You know that queasy feeling, the one where you wake up after a not-great five and a half hours of sleep and it feels like someone balled up all the energy in your body and shoved it uncomfortably next to your appendix? You definitely have to get out of bed, but it’s not going to be a banner day at the office either, complete with two extra cups of coffee before lunch and the associated stomach problems. No?
I never claimed that medical analogies were my strong suit, but that’s about how I felt about the Philadelphia 76ers season. It’s not catastrophic organ failure, but something is just… off.
The Process—if we can even call it that anymore—seems to have hit a second-round shaped wall. Joel Embiid put together an MVP-winning campaign, but his main competitor Nikola Jokic won a championship and was crowned the new everyone-thinks-he’s-the-best-player-in-the-world guy.
A fairly successful regular season for the 76ers was again overshadowed by a disappointing playoff.
It’s a tough beat, but at least there’s the same good news that there’s been ever since LeBron left the Eastern Conference: it’s nobody’s to lose.
For the 76ers—as well as for the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics—a playoff spot is a forgone conclusion barring a total meltdown. That’s the competition, but the 76ers are easily the most urgent of the group.
That’s because, since 2017-2018, the Celtics have been to four Eastern Conference Finals and one NBA Finals. The Bucks have been to two ECFs and won a championship in 2021. The 76ers on the other hand have been treading water in the second round since 2001.
The current roster isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not shivering anyone’s timbers either. It’s a tale of inconsistency across the board: one solid and one shaky cornerstone, a great young player but a lack of overall support, and an aggressive organization but no continuity at head coach. It’s rough out here, especially with the lack of playoff success across the various Process-era partners for Embiid.
How to get over that hump is the story of the offseason, and I’ve got some ideas.
To preface: we’ll be designating two untouchables and four cuts from the 76ers current roster, but rather than filling the cuts section with guys like Louis King and Jaden Springer—who don’t even play—I tried to pick actual rotation guys to see if we can’t fix this roster for real.
1st Untouchable: Tyrese Maxey
It would be beyond foolish to cut bait with Maxey, the franchise’s premier “wow, is he really that young?” guy. He’s only 22 and on an unbelievably cheap rookie contract, which makes his 20 points-per-game and energizer bunny explosiveness the closest you’ll ever get to a free lunch.
Maxey is an awesome player, but he can be great if he focuses every year on adding something to his already dangerous game. NBA history says that it’s hard to really know who a guy will be until they’re in that 26-27 age range—usually the beginning of their prime—so there is plenty of time for growth. He is a fantastic scorer, and will continue to improve his true point guard chops if James Harden can let him dribble the ball more than four times per possession (we’ll get to him later).
The only worry with Maxey is, ironically, his extreme youth not clicking with this roster’s current timeline. Embiid is about to enter his 30-year-old season, but who knows his physical durability with how many injuries he has sustained? Harden isn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore, so unless Maxey can rapidly morph into the star he can be, this team might hit its limit before those three can be considered a real big three.
A contract extension is a next discussion to be had, but it’s lunacy not to hang onto him in case. Maxey is one of the few things to feel good about from last season.