Sixers have their work cut out this offseason

by Marc Narducci | May 16, 2022
Sixers have their work cut out this offseason

There has been plenty of finger-pointing as the 76ers ended their season with the six-game Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the Miami Heat.

Yes, Joel Embiid missed two games that the Sixers lost, but he was back for the final four games.

Embiid should be credited for playing while far from 100 percent, with a bum thumb and a fractured orbital bone.

One could see that he wore down by Game 6 and the Sixers didn’t have another person to pick up the slack.

So now comes the tough part – what do the Sixers do to get out of that second round rut?

Embiid has to show that he can carry a team in the postseason. While he has had his moments, he has also been hurt in four of the five postseasons. 

The one that he was healthy, the Sixers got swept by Boston in the first round in 2020 when Ben Simmons missed the playoffs due to a knee injury (Embiid did average 30.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in that series against Boston but had little other help).

Even with Embiid being a five-time All-Star, the Sixers have made the playoffs the past five seasons but have been eliminated in the second round four times and the first round another time.

Embiid turned 28 in March. How much longer can he play like he has the past two regular seasons?

There is a legitimate question about whether he can remain healthy or even not worn down when the postseason approaches.

His postseason statistics were far worse than his regular-season stats this year. For instance, in the regular season, he shot 37.1% from three-point range and it fell to 21.2% in the postseason. 

Embiid averaged 45.1 points per 100 possessions in the regular season and 31.9 per 100 possessions in the postseason. He averaged 17.3 rebounds per 100 possessions in the regular season and 14.5 in the postseason.

You get the point. He wasn’t as dominant, even before the injuries. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective, but for the Sixers to take the next step, they need the regular season Embiid to emerge in the postseason.

We’re still waiting for that to happen. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey expressed optimism in his press conference the day after the Game 6 debacle, that the Sixers have a good foundation and he’s looking forward to taking that next step. Easier said than done.

Morey also stated that coach Doc Rivers would return for a third season with the Sixers.

Many are blaming Rivers and while he is not flawless, it’s important to note that Embiid has had his best two seasons, both as an MVP runner-up, under Rivers’ guidance.

Tyrese Maxey in his second season has developed into one of the bright young future stars in the NBA, playing for Rivers after being the No. 21 overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft. 

Maxey needs more consistency but has the desire, work ethic and talent to take his game to the next level.

So far the acquisition of James Harden has been short of a disaster. Harden, who turns 33 in August, started his Sixers career on fire when he first began playing after his trade from the Brooklyn Nets in February.

Yet by the end of the playoffs, except for Game 4 when he scored 31 points in a 116-108 win, Harden looked old, couldn’t blow by defenders and when the Sixers needed him the most, took just two shots in the second half of the 99-90 Game 6 loss to Miami, that was worse than the final score indicated.

He is capable of putting up a big performance, just not night in and night out.

The Sixers only trailed 49-48 at halftime in Game 6. Embiid was gassed, but would still play 44 minutes. Harden attempted just two shots in the second half, missing them both.

This continued a recurring pattern, where Harden has always produced worse in the postseason than in the regular season.

Harden has a $47.4 million player option that he must pick up by July 1 or he can become an unrestricted free agent.

Harden would be crazy to turn it down because nobody is going to offer him anywhere near that amount.

What could happen is he could opt out of the player option and agree to an extension with the Sixers that averages much less than $47.4 million.

If Morey still believes in Harden and all indications are that he does, signing him to an extension, but nowhere near a max extension will likely happen.

If that occurs, then the Sixers have to work on strengthening their bench. There will probably be attempts to trade Tobias Harris, who is owed nearly $77 million over the next two seasons.

Harris played reasonably well, but he will never play as well as his contract. 

Plus, when the Sixers needed a spark in Game 5 (a 120-85 loss in Miami) and Game 6, he shot 5 for 14 and scored 12 points in Game 5 and 6 of 13 and scored 14 points in Game 6. Harris didn’t attempt a free throw in any of the final four playoff games.

So the Sixers will attempt to build around Embiid, hope Harden can have a better season once he spends a training camp with the team and try to upgrade the bench, which was among the worst in the NBA.

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These are all tall orders. Not impossible, but extremely difficult in a future that doesn’t appear as bright as it did once Harden was acquired in February.

Photo Courtesy Getty Images via the 76ers


Author: Marc Narducci

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