounding to hear the constant calls to break up the two stars when the biggest problem and his 109 million dollar contract is staring anybody who watches the team on a nightly basis right in the face.
The Sixers roster solution is simple. They need to trade Al Horford for whatever they can this summer. They can’t worry about value. It’s a sunk cost. The Al Horford fit with Embiid and Simmons is horrendous. To make matters even worse, Horford hasn’t been performing even when placed in an optimal lineup. He’s looked like a complete shell of his Boston self. At this point, the Sixers should take any Horford deal that doesn’t involve them giving up major assets to get off his salary and run with it. But unfortunately, the issues run deeper than Horford.
The Sixers must have one of the most incompetent front offices in the NBA. The GM, Elton Brand, had just two years of front office experience before being hired, and played with many players around the league, including Al Horford. There are other major voices in the front office who worked for Bryan Colangelo and were kept by ownership following his firing. Many of those voices were passed over for the GM job. That can’t be a recipe for a healthy work environment. Ideally, the Sixers will clean house after the season. The job still has appeal around the league. A major market with two budding superstars and an ownership group willing to dig into the luxury tax. Getting an experienced, successful general manager in the building to take full control of the basketball operations could salvage the Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons era in Philly.
The Sixers still have time to get this right. But the clock is ticking. And it’s ticking much faster than anyone could have imagined one year ago after Kawhi Leonard’s shot bounced in. This could be their final offseason to make the Embiid-Simmons pairing work. They cannot afford to run it back with Al Horford and the same front office structure. We’ve seen how volatile the NBA is the past few years. Another lackluster season in Philadelphia in 2020-21, and Joel Embiid could get wandering eyes. Between the Butler and Harris trades and the Horford signing, the Sixers have shown they are not afraid to blow it up. This is not the time to change that philosophy.