Tuesday marks the official start of the NBA regular season, and you and I, basketball fans alike, couldn’t be happier. Bring on the fuzzy blankets and pumpkin flavored anything, because we’re getting real cozy for another fall start of Philadelphia basketball.
Reflecting upon the Sixers’ 2017-18 season, we remember just how good it was. Philadelphia finished with 52 wins, claimed a dominant first-round playoff series win, rallied together through injuries, and saw one of their own named NBA Rookie of the Year.
The season, however, was cut short with a 114-112 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals…just 156 days ago. But make no mistake about it, the Philadelphia 76ers had one of their most important offseasons in recent memory, involving team growth both on and off the court.
Let’s get you up to speed…
The summer began with one of the NBA’s oddest scandals, to say the least. The Ringer’s Ben Detrick had received an anonymous tip that then-Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo was supposedly operating five secret Twitter accounts criticizing the team and leaking private information. After help from the wildly observant internet and an internal investigation, Colangelo’s wife was found to be responsible.
On June 7th, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski released that Bryan Colangelo and Philadelphia had agreed to go their separate ways.
Philadelphia and Bryan Colangelo have agreed to part ways, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 7, 2018
Elton Brand has since been hired to replace Colangelo, but given that this only happened three weeks ago, the Sixers were without a permanent GM for three months.
In the midst of the investigations, Brett Brown, who assumed the role of interim GM as well as head coach, was assessing the status of each of his players, preparing for the impending draft, and making it very clear the team wanted a star.
The draft in and of itself caused a bit of drama when hometown hero Mikal Bridges was drafted. Let me reword that, because it wasn’t the act of drafting Bridges that brought about an uproar, but rather what happened pretty soon after. There were hugs and happy tears between Bridges and his mother, who worked in the Sixers’ HR department, as they celebrated what felt like a dream come true. One can imagine mom was already dreaming about the many family dinners to come as a result of having her son play locally.
All of this changed when the Phoenix Suns came calling, offering the 16th overall pick and the opportunity to draft guard-forward Zhaire Smith, as well as Miami’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick. Brett Brown felt he couldn’t turn down the offer and the decision was made before Bridges even finished his media moment as the then-newest Sixer.
While the potential of Smith garnered both praise and criticism, any hope for immediate contribution to the team was slowly but surely dwindled down after the draft pick suffered a Jones fracture during a Las Vegas developmental camp. Sound familiar? This was the same injury that kept Ben Simmons out for a season. Most recently, the Sixers shared that Smith suffered a bad reaction to food and required a thoracoscopy procedure. Upon a quick consultation (aka text exchange) with my doctor mom, I learned this meant Smith had a minimally invasive procedure where surgeons inserted long scope-like cameras into his chest to make sure everything checked out alright. Not ideal.
Someone else familiar with frustrating injuries, Markelle Fultz spent his summer training with Drew Hanlen in Los Angeles, working out what Hanlen had previously called a case of the yips. Although fans and media are unsure of what Fultz will bring to the table this year, he shared with The Players’ Tribune that he likes it that way. Move in silence type boul.
Adhering to Brown’s wishes of “star-hunting”, Philadelphia turned its attention to free agency following the draft, only to turn up empty-handed. LeBron James signed with the Lakers, Paul George re-signed with the Thunder, and Kawhi Leonard ended up with the Raptors after an odd trade with the San Antonio Spurs for DeMar DeRozan. Leonard, who wasn’t exactly thrilled by his new destination, will become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. One could say he has the last laugh. Ha.
Here’s Kawhi Leonard doing whatever the robotic equivalent of laughing is. pic.twitter.com/2ZzHM0B7nY— Faizal Khamisa (@SNFaizalKhamisa) September 24, 2018
The Sixers instead picked up role players like Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler (who may or may not be playing in the opening game against the Celtics due to a left hamstring strain) to replace Ersan Ilyasova, who signed with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Philly also said farewell to Marco Belinelli, as he rejoined the San Antonio Spurs.
The summer of 2018 presented many questions for Philadelphia, some that have yet to be answered, but answers will continue to unfold as the 2018-19 season gets underway.