There were lofty expectations for the Philadelphia 76ers entering this season, as the team was the presumptive favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Due to the current global crisis and the NBA currently on hiatus, we are unable to know for certain if those expectations could have been met.
Call me a pessimist, but my sights are fully set on the 2020-21 NBA season. If this season does resume, it will return with a never before seen structure and playoff format. On the other hand, it appears there is cautious optimism about next season and a return to a more normal schedule and feel. With that in mind, maybe the Philadelphia 76ers can live up to the NBA Finals expectations next season and here is how.
It is clear, Joel Embiid and Al Horford struggle to play together on the offensive end of the floor due to lack of spacing in the paint. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that Ben Simmons lacks a jump shot and scores the majority of his points in this already crowded paint. The Sixers must either trade Al Horford, although that may be tough with the unfriendly team contract, or move him to the second unit.
We saw glimpses of the latter option in February and March this year when Embiid returned from injury. Pair Horford in the second unit with Shake Milton, who was having a revolutionary breakout in the absence of Simmons and Josh Richardson, and the Sixers have legitimate depth, something they have not had in a long time. Philadelphia’s lack of depth has been exposed in recent years’ playoff series when the starters are exhausted and struggle in back to back games.
Ignoring the fact that the starters need to improve their conditioning (I’m looking at you, JoJo), bench depth is key to a deep playoff run. The importance of this is most visibly seen in LeBron James‘ success, or lack thereof, in NBA Finals. James has shown he has enough raw, superstar talent to will his team’s to the NBA Finals, but year after year, he came up short when matched up against a team with more bench talent on their roster. Star players can only carry a team so far.
In addition, for this team to reach the pinnacle of the NBA Finals next season, changes need to be made in the front office and/or at head coach. Now if you have read my articles in the past, you know I am an advocate of Brett Brown, but I understand the argument that the rebuilding coach cannot be the same as the post-rebuild coach.
My displeasure with the front office originated with the way they went about releasing Jimmy Butler and letting J.J. Redick walk as well as the long-term signing of Horford to play alongside Embiid. They are both old-school big men, in a league that is rapidly moving away from the conventional center. These questionable decisions do not fall on Brown in his attempts to play the players he has on the roster and develop team chemistry.
The bottom line remains the same, though — changes need to be made at the management level as well as the player personnel level, unless players are open to the idea of rotational changes. The silver lining in all of this is that I truly believe the Philadelphia 76ers have the players on the roster capable of making it to the NBA Finals. Their starting lineup is arguably the best in the NBA and there is definitely enough talent to compete with any team in the league.
Here’s to hoping the NBA returns to normal next season and the Sixers play to the level we know they are capable of. Then, we can finally see an NBA Finals home game at the Wells Fargo Center for the first time in 20 years!