Perpetual ‘What Ifs?’ Swarm Sixers, Simmons


On the surface, comic-book fans and sports fans don’t seem to have much in common.

What draws them to their objects of affection are often vastly different. There is at least one commonality that is undeniable. That is the allure of what if.

MCU fans are living out that fantasy with the release of Marvel’s new animated series– what if? It’s a concept nearly bulletproof from failing. It surpasses mere sensory satisfaction and feeds its audience a dopamine shot of the purest source– imagination.

Unfortunately, what is pure satisfaction for Marvel fans is agony for Sixers fans. 

The harsh reality is there is no move the Sixers can realistically make that puts them ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, or some may argue even the Miami Heat this upcoming season. Adding the prospects of Boston, Atlanta and Milwaukee, that likely leaves another year of the Process without a championship.

It makes for as good a time as any to stroll down memory lane and wonder what if. There are dozens of tiny moves to consider, but there are a select few, made with deliberate choice, that has earned this franchise its current fate. These are far more powerful than what if they drafted X, or what if Y didn’t get hurt.

These moves were in their hands, and somehow they just missed the dunk.

What If…they hadn’t traded for Jimmy Butler?

One year. After one full year of playing together, suddenly the saddle of championship expectations were strapped to the backs of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. For as much as Simmons and Embiid have felt like an awkward fit together, they never really had enough time to develop individually and as a true duo.

Imagine if Boston acquired Gordon Hayward only AFTER the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals when Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown emerged. That’s a little like what Embiid and Simmons faced after the Butler acquisition. 

For as talented as he is, Butler’s playstyle and personality really hurt the Simmons-Embiid partnership before it had a chance to get going.

Butler’s role made Simmons nearly obsolete. Three years after being the No. 1 pick in the draft and he was clearly regulated to 3rd banana.

Perhaps these were the seeds that bore the fruit to what we saw of Simmons in these playoffs. What if the team had given it just one more year with a fun, up-and-coming core with guys who knew their roles, developing chemistry together?

They had the best five-man lineup in the league the year before the Butler trade. After the trade, they suffered from a lack of depth and shooting after Process-era favorites, Robert Covington and Dario Saric, were moved in the deal.

For some people, it will be what if the team kept Butler that offseason– I will remain on the hill that it would’ve been best for all parties if the two sides never crossed paths.

What If…they hadn’t parted ways with Sam Hinkie?

We all remember the letter.

This is one of those situations that was only sort of in the organization’s hands. If you believe the rumors, our John the Baptist, Sam Hinkie, was forced out of the role for his years of unabashed tanking. Out went Hinkie and in came league-approved Bryan Colangelo.

This is where things really went off the rails. Without the jettisoning of Hinkie, the Sixers wouldn’t have traded up to the number one pick to select Markelle Fultz.

Even in a worst-case scenario where the Sixers stay put at No. 3 and still take Fultz, they would have an extra first-round pick (we’ll get back to that). Fultz may not have had such a controversial tenure in Philadelphia with the No. 1-pick label. Given Hinkie’s track record, it’s difficult to imagine him moving up in the draft like that.

The bad moves didn’t end after the Colangelo exit. The shared power structure of Elton Brand and Brett Brown didn’t fare much better. Trading Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith and a pick, acquiring and signing Tobias Harris to a monster contract, the acquisitions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford— all post-post-Hinkie.

It was so bad that Daryl Morey’s first year on the job was mainly focused on undoing the damage caused by the previous regime. Out went Richardson and Horford. In came Seth Curry, acquired to replace — and do a better job of — the void left by Landry Shamet.

Lastly, they actually started acquiring and developing young players again. Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed, all 2020 Morey draft picks, figure to be part of the Sixers’ rotation this upcoming season. Even the hiring of Doc Rivers, technically not a Morey move, is a win for making Harris a plus player again. Part of Doc’s appeal was that Harris had his best years playing for him.

Then again, we need to talk more about Doc.

What If…they hired Ty Lue instead of Doc?

Doc Rivers brings a ton of appealing attributes to this position, which are already evident. His championship pedigree and player-friendly approach are arguably exactly what the team needed after Brown. It’s a compelling argument that misses a crucial point about what THIS Sixers team needs. When you have two uniquely talented individual players in Simmons and Embiid, just as important as the soft traits, you need a creative mind that can craft roles, responsibilities and configurations that will maximize them AND the talent around them.

Fans were going mad watching all-bench lineups in the playoffs, or lineups in which Tobias was the anchor. These have Doc’s imprints on them. Conversely, one could argue that the creativity Lue showed with the Clippers is exactly what the Sixers needed. Lue empowering Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann in lieu of Marcus Morris and Luke Kennard is what propelled the Clippers as far as they went.

This is even more impressive considering how competitive they were after Kawhi Leonard‘s injury. If you can do that, and coach LeBron James to a championship, you can coach anyone. Coupled with murmurs that Lue was Simmons’s preferred choice, and it can be debated that despite a No. 1 overall seed for the Sixers last year — which Doc should absolutely get praise for — the season could’ve ended much better with Lue at the helm.

This will take more time to play out. We don’t know how true the rumors are that Simmons’s and Doc’s relationship is all but fractured. There are at least a few embers to make us wonder whether another championship opportunity is up in smoke.

What If…Ben Simmons?

There isn’t just one question regarding Simmons. What if Simmons got more public backing by the team? Then there’s – what if the team constructed a roster and style more conducive to Simmons’s strengths? What if the team traded Simmons sooner?

His entire career is a giant what if. It’s unfortunate we only saw glimpses of his true powers. That’s not entirely on him and that’s not entirely on the organization.

The last remnant of the Process is the Process himself. For now, the eternal what if remains – what if, there are too many what ifs to win a championship?

Follow us on Twitter @SixersLead for the latest 76ers news and insight. 

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About Matthieu Hertilus

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