For a team comprised of so much potential and promise, the Philadelphia 76ers have yet again disappointed. Like many, I predicted the Sixers would win the Eastern Conference and contend for a title. Instead they’ve been sent home early by the Boston Celtics and with the franchise now in no-man’s land, ‘The Process’ appears to have failed. So, where do the Philadelphia 76ers go from here?
Changing the coach
Brett Brown has long been the scapegoat for a Philadelphia team that has struggled to click, despite its loaded roster. In somewhat of a juxtaposition, Brown has long been regarded as a great coach around the league, but was the first to be blamed for the lack of synergy between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, as well as their apparent lack of energy and questionable rotations. Regardless of what you think about him, Brown has now been fired, leaving the Sixers with a crucial appointment to make.
Early reports are suggesting that Clippers assistant Ty Lue, Villanova head coach Jay Wright and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka are front runners for the job – each bringing a different skillset to the table. Lue, who is the top target according to Adrian Wojnarowski, coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first title in 2016 and won two rings of his own as a player. Jay Wright is based in Philadelphia and has transformed the local Villanova Wildcats into an NCAA powerhouse since starting his role in 2001. Ime Udoka joined the Sixers staff only last year after leaving his job as assistant under Gregg Popovich at the San Antonio Spurs and has been credited with revamping the team’s defense. Much of Philadelphia’s decision-making will depend on how different their front office looks and whether they can land their top target while still competing with teams like Chicago, Brooklyn, Indiana and New Orleans, who are all on the prowl for a new head coach.
Trade Embiid or Simmons
Throughout the past few years of pain and struggles, one question has surrounded the 76ers – will they trade Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid? Both are All-Stars and still have their prime years ahead of them, however with their playing styles both being interior-centric, one has to wonder if a trade would benefit both the players and franchises involved.
Question marks continue to surround Embiid following the shambolic loss to the Celtics, namely to do with his fitness, motivation and consistency. And whilst Simmons’ overall talent has never been in doubt, his susceptibility to injuries and lack of perimeter shooting could place him at the front of the team’s trade block. The only certainty with either scenario is that Philadelphia could bring back an incredible haul in return.
It’s highly unlikely the 76ers would look to be reimbursed with draft stock and would instead target complimentary All-Star calibre sidekicks to whichever superstar they decide to keep. Shot creators like Bradley Beal, CJ McCollum, Jamal Murray, Devin Booker and De’Aaron Fox (with some combination of picks or other players) might be of interest to a Sixers team that has seen limited success in the half-court offense.
Trade Anyone or Everyone Else
The Sixers have two of the worst contracts in the league. Tobias Harris (earning over $34 million annually for four more seasons) and Al Horford (already 33 years old, earning around $28 million annually for three more seasons). If Simmons and Embiid remain on the roster, any other significant changes would require either Harris, Horford or both to be involved in a trade – but with such hefty contracts, they may struggle to bring back anything of positive value.
In the long term, Philadelphia may offer assets to facilitate offloading their salaries, paving the way to make a run at a free agent. Having said that, the 76ers last two major free agent signings were… you guessed it, Harris and Horford. So fans might be less-than-optimistic should they choose to venture down that avenue once again.
The players that most effectively complimented Simmons and Embiid so far have been knockdown perimeter shooters like JJ Redick, ball-handling facilitators like the under-rated T.J. McConnell and alpha-dog players who can galvanise the team, like Jimmy Butler. Look for Philadelphia to be active in the offseason and at minimum, bring in a Point Guard who can make an entry pass. No offense, Raul Neto.
The Likely Outcome
GM Elton Brand has consistently stated that neither Simmons, nor Embiid, will be traded and it would seem unfair to hire a new coach without giving them a chance to make the superstar pairing work. However, after enduring such pain and anguish in the name of ‘The Process’, it seems highly unlikely that they would look to offload large salaries by attaching the assets that they have spent years accumulating, just to make up for very recent mistakes.
It seems more probable that moves will be made on the periphery and the Sixers will look to improve ball-handling and shooting, either through the draft or by adding effective role players. Whether it’s the stars, role players or front office, Philadelphia will be making some serious changes in what Elton Brand has labelled ‘a pivotal moment for the organisation’.