I opted against chronicling the end of Philadelphia’s most recent season.
In previous years I wrote plenty about the many shortcomings, the misery, the dissatisfaction, but this year I decided to take a break from it. Everything written following that series rung true. There wasn’t any need for additional commentary from yours truly. It’s in the past now. The offseason, one where Daryl Morey could actually make the necessary moves without feeling hamstrung by a former top overall pick, has given the Sixers a rebirth, a fresh slate.
When they traded for James Harden, of course the immediate reaction was maybe this could salvage Joel Embiid’s MVP season. Maybe. Just maybe, Harden could put the 76ers over the top to a place they hadn’t been in 20 plus years. A conference finals appearance ultimately alluded them, and in the moment it hurt heavy, but context, as usual, mattered.
An ill-timed injury. Pieces that didn’t quite make sense. It’s acceptable to overreact, to grow frustrated with how things ended. But, again, Morey deserved an opportunity to make trades, to sign players, and to figure out a reasonable agreement with his most prized possession. Harden officially agreed to his contract this week.
The excuses are over now. That’s for certain. A move or two might happen before the season. If not, maybe by the trade deadline. But for now. As constructed. This team could win a championship.
Essentially, Philadelphia swapped an injured Danny Green for PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, and Danuel House. It’s evident this team has depth, optionality, and shooting. There’s still room to add another, more formidable rotation piece using Furkan Korkmaz’s salary plus whatever filler is required depending on the tangible price of the targeted player. They’re in a great spot. Harden deserves plenty of credit.
Last summer, the Sixers added Andre Drummond and Georges Niang. Drummond helped in a big way before being traded to Brooklyn in the Harden trade, while Niang showed his worth, especially in the regular season. Niang probably overextended himself in the regular season, which is why he appeared hobbled during the postseason. Many speculated Philly would simply trade Ben Simmons for whatever the best deal proved to be before last season began, but Morey decided against it. As the trade deadline passed, it felt like the right move. Harden helped. Philly looked like a legitimate title threat during the early part of Harden’s tenure. Then, people began to question it after slip ups. Poor Harden performances They lacked a true signature win. Will he ever be the same player as he ages? It was appropriate to question Harden and the ceiling for this team, but like any contending team, pieces must be right around star players.
Philly severely lacked two-way players. Tucker is the prototype of a guy every team craves. House won’t be afraid to shoot as a space-the-floor wing option. Melton is a rangy defender who also fits seamlessly alongside Harden or Maxey as an off-the-ball threat. They’re capable of winning 60 games, and they’re capable of a deep postseason run.
Embiid’s health in the postseason. Fluky or not. It means everything. He’s yet to have that signature postseason series victory. Embiid’s commitment to Philadelphia, his desire to be great, to be the guy, to be everything he continues to promise, remains his most admirable trait. As players grow frustrated league-wide, asking for trades, or refusing to play, Embiid has fully embraced everything that comes with being the franchise. He’s gotten his fair share of criticism. It’s not fully deserved, of course. There are reasons why things haven’t always gone his way each postseason, but the line between reason and excuse-making has become blurry. He’ll be 29 next playoffs. It’s not hyperbolic to say this is season will be the most important of his career.
Much has been made about this team being the best of the Embiid era. I don’t think there’s a question about it. It’s easy to see how Tucker, Melton, and House fit alongside Embiid, Harden, and Maxey. Maxey ascended to new heights last postseason. He’s a special talent who only has gotten started. Tobias Harris knows his role. His willingness to take open threes down the stretch of last regular season proved to be real. Sure, if the right move comes along, he’ll be traded, but for now, Philadelphia is a lot better with him than without.
Like previous seasons, optimism persists with these Sixers. Doubt certainly exists some place, too. You’re pre-conditioned to that as a fan of any team, but especially this team. Things might be different now. It’s lining up that way. There are no more excuses. No more explanations as to why they couldn’t pull through. This is the best roster heading into a Philadelphia 76er season since who knows when. It’s time.