Can the Philadelphia 76ers become the new kings of the Eastern Conference?

Ben Simmons, Al Horford | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ben Simmons, Al Horford | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Where do the Philadelphia 76ers stand in the wide-open Eastern Conference?

The East experienced a significant shakeup Friday night: Kawhi Leonard has moved back West. With him he takes another elite two-way player with him, in Paul George.

For Leonard, he leaves the legend of a country, for a moment, (as the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league) and will receive a hero’s welcome in Clippers Nation. It should be noted that the Raptors were better in every measurable facet of the game with The Claw on the court, as no one was truly able to step up and deliver beside him during the playoff run.

Effect on the East

This will have a ripple effect on the league. With Golden State significantly hindered this coming season, and Brooklyn getting better, but not yet having Kevin Durant to boast, the power structure of the NBA has significantly shifted. There may be no true and clear-cut best team in the NBA.

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The Lakers must take limited resources and shape the remainder of not only their bench out, but also their starting five. The Clippers are good, but untested. Milwaukee took a significant hit, in the loss of Malcolm Brogdon. Toronto is in trouble. Portland has never been reliable enough to consider elite.

In short, the league is up for grabs.

Effect on the Philadelphia 76ers

All the moves reported since the open of free agency pan out the best for the Philadelphia 76ers. Its easy to assume each article here is written with bias; I mean, it is a Sixers website—we’re all fans. Nevertheless, God is in the details here.

Philadelphia returns three of five starters in Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid. Not only that, but from the two losses, they return, arguably, a better pair than what they ended the playoffs with. Of the two additions, Al Horford has been a world-beater when it comes to the Sixers in recent years. Horford has managed to stifle Joel Embiid in almost every scenario where they match up. So, the addition of Horford isn’t just relief for Embiid in the matchup, but it’s a help to him for more rest and to help him improve his game.

Really, who better to help him improve than the one man in the East who was consistently able to stifle him over the past few seasons?

Josh Richardson, an addition to Philadelphia via the exit of Jimmy “My name is literally Jimmy” Butler may be an ideal combination of the skills of Butler and Redick. While not an elite 3-point shooter like J.J. Redick, we will find he may have more success creating shots off the dribble, and scoring off his athleticism, rather than depending on screen action around Embiid (or potentially Horford).

Defensively, Richardson is going to be an upgrade to both players. No explanation is needed on why he is an upgrade from Redick as pretty much anybody is. However, for Butler, the explanation may be a little more difficult.

The numbers suggest Butler is an elite defender for his position, and yet the numbers for Richardson show he is only minimally behind Butler, if you dismiss this past year. All around, Richardson, younger than Jimmy by four years, and nearly a decade the younger of Redick will be coupled with elite defenders in Embiid and Simmons and will flourish.

Projections for Philadelphia in the East

Truth be told, Philadelphia needs to find out who among them will have the ball in their hands when it matters most (my vote is Tobias Harris), but overall, they boast the best overall starting five in the East bar none, and perhaps the league.

Philadelphia must flesh out the roster with solid veterans and a couple of sharpshooters, but in the end, I believe Philadelphia will emerge as the best team in the East and challenge the Clippers, Lakers, Blazers and Denver Nuggets for best record in the NBA by season’s end.

The Sixers are a team who was a bounce away from forcing the now-Champions to overtime in Game 7. A fluky history-making shot is what it took from a player who was all Toronto had to offer, should give each fan hope of what’s to come.

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Where does Philadelphia stand in the way-too-early Power Rankings? Who is on top? Are there any dark horses you think may challenge whats left of the established top tier?