Sixers Neglect Constellations in Search for Stars


Somehow this feels more hopeless than the last three playoff exits. 

It took a miracle shot by the eventual NBA champions to beat the Sixers in 2019. Luck was the scapegoat. 

In 2020, the roster was poorly constructed and the bubble was an alternative reality befitting of the multiverse of madness. Covid and poor roster construction was the reason. 

Last year their second-best player at the time — Ben Simmons — seemed to have mentally checked out of the Atlanta Hawks series. Simmons was the target. 

But this year, it just feels different. Another year. Another shuffling of the roster. Same result.

Something isn’t adding up. It will take some time to fully diagnose what this team needs (though I offer some light suggestions at the end). For now, let’s back away from the panic button to determine reasonable, unreasonable and bonkers takeaways from the 2022 Philadelphia 76ers playoff run.

“Thybulle needs to be traded”

This smells of the last postseason Robert Covington played with the Sixers. After a poor showing in the playoffs, he was traded the following season along with Dario Saric for Jimmy Butler.

It was considered a home run for the organization, despite the loss in depth being one of the team’s undoing. This was after many people applauded the Sixers for securing the homegrown, 3-and-D wing to a contract extension when 3-and-D wings were worth their weight in gold. I also understand Thybulle is not nearly the offensive player Covington was or is. 

Thybulle hasn’t developed a reliable jump shot since entering the league. It’s hard to swallow that considering the leap Tyrese Maxey made with his this season.

It is way too early to give up on Thybulle, however. He is still an outstanding defensive player, who had a big regular-season impact despite his poor showing this postseason. 

Should his postseason completely cloud what Thybulle is and what he can be? He is their only above-average wing defender heading into next year, and he’s on a rookie contract. With the team being tied to Embiid, the Tobias Harris max and James Harden’s contract for next season, they need as many cost-effective, young, homegrown players as possible. Looking at Dallas, Memphis, Golden State, Boston and Miami, their rosters are filled with talent they have drafted and developed for years. Philadelphia would be wise to follow suit for the first time since the Process early days.

Take: Bonkers

“Harden needs time to return to his old self”

It’s hard not to look at this and think this could be the norm –

There are many things you can appreciate Joel Embiid for– his talent, his toughness, his story, etc. What stands out the most to me is his honesty. After losing their second-round series with Miami, He said what we all know to be true– Houston James Harden ain’t walking through that door. Sans a flash of brilliance that kept the series alive in Game 4, Harden showed us who he is moving forward. If we are to accept a new generation of stars with the likes of Anthony Edwards and Ja Morant, we also have to accept that older stars are, well, getting older. 

Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and to a certain extent LeBron James, aren’t the players they once were. Pumping out 100 games a year the same way you could go out three nights in a row, consume nothing but alcohol and pizza, and still make it to your Monday morning class no problem becomes more difficult by the day.

To the extent that Daryl Morey sees this and addresses it appropriately will determine if the Simmons trade turns into a disaster.

Don’t get me wrong. Harden is still a fantastic playmaker and a very good outside shooter. He’s the best at both with this version of the Sixers by a LONG shot. It’s also hard to fathom Harden’s old self is gone and all we have left is his old self.

At this point in his career, a contract similar to the one Miami gave Kyle Lowry is more palatable (even though one could argue that’s a stretch given Lowry’s success in the postseason vs. Harden’s). It’s difficult to envision Harden being the second-best player on a title team at this point in his career, as this trade is looking like shades of the Chris Webber acquisition years ago– a name star, past his prime, as an attempt to pair someone with their current star.

The cruelest irony is that the type of player the Sixers could use the most would be Jrue Holiday. Having just acquired Harden, moving him this offseason seems unlikely. But if that’s the case then we have to discuss the Sixers’ other big contract player.

Take: Unreasonable

“Trade Tobias”

I feel badly for all the Harris trade talk. He was divisive all season.

Harris Can Superglue Sixers’ Title Hopes Together

In large stretches, however, he was the most reliable player this postseason. He is who we thought he was. He never claimed to be anything different. Maxey has elevated himself as the team’s third-best player.

So where does that leave Harris? If everything breaks right, a Harris trade and a reduced Harden contract leads to another max slot. One, that’s a big IF. Two, the search for another star may be the root of all the Sixers’ ills.

Take: Reasonable

“The Sixers need another star”

It’s a popular rhetoric – X superstar needs some help! I remember on draft night in 2020 when the Sixers made the infamous Zhaire SmithMikal Bridges trade. I remember distinctly part of the rationale of Brett Brown in that offseason was the team’s mission of “star-hunting.” They traded away the perfect role player, who played in their own backyard, for someone who they thought had a higher ceiling.

It’s this thinking that has truly been at the route of the Sixers’ failures.

In the hunt for stars, they’ve neglected the constellations. They could bring no one off the bench who was a plus on both offense and defense. While I love Georges Niang, and maintain he’s been the best free-agent signing since Elton Brandthe player — he’s not making the type of impact a P.J. Tucker, Grant Williams or Bobby Portis bring at the four spot for their teams. Morey has shown early an ability to shop the bargain bin to make shrewd acquisitions – the Seth Curry trade (we miss you everyday), the Niang signing, and the drafting of Maxey, Paul Reed, Charles Bassey and Jaden Springer.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot to say about the latter three in part due to…

“Doc may not be the best coach for the job”

It was astonishing how adamant Doc was in playing DeAndre Jordan or Paul Millsap instead of Reed or Bassey. Doc is generally allergic to letting young players play. One of the good things about Simmons sitting out was that it forced Doc to play Maxey. Other teams have leveraged the regular season for more experimentation, more run for younger players, more planned rest for their superstar.

Doc went with more of the same. He has had a lot of talented teams since his championship season with Boston, and none of them have resulted in a Conference Finals appearance.

That’s not to say he hasn’t done any good while he’s been here.

You can understand why he was hired. The Embiid-Simmons pairing wasn’t on the most stable ground. Neither player was deemed to have the full maturity at the time to embrace all sides of leadership. Ownership essentially went for the adult in the room after Brown. Someone who would command respect and steady the ship.

To Doc’s credit, he did that. He was an ardent supporter of Simmons (until he wasn’t) and Embiid all of last season. However, you still need someone who can develop young players, try new things, and consistently out X-and-O the opposition. 

It’s hard to point to where the ubiquitous diagnosis of a lack of mental toughness is coming from, but whoever is the coach next season has to fix that first and foremost.

Take: Reasonable

Where do we go from here?

In the eloquent words of Doc, the Sixers just weren’t good enough. At this point, the starters heading into next season are Harden-Maxey-Thybulle-Harris-Embiid. Niang, Reed, Bassey and Springer make up their bench.

And that’s it?

Even a healthy Embiid throughout the postseason, and the best case scenarios for Reed, Bassey and Springer wouldn’t be enough to elevate this team above the likes of Milwaukee or Boston. 

In terms of developing the mental toughness so many players commented on after their Game 6 loss, it’s going to take more than surface-level moves to address that. Just like Doc wasn’t the end-all-be-all fix to their leadership gap after Brett Brown, signing Pat Beverley for example shouldn’t be considered addressing the toughness gap.

There is something deeply embedded into the culture and wiring of this team that needs to be addressed. It’s not about more stars or winning the offseason. It’s about building a culture, drafting and developing young talent, and not going with the flashy move (please don’t replace Doc with Mike D’Antoni).

How do you fix that in an offseason? You can’t. Like everything involving the Sixers, it’s a process.

About Matthieu Hertilus

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