By Zach Wilson
During the NBA shutdown, I recorded a podcast where I laid out the teams which I was most interested in. Philadelphia was high on my list, yet I didn’t even bring them up, because I was simply sick of talking about them. They’ve almost been intriguing for so long that it’s the new normal. It’s like a relationship: by the two-year mark, what used to make the butterflies in your stomach go wild, suddenly goes cold…unless that’s just me and my lack of emotion?
Just when I thought this team couldn’t get anymore interesting, or weird, or entertaining, they go and hire a coach who has managed to blow multiple 3–1 leads, and a general manager who put together a starting lineup where their center was 6-foot-5. I will say, I wonder if Daryl Morey had an epiphany watching his extreme-small-ball experiment in Houston fail and decided to go to a team whose starting five includes two centers and two power forwards.
All that aside, Morey is respected as one of the top general managers in the league. He is known in NBA circles as a guy who gets what he wants, and not in the sense of a spoiled rich kid, but in that he will do whatever it takes to get the guy he’s set his sights on.
Morey is someone who has often coveted stars, and is willing to trade every asset he has to acquire one. Entering a situation in Philly where he has two stars, (yet four guys who are paid like one) it will be interesting to see if he is set on acquiring a third, or at the very least, a player who fits alongside his two All-Stars. Ideally, that would mean a player who can create offense, run the pick-and-roll, and space the floor for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Even though it seems that Elton Brand has full support from the 76ers’ ownership, I wonder if they felt like they had to get someone with more experience in charge. Brand’s first offseason didn’t necessarily go as planned (or maybe it did, and it was just a poor plan).
During their second-round series in 2019, Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick were the biggest thorns in the side of the eventual-champion Raptors (still love saying that). I was surprised the Sixers didn’t make a stronger effort to keep the two of them. That Philadelphia team put up the toughest fight against Toronto, and who knows? If Kawhi Leonard’s shot doesn’t fall, Philly could have taken the series in overtime and smashed their way to a title.
Last off-season, Elton Brand was like a kid with their parents’ credit card in a wide open, coronavirus-free mall. Al Horford is a nice jacket. He’s serviceable, but it takes a specific outfit to truly make him pop. Not to mention the rumors that the only reason he was signed was so he couldn’t play on an opposing team to guard Embiid. Brand’s in-class rival really wanted that leather jacket, but there was only one left. Brand didn’t like the jacket that much, but he bought it, so they couldn’t—only to find out that none of his outfits worked with the jacket. Now, he’s on FaceBook market place looking to dish it out for the low.
I don’t even know what piece of clothing Tobias Harris is. It’s almost as if someone told Elton Brand that keeping the team together was the smartest thing he could do, and he should do anything in his power to keep them together, and so he did, no questions asked. Brand must have known Butler would be the tougher of the two to negotiate with, so he went to Harris first, and by the time that monstrosity of a deal was complete, Jimmy was out the door and on a plane to South Beach.
I can relate to Brand on a personal level with that one. Whenever I have a checklist of tasks to complete, I always start with the simplest one so I can check it off and feel productive. Then I push off the big stuff ’till it’s too late, and my assignment worth 30 percent of my grade is three days overdue, and I need to get at least an 80 percent on my final exam to pass the class, and I’m more stressed than if I would have just completed that task at the start (not a personal story).
If you enjoyed the clothing analogies, I do have some for a couple young stars on this Philadelphia team. Embiid is a really fancy and expensive white shirt. You get complimented on it every time you wear it, but that thing stains like a mother****er. Simmons, on the other hand, is a Nike hat with the logo peeled off. The hat still does its job, and looks nice, but a big aspect of it is missing, which takes it from an elite-level hat to a great hat.
All the speculation surrounding Philadelphia trading one of Embiid or Simmons has gone off the rails. For two consecutive years, the Sixers ran tremendous starting lineups around their two stars (Simmons, Redick, Covington, Saric, Embiid, then Simmons, Redick, Butler, Harris, Embiid). It’s not about those two not being able to coexist, it’s about surrounding them with the correct pieces. Sure, they may not mesh quite as well as those satisfying video compilations on YouTube (I could watch them for hours), but if you surround them with three-point shooters, the whole floor opens up for those two to dominate.
The guys who will likely be shopped are the remaining pieces of the starting five, with Horford and Harris the most likely candidates. Neither of those two are bad players—in fact, in the right situation, I think both of them could still play valuable roles—but the ideal role for them just isn’t in Philadelphia, and paying them a combined $60 million per season is hard to swallow. My guess is Morey steps in and attempts to trade them for some shooting, and a guy who can handle the ball in a pick-and-roll. Whether they swing for the fences and target Chris Paul, call Indiana to check on Victor Oladipo, or maybe take a little bit more of a conservative approach on a player like Buddy Hield, I have to believe that one of those two won’t be on the roster next year.
The second question comes with actually making a deal that works. It’s difficult to imagine anyone sees either of those two as positive values on their current contracts, but as mentioned previously, it’s not like either of them are bad players. A sweetener would likely have to be involved, whether that’s a draft pick, Josh Richardson, or even Matisse Thybulle. I have to imagine Philly is going to stay as far away as possible from trading Thybulle (but then again, with Morey at the helm, you never know); he showed some serious three-and-D potential and is the exact type of player you want to surround Simmons and Embiid with.
As I write this, my copy of Tanking to the Top by Yaron Weitzman just got delivered to my door. For those not in the know, it’s a book outlining the insanity of the 76ers’ rebuild, and how it brought them to contention.
It will be interesting to see if this current regime can actually take the 76ers franchise all the way to the top. The additions of Morey, Doc Rivers, and Dave Joerger creates the strongest coaching/management staff this team has seen in a very long time.
Morey, and the NBA as a whole are all about efficiency, and with talented players like Simmons and Embiid, you can most definitely find efficient ways to score, while standing at the top of the charts defensively. I can’t imagine this team transforms into three-point bombers like the Houston Rockets, but I can imagine they will stray away from the mid-range a lot more than they have in recent years.
The East, while there are a handful of good teams, is extremely open. In fact, the entire league is open. And, as Morey famously said in 2012; “If you’ve got a five percent chance to win the title…you’ve gotta be focused all on winning the title.” Morey certainly is a guy who is known to go all in, and if it doesn’t work next year, then maybe the Simmons and Embiid pairing does get split up. But I would expect them at the very least, to play one more season together.