The 2019-20 NBA season could very well be over in March.
This, to be sure, is not the preference of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver or any of the league’s 30 ownership groups. It is merely a sober possibility that could absolutely become reality in the coming weeks and months.
The NBA, along with each other major American sports league, is at the mercy of the spread and treatment of COVID-19 (coronavirus), which has stopped not only professional sports, but every other non-essential American profession as it has continued to spread. Currently, Americans everywhere are being urged to participate in social distancing and self-quarantining, at the behest of the US government.
Last week, Silver spoke with ESPN NBA reporter Rachel Nichols about where things currently stand for the league.
In interview with @Rachel__Nichols, commissioner Adam Silver lays out 3 potential options for NBA resuming:— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) March 18, 2020
1. When can we re-start and operate as we’ve known it?
2. Should we consider re-starting without fans?
3. Are there conditions in which a group of players could compete?
In the interview, Silver hypothesized that the league could possibly put together some sort of pick-up game with the proceeds going to charity, a play-in tournament for this year’s playoffs to make up for the abridged season, and the possibility of pushing the next season’s league calendar (and presumably those that will follow) to December-through-August (rather than the current format of October-through-June).
Silver’s optimism is admirable, and although he intruded with the Sixers organization, foisted Jerry Colangelo upon the team and then left without a trace as Colangelo methodically usurped Sam Hinkie’s power, he has proven throughout his tenure to be an extremely adaptable and composed commissioner in moments of great peril. The problem is that with every day that passes, it seems there is a new report about the spread of coronavirus within the NBA community and the country at large.
Sources: Dr. Vivek Murthy, former US Surgeon general, told NBA owners today about coronavirus: If the United States had not hardened its stance across country, millions were at risk to die — and cases will likely only increase, like they did in Italy, over the next 2-to-3 months. https://t.co/KcTyYqVxtk— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 17, 2020
Three members of the 76ers organization have received positive tests for coronavirus.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 19, 2020
In an ideal world, the precautions recommended by the scientific community will be heard and adhered to by the American public. People will stay inside, wash their hands with vigor, and avoid close contact with others, thus ‘flattening the curve’ as soon as humanly possible.
I just can’t see that happening in short enough order for the 2019-20 NBA season to resume.
So, while I deeply hope to be wrong, I thought it wise to take a look at what ought to happen from a Sixers perspective, should the offseason now be upon us.
The team would finish the season with a record of 39-26, ranking only sixth in the Eastern Conference.
We would enter said offseason without ever truly finding out this team’s playoff fate: were they destined to ‘flip the switch?’ Did Al Horford have enough in the tank to look like his old self? Did Ben Simmons’ back heal in time for postseason action?
All unanswered questions.
If the offseason was to start today, what steps should Josh Harris and company be taking?
The Front Office
After Bryan Colangelo was ousted following the disgraceful Burnergate scandal and precipitating investigation, Josh Harris had one simple mandate to prospective hirees as he went out and searched for a new general manager: you must not remove and replace any of the existing members of the front office.
That’s right, Gersson Rosas.
You heard me, Daryl Morey!
Bob Myers — not another word out of you.
Sixers owners felt that despite Colangelo (or Colangelo and his wife Barbara, you be the judge) making a mockery of his position within the Sixers organization, his associates were irreplaceable.
Marc Eversleys don’t grow on trees, you guys.
Some say that Ned Cohen was the visionary behind the Jerryd Bayless three-year deal.
It’s difficult to properly illustrate the lunacy here. Colangelo’s compatriots’ firings would’ve been unfortunate — they are almost certainly not to blame for the behavior of their boss. But they clearly had (and likely still have) an allegiance to a man who brought irreparable shame to the organization, and was working silently in an effort to sow discord amongst the Sixers players. Also, it’s not like they were doing some impeccable job anyway.
The Sixers need to clean house in the front office. This will mean the end of Elton Brand’s brief, but aggressive, tenure as general manager. Though Harris and the other Sixers owners surely love to take The Road More Traveled ever since the resignation of one Sam Hinkie, they ought to conduct a real general manager search this time around. Go out and find a forward-thinking executive who isn’t especially beholden to the Sixers’ current power structure. Once they find that person, empower them to hire their own staff.
The Coaching Staff
Sadly, this seems to be the end for head coach Brett Brown.
When this day actually comes, myself or a colleague of mine will write a lengthy and fitting eulogy for Brett’s tenure as Sixers head coach. The only thing that could save Brown’s job this year would be a lengthy Finals run, and since this exercise imagines the season ending exactly where it stands now, Brown would certainly be let go.
It is not for a lack of effort or moxie. The team just needs a new voice.
As for the coaching search to follow — they better not screw this up. The Sixers need to listen to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and find the right balance between ‘X-and-O’ tactician and enduring voice in the locker room.
Herein lies the test for the Sixers’ newly-appointed front office. They must maximize the team’s roster to surround Embiid and Simmons in a way they never have before.
For as asymmetric as the two stars often seem, the players who most behoove their games actually fit the same archetype: switchable defenders who can shoot from distance and dribble the basketball.
Step one will be pulling the ripcord on the Al Horford experiment. While he almost certainly isn’t as bad as he has often seemed in a Sixers jersey this year, Horford’s signing was a total misfire. The lineups including Simmons, Embiid and Horford are atrocious, and it is poor asset allocation to pay someone $27 million a year who cannot coexist with your two best players at once. It only takes one, but the team may have trouble unloading Horford’s deal. Somehow, the cupboard of assets on this team is actually not bare this offseason, which is good news in case they need to attach something of value to Al on his way out.
The team is set to have either the 21st or 22nd pick in the first round of the NBA draft, along with the 34th and 36th picks in the second round.
Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle are young, contract-controlled standouts who will prove extremely valuable for such a high-priced team.
Zhaire Smith is a wild card.
However they have to do it, the team must move Horford out and balance the roster in a more beneficial way this summer.
In-house, it’s the same old song. Ben Simmons needs to develop his jump shot in a way that actually translates to NBA games, and Joel Embiid needs to come up with a fitness regimen that keeps him in tip-top shape during an offseason much longer than expected.
The Sixers’ window of contention is exactly however long Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid play on the same team. This summer, the team needs to revamp its front office and coaching staff and tinker with the roster in order to maximize their stars’ strengths, before it’s too late.
I hope you’re all well. I’ll talk to you next week.