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At the Worst Possible Time, The Sixers are at an Inflection Point

As the sports world continues to adapt to account for the complications of COVID-19, the Sixers need to undergo massive, structural changes right away.

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

In life, sometimes things line up perfectly. You’re running late so you miss your train, you buy a ticket for the next train, sit down in the car and the girl next to you becomes your wife. Alchemy. Serendipity. All sorts of stars-aligning happenstances are all around us, all the time.

This is not one of those.

The series against the Celtics was an embarrassment for the Philadelphia 76ers franchise. Sure, Ben Simmons did not play, but basically every Sixer outside of Joel Embiid either underperformed or completely didn’t show up. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker made a mockery of a Sixers team that once promised “Smash mouth offense and bully-ball defense.” By the end of the series, the only lineup the Sixers may have been able to bully on defense was the band, Smash Mouth. And even they might beat this team, at this point.

The series was dispiriting and alarming on every possible level. It was a damning indictment on the Sixers leadership and decision-makers over the last five years. It was, to quote Sporty Lewis in Cinderella Man, “A sad and somber funeral, with the body still breathing.”

Change is coming. It must be.

First, Brett Brown will be fired. Or he’ll resign. Or he’ll be granted some Doug Collins-like golden parachute under the guise of being ‘reassigned’ within the organization.

But that cannot be the extent of the structural changes to this organization. Managing Partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer are kidding themselves if they believe that Brett Brown was the culprit for all that ails this team, and that his ousting will provide a panacea for the team’s top-to-bottom institutional disappointments and failings.

The front office needs be completely redone. Why would the team entrust the decision of who to hire as the next coach of this team to the same group that made the Markelle Fultz trade, the Tobias Harris trade, or signed the Tobias Harris contract and the Al Horford contract?


Fire everyone. Interview qualified candidates to be the President of Basketball Operations, and then empower them to hire their own staff and run the search for a new head coach.

Somehow, the job will still be attractive to smart basketball people. The potential to take over a Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid-led team (with both guys locked in to long-term deals) and finally fulfill their top-flight potential is there. A tall task lies ahead: the new hire will need to find a taker for Al Horford, probably Josh Richardson, and maybe find someone to take Tobias Harris — or even use the rumored amnesty clause in the new CBA on him.

The Sixers have the most draft picks of any team in the NBA (5). The Sixers’ owners should actually allow — nay, encourage — the new decision-maker to use the picks as they wish. Infuse this team with athletic, high-ceiling decision-makers. Tie a pick to Al Horford or Josh Richardson, if you must, in order to maximize the team’s potential as we enter the primes of Embiid and Simmons.

As you know, this is just terrible timing for all of these seismic and necessary changes to be resolved in one offseason. COVID-19, of course, affected every occupation in one way or another. Sports are no exception. For the NBA, specifically, a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is coming. As the league’s owners grapple with the possibility of another season without revenue from ticket sales and concessions, teams may be clutching tighter to their wallets than ever. Everything is uncertain, and it is amidst that uncertainty that the Sixers must revamp their front office, coaching staff and roster.

It’s a shame that it has to be this way, but it actually didn’t. The team finds itself in this precarious position because of its own mistakes over an extended period of time. Papercut after papercut after papercut, and now the team is bleeding on the floor after being swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round.

One last thing: as my colleague Dave Early opined last week, the Sixers’ owners are on the clock as it pertains to a possibile Joel Embiid trade demand. This is not to say that the team needs to cater to and coddle Embiid or Simmons — actually, a stricter, more disciplinary-leaning head coach may prove valuable for the duo — but over the last few years, Embiid has put up with a lot. In the team’s most recent offseason, it seemed as if the front office was dead-set on designing a roster with the goal of making things as hard as possible for him, offensively. They brought in Josh Richardson in exchange for Jimmy Butler, and they decided to let JJ Redick walk and instead signed an older guy who plays Embiid’s position.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are not blameless in the demise of the 2019-2020 Sixers. They each have room to grow and improve, especially as leaders.

But look around the league. Guys ask for trades all the time, and teams almost never get fair value when trading away a star who wants out. The team needs to exhaust every possible option and improvement before trading away one of its two stars.

And so with that I say good luck, Harris and Blitzer. No more bandaids for stab wounds. At the most inopportune time imaginable, it’s time to begin righting the wrongs of the last five years.

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