They’ll be back

Well, the Philadelphia 76ers’ season didn’t exactly end the way we would’ve liked. But this season is only the genesis.

“They’re probably gonna stink.”

“This team ain’t winning 40 games, even in the miserable East.”

I, like most Philadelphia 76ers fans, didn’t know what to expect coming into this season. I knew we had not one, but two young, generational talents leading the way, another potential superstar to boot (who should’ve been Rookie of the Year), and a solid myriad of other role players who could potentially help us sneak into the playoffs. It seemed like we were entering the final stage of the Process.

But like any team that’s still on the rise, you just never know. Call it whatever you want: classic Philly pessimism, reverse psychology, etc. We knew they had the potential to be great, and they probably would be. Yet in reality, there were so many questions that needed to be answered. Could this team actually mesh well together? Could the bench hold its own? Will Joel stay healthy? Will Ben stay healthy? Is he as good as we all think he is? Will Dario continue to develop? Can Brett coach a winning team?

I can only speak for me, but my expectations entering the year were relatively low. Maybe 43 wins, 45 if we’re lucky. We should make the playoffs, but who knows. We’re still so young and probably a couple years away from being legitimate contenders. Let’s just shoot for the eight-seed and at least make a series out of it in the first round if we find ourselves there.

That right there would be the ideal season. As a matter of fact, even if we don’t make the playoffs I’ll still be able to sleep at night. As long as we see some sort of development, that’s fine.

Clearly I had no idea what to expect this year. Sometimes you just gotta trust the process and let things play out.

Well, as it turns out, a lot of good things happened this year. Just to name a few:

  • 52 wins (56 wins combined from 2014-17)
  • 16-game winning streak to end the season (NBA record).
  • A playoff berth for the first time in six years.
  • Earned a three-seed and home-court advantage in a playoff series for the first time in 15 years.
  • Won a playoff series for the first time in six years.
  • Joel Embiid played a total of 71 games with no limitations for a majority of the season and made his first All-Star team.
  • Ben Simmons absolutely shattered all expectations and is the probable Rookie of the Year.
  • Dario Saric proved he too could be an All-Star one day.
  • Brett Brown received votes for Coach of the Year.
  • There was more winning than losing.

I could go on for days. It’s been what has felt like an eternity since I’ve had a Sixers team I could legitimately be proud of. The Pre-Process squad obviously is up there, and I cheered on the Process Era teams for, well, very different reasons. There was just something about this team in particular. They became must-see T.V. They put on a show every game-night, and once it came to end, you couldn’t wait to see the next one.

That excitement, looking back, is probably the reason why I, like a lot of people, felt that the sky was the limit this year. I think we were all so transfixed with what was going on on the court that we didn’t want it to end. And why would we? It’s been a long time since we’ve had an actual product to show off, and once you start to realize that you might have something, you have to run with it.

But the fact of the matter is, it was too much too soon. As much as we wanted to deny it, the lights were shining just a little too bright too early.

Boston straight up exposed us as a result. They beat us fair and square, and we really had no business winning that series. The youth and inexperience showed: the costly turnovers, the questionable coaching moves, the difficulties adjusting to whatever Brad Stevens threw at them, etc.

The Sixers were out-played and out-coached by a more prepared squad, straight up. And it sucks, it really does. All you can do, whether you’re Ben, Joel, Brett, or anybody on the Sixers, is learn from it and use it as extra motivation heading into the off-season to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

With that being said, this season was not a failure by any stretch of the word.  Did it have a disappointing end? Yes. Could this team have done more? Possibly. Are they ahead of schedule? Uh, ya think? I mean shoot, Michael Jordan didn’t win his first playoff series until his fourth season. These guys did it in their first year playing as a collective. So to say that losing to this admittedly under-manned Celtics squad is a setback would just be foolish.

You can’t go from driving a Honda Accord to rolling up in a Lamborghini in one year. It takes time, dedication, sacrifice, and hard work. Plus some heartbreak is bound to pop up along the way. That’s just life.

I’ve told my homies all year, even when this squad was running the table the second half of the season, that I couldn’t wait for next year. They’ve shown flashes of the greatness to come, but the 2018-19 season is when the real reign is gonna commence.

Obviously there are going to be higher expectations for this squad moving forward, but this season showed that there is something special brewing in South Philly, and they have shown that they are more than capable of living up to the hype.