Somehow, we are on the precipice of yet another season of Sixers basketball. Shrouded in even more drama and intrigue than usual, Doc Rivers’ squad sets out this week to begin its latest pursuit of the ever-elusive Larry O’Brien trophy. If you can find it within yourself to see through the hazy mist of Ben Simmons’ team’s anti-Philadelphian muckraking campaign, short-lived holdout, and subsequent surprise appearance at the team’s facility, you’ll see the bones of a Sixers team motivated to avenge last season’s disastrous early exit at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks.
So how does the staff here at Liberty Ballers see this season playing out? I asked colleagues Sean Kennedy, Shamus Clancy, Tyler Monahan, Dave Early, Emily Connell, Dan Volpone, Jackson Frank and Adio Royster to go on the record with their predictions for the Sixers’ fate in this upcoming season.
But first, a vibe check:
Before we get to predictions: where are you at, emotionally, heading into the 2021-22 Sixers season?
Steve: Ugh. I love the Sixers. In spite of myself, I love the Sixers. I adore Joel Embiid — he’s far and away my favorite athlete of all time. I’m super excited about the young guys, Maxey, Joe, Matisse, love em! But the Simmons thing lingering over and within this experience is tough to reconcile. Ben and I are aligned in that both of us no longer want Ben Simmons on the Sixers. I don’t even want him to play out the string until a trade happens, because I honestly see more downside than upside in that scenario for all involved. So yeah, I’ll be all in again once that trade mercifully happens, but until then, there’s a sour taste in my mouth.
Jackson: I’m excited for this season! As someone who just covers the team and isn’t a fan, I find it easier to be enthusiastic about individual players, even when the team’s outlook may not be ideal for fans. I’m excited for storylines such as how Joel Embiid tops his MVP-caliber campaign, what Year 2 Tyrese Maxey looks like and how Tobias Harris, a player who constantly gets better, responds to his own playoff struggles.
Tyler: To be completely honest with you, I feel like I’m running on empty heading into the season. All of the drama in the offseason has me feeling worn out and I really don’t know how into this team I’ll be until Simmons is off the roster.
Shamus: I’m numb about the Sixers currently, which is the worst possible feeling to have as a fan. In a lot of aspects of life, I like to adhere to this Dale Earnhardt Sr. quote: “It doesn’t matter if they’re booing or cheering as long as they’re making noise.” I don’t have that excitement bursting out of my body like I had the previous four years. I am neither overjoyed at the season coming back nor completely disheartened and ready to scream about the team every five seconds. They simply... exist right now for me. Maybe when that Australian guy leaves it’ll be different for me, but at the moment, they inspire no true fire from me. It kinda sucks?
The elephant in the stadium:
When and how will the Ben Simmons saga end? Will he ever step on the court again for the Sixers?
Dan: I’m still holding out hope he gets traded midseason and never plays a game for the Sixers again.
Dave: Lots of rumors and discussion, but Ben finishes the year as a Sixer as Daryl sticks to his pie charts clearly demonstrating that the team’s best chance was and still is adding a third star to Ben and Joel — not replacing one of them.
Emily: I think it ends in a trade, with who and for whom, I don’t know — I was really into that Pacers package that was floating around earlier. If you had asked me a week ago if I thought he’d ever step on the court again I would have said ‘absolutely not’. As I’m writing this (10/17) he was at practice, creating questionable vibes, and apparently participating. I just don’t know what is the point of bringing him back if you don’t intend to play him. Ben might have different intentions, but I like to think the front office would be able to see through it if his coming back was just a way to avoid losing salary and he didn’t ever intend to play. So I just don’t know — I’d say I’m about 54 percent confident we’ll see him on opening night.
Adio: The saga will end with his being traded after playing in 15-20 games to reassert his trade value. That’s just the shortest, most likely answer.
Sean: Yes, Simmons will play for the Sixers this season, because those game checks don’t cash themselves. It will be super awkward and distracting for everyone involved. Mercifully, some other team will become increasingly desperate as preseason optimism fades and they fall down the standings. The trade will finally happen in late January-early February.
