Philadelphia 76ers fans are drowning themselves in Cheez Whiz and sorrow on this gloomy Monday morning, and understandably so. This was supposed to be the year their young, talented roster finally made it over the hump. The Eastern Conference couldn’t have shaken out any better for the Sixers, either. They earned the No. 1 seed and what should’ve been a free pass to the ECF, and they wouldn’t have had to slay Brooklyn’s Big 3 to reach their first NBA Finals since 2001.
But instead, Philly couldn’t even make it past Trae Young and the upstart Atlanta Hawks.
Sixers fans are undoubtedly upset that their disappointing roster failed to make it out of the second round once again, but this humiliating series loss is actually the best possible thing that could’ve happened to a team still searching for answers.
The Sixers didn’t deserve to beat the Hawks
The Sixers entered their second-round playoff series against the Hawks as heavy favorites to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta had no one on the roster to slow down Joel Embiid, and the team seemingly relied on Young to create too much offense and carry them to four wins in seven games against a bigger, more talented roster.
But as the series wore on, it was clear the Sixers didn’t deserve to move on to the next round.
For the most part, Philly dominated the first three quarters all series long. Embiid was unstoppable, Seth Curry looked like his brother shooting the ball, and Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle made life hard for Young on the offensive end.
But once the fourth quarter came around, the Sixers folded quicker than a poker player with a two and a seven in his hand.
In Games 4 and 5 combined, Philly was outscored 63-37 in the fourth quarter alone. That’s not just a coincidence. Once the game tenses up in crunch time and shifts to a half-court slugfest, the Sixers are doomed. They force-feed an exhausted Embiid possession after possession and stand around the perimeter as if they’re just fans with the best seats in the house. Meanwhile, Simmons stands unguarded in the corner or near the basket while his defender doubles Embiid without a single shred of worry about leaving his man. And Tobias Harris — at least he tries to create offense (sometimes, at least), but he simply can’t be trusted with the game on the line.
The Hawks had more confidence in the clutch and a killer instinct all series long that the Sixers still somehow lack. They won the series just as much as Philadelphia lost it, which really is saying something.
Mortifying playoff exit is exactly the wake-up call Philadelphia needs
The 76ers‘ early exit from the playoffs at the hands of an inferior team might seem like a nightmare scenario for the franchise, but it’s actually quite the opposite. If this team escaped the Hawks and somehow made it to the NBA Finals, Daryl Morey would’ve had enough of a reason to run it back with the same roster.
That simply cannot happen after what we just witnessed.
Simmons is an exceptional playmaker and defender who has legitimate Magic Johnson upside. But he’ll never even reach the level of a Rajon Rondo if he can’t grow into just a moderate threat in the half-court. And somehow, someway, he’s only getting worse. When Simmons passed up an open dunk to feed a double-covered Thybulle late in the game Sunday night, he all but purchased himself a plane ticket out of town right then and there. The dude didn’t even look up at the basket to realize he was standing on the block all by himself. He attempted three total shots in the fourth quarter over the entirety of the seven-game series.
That’s broken beyond repair.
Now, after watching the Sixers embarrass themselves once again in the national spotlight, Morey will be forced to make drastic changes this offseason. And guess what. That’s exactly what this battered franchise needs.
How do the Sixers fix a seemingly unfixable roster?
Nothing has changed over the last four years of the Embiid-Simmons era. Embiid is constantly forced to go one on five down the stretch of games because the Sixers have failed to surround him with a roster that suits his game.
Embiid needs more space to operate by himself down low. He needs a variety of shooters around him to spread out the defense and give him more options for when the impending double team comes in the fourth quarter. The 27-year-old won’t realize his full potential until Simmons is off the floor and out of town.
But therein lies the problem. Simmons has four years left on his $177 million deal with the Sixers. It will take some serious magic from Morey to find a trade suitor willing to take on that contract knowing the player he’s become. And even if Morey does find a team interested in taking that risk, Simmons’ trade value is at an all-time low.
Still, the Sixers must find a way to send him packing this offseason. We’ve seen enough. As it’s currently constructed, this roster won’t ever make it to the Eastern Conference Finals with its prehistoric half-court offense and the mental toughness of Ryan Gosling playing cornerback in Remember the Titans.
The Process isn’t dead as long as Embiid is still on the roster, but it sure is on life support.