The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t make the 2019 NBA Finals, but as close as they played the Toronto Raptors, it always felt like the champion would affect the context in which we view this season for the Sixers. Now that it’s all over, here are seven Sixers takes and takeaways from the Finals.
The Sixers should’ve traded Ben Simmons for Kawhi Leonard
Back when the San Antonio Spurs were shopping Kawhi Leonard, it was rumored the Sixers would have to give up one of Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid to land the disgruntled superstar wing.
At the time, I was incredulous. How could the Spurs possibly think they would get one of our young superstars in return for a player who was probably going to leave for Los Angeles after one season? The idea they would ask for Simmons in return for Leonard was laughable to me.
Clearly I am a big dummy!
The Sixers were right to have Embiid off the table, but being unwilling to give Simmons for Leonard is looking like a huge mistake.
Leonard just led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title, and he did so playing like the two-way superstar he was before he missed all but nine games in the 2017-18 season due to injury. Simmons is a good player, but the notion he’s just a jumper away from being a superstar is simply not true (here are a bunch of really important things he still needs to get much better at, from my colleague Tom West.)
Simmons is young, and he’ll probably improve significantly in the near future, but Leonard himself is still only 27. And as far as heading to LA, it’s not so clear cut anymore. He’s in a championship situation, and he’s talked openly about how much he loves the support he gets from fans in Toronto. Pretty sure he would’ve gotten that here too.
Right after the season ended, it was rumored the Sixers and Los Angeles Lakers would look into swapping Ben Simmons and LeBron James. While I don’t believe this is actually a possibility, I’m no longer opposed to the team trading Simmons for an older superstar coming off an injury. The Sixers are in position to win championships right now.
Joel Embiid is easily the best big man in the NBA
Joel Embiid was the best player on a flawed team that took the eventual NBA champions to seven games, losing on a crazy buzzer-beating shot. He was a plus-90 in the series and a plus-10 in all but 2:49 of Game 7, despite playing through injury and illness.
Nikola Jokic is on a Denver Nuggets team that’s a perfect fit around him. That team lost in seven to the Portland Trail Blazers, who got swept by the Golden State Warriors, who lost in six to the Raptors. Jokic was also subbed out on defense in the final minutes of Game 7 against the Blazers.
Anthony Davis couldn’t even make the playoffs on a team with Jrue Holiday, Julius Randle, and other solid rotation guys. It’s not a championship cast, but it’s easily enough for a true superstar to lead his team to the postseason.
And if you legitimately believe Rudy Gobert is the the best big in the NBA, please know these two things:
- No one outside of Salt Lake City respects your basketball opinions.
- Salt Lake City is smaller in area, population, and population density than Delaware County, PA - Philadelphia’s smallest suburb.
The Sixers were (and still are) so close
The Sixers took the Raptors to the buzzer of Game 7, and that shot hit the rim four times. The Raptors then went on to bulldoze through the Bucks and Warriors to an NBA title. It will haunt me all summer how close the Sixers came to a championship this season. These Finals have made it abundantly clear that their best option is to run it back (with a playable backup center this time).
As a side note, I was wrong about the Sixers’ readiness to compete for a championship. I didn’t think anyone besides Golden State would have a chance until Kevin Durant left; therefore, I thought the Sixers were still a year away.
But players getting injured is an unfortunate reality of the NBA, and the Raptors’ title doesn’t get an asterisk because key Warriors were out. It was reasonable for Elton Brand to try to put the Sixers in position to win now.
Stop worrying about winning organically
Last offseason, there were Sixers fans who were against the team signing LeBron James because they wanted to “win organically.” Brushing aside the fact that the product of The Process was never going to be a championship team without bringing in other superstars, the idea that a title is less valuable because players on the team had won elsewhere is just silly.
Kawhi Leonard previously won a championship with the Spurs and might only be in Toronto for one season. Ask Raptors fans how much that bothers them as they celebrate their first-ever NBA Championship.
Let’s try some load management
“Michael Jordan never had load management.” Cool! I truly could not care less if people think this generation of players is soft.
And I don’t feel sorry if you bought tickets to a Sixers game and Joel Embiid didn't play. I grew up watching Sixers teams coached by Maurice Cheeks, Tony DiLeo, Eddie Jordan, and Doug Collins. I rooted for Andre Iguodala to lead the team to the eight seed in the East. Now the Sixers have four All-Star-caliber players. This is an amazing time to be a fan, even when Embiid is out.
Kawhi Leonard only played 60 games this regular season, and he was rested and ready to dominate in the playoffs. The Sixers, on the other hand, terribly overused Embiid through the first third of the season. It clearly took a toll, as one could expect when you give too many minutes to a 7-foot-2, 275-pound man with a history of foot, knee, and back issues.
If the Sixers are serious about winning an NBA Championship, they need to get serious about resting Joel Embiid in the regular season.
You can’t have too many great players
There were real people who are respected in the basketball community who were saying the Warriors were better without Kevin Durant. That doesn’t make any sense!
If you actually think the Warriors are better without Durant because they were able to dominate Portland with their pace and space, then you may also believe that Boban Marjanovic is a top center in the league because he made Jarrett Allen look foolish.
Unfortunately for the Warriors (and Boban), they don’t give the title to whoever played the best against inferior teams. When Golden State finally met up with a defense good enough to slow Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they sure did miss that extra superstar.
It reminds me a bit of an article John Gonzalez of The Ringer wrote back in March, discussing whether NBA contenders had “too many guys, not enough guys, or just the right number of guys.”
I’m a big fan of Gonzo’s work, but I disagree with the premise of his piece - I don’t think it’s possible to have too many good players. To his credit, he said the Warriors had just the right number of guys with Durant healthy. But he said the Sixers had both too few and too many guys.
It’s easy to see how they had too few, considering they couldn’t even stretch the playoff rotation to eight men without it being a disaster. But I don’t buy the Sixers being hindered by having too many guys. They need to bring back Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler because a great team can’t have too many great players. Chemistry will come with time.
Chill with the injury takes
Early in the series, lots of people got off takes about Kevin Durant’s injury, implying he was either milking it or not being tough enough. If you’re not a doctor, therapist, or trainer who has worked with a given player in his recovery from an injury, then please do not give your uneducated opinion on that player’s injury.
As it turned out, Durant came back too early in Game 5, and his strained calf led to a ruptured achilles (which is apparently a known possibility with that injury). There’s a toxic culture on social media of people making character judgments over a player’s ability to play through injuries, and KD, the guy with the burners, is definitely aware of it. His decision to rush back could be in part because of this culture.
I’m not implying that people questioning Durant’s toughness caused his injury — just that they’re contributing to the toxicity.
The same thing has been happening with Joel Embiid throughout his entire career. His health is paramount for the franchise’s success (and his own personal well-being). I hope people look at what happened with Durant and learn to keep their mouths shut about whatever injuries Embiid is inevitably going to face throughout the rest of his time in the league.
To this point, people spent all of last season doubting the severity of Kawhi Leonard’s quad injury, but clearly he knew his body best. He waited until he was comfortable with his health to play, and a year later, he’s once again the Finals MVP.
Since I’m on the topic of injuries, I want to wrap up by wishing Kevon Looney, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson speedy and successful recoveries from the serious injuries they sustained during the Finals.