Will a visiting Ben Simmons clank two consecutive free throws during the second half of a game this season, thus granting free Frosties (and possibly a parade down Passyunk) for all in attendance?
Jackson: Yes. Also, Passyunk is a delightful street with lots of fun shops. That parade sounds like a dandy time.
Emily: Only if one of the bench guys takes up the mantle of “Frosty Freeze Out Hype Man”
Shamus: There is no doubt in my mind that Simmons’ first game back in Philadelphia will be the most wild crowd I’ve seen in my two decades following this team. It will have the aggressive vibes of an Eagles-Cowboys game at Veterans Stadium. I would pay all the money in the world to be in the building and watch him, yet again, no-show in a huge game.
Sean: If the Sixers have Simmons’s new team on the schedule in the six weeks post-deadline, I would expect him to be a DNP-crowd avoidance.
Steve: What Sean said.
Which current non-Simmons Sixer currently in the rotation (Embiid, Harris, Green, Curry, Maxey, Shake, Furkan, Niang, Matisse, Drummond) will fall out of the rotation, and who will take their spot?
Dave, Sean, Steve, Shamus, Jackson, Adio: Isaiah Joe will take Shake’s spot in the rotation.
Which non-Simmons Sixer is most likely to bear the brunt of the fan frustration this season?
Dan: Andre Drummond, because if Ben Simmons plays poorly, the Ben people are just gonna blame Drummond.
Shamus: Tobias Harris has been hiding behind Ben Simmons (and Al Horford previously) in terms of fan vitriol. With Simmons likely never stepping on the court again for the Sixers, Harris has nowhere left to hide.
Dave: Does Doc count? If not, maybe Drummond as an extension of their frustration with Doc. But I could see Doc getting boo’d this season. How do you make clear you’re booing the coach? Can you do it during a game or do you have to do it during intros?
Jackson: Danny Green or Tobias Harris. Danny’s streaky shooting and on-ball defensive struggles seem ripe for some ire, while Tobias’ own playoff struggles, albeit lesser ones, were masked by Simmons’ shortcomings. They seem like prime candidates to be overly scrutinized this season.
Emily: Danny Green — he’s just streaky enough to annoy people.
What player not currently on the Sixers will be on the team on March 1, 2022?
Steve: Damian Lillard.
Jackson: I’ll get bold and say Damian Lillard. Predicting some mid-level rotation player seems impossible and I don’t think the front office is going to trade Simmons for a non-star creator.
Sean & Shamus: Malcolm Brogdon.
Emily: Keldon Johnson.
Dave: Kyrie Irving as part of a Tobias, Matisse package?
Which non-Simmons Sixer is most likely to finish the season on another team?
Steve: Shake. He’s on a great upside deal, could easily have some untapped potential, and doesn’t have too strong a foothold within the rotation, especially with his current ankle injury.
Dan: I’ll say Maxey? But without a big star becoming available in a Ben trade, I don’t see anyone being particularly likely to be moved.
Adio: This is hard to answer because this player would most likely be included in a Ben Simmons deal, anyway: Tyrese Maxey. Maxey would almost HAVE TO BE in any deal involving the big three (Lillard, Bradley Beal, or that guy on the Bulls that I don’t trust). I don’t think Maxey SHOULD be in a McCollum deal because Simmons and Shake should be enough. Any more than that is too much to Portland. If it’s a bigger name, the answer is Maxey (with Simmons).
Tyler: Shake Milton. I think in any trade where we get rid of Simmons, another point guard is coming in, plus the growth of Tyrese Maxey makes Shake expendable.
Sean: Furkan Korkmaz. Love to Pop the Kork, but Isaiah Joe could fill a similar role, and Furkan’s $5 million per year would help salary match in a bigger deal, while other teams would view him as a positive asset.
Where will the Sixers rank in the East at the end of the regular season?
Dave: I suspect if you played the season out 100 times, they’d end up 4th or 5th the most on average. That includes all of the scenarios from Ben sitting all season to being traded to playing.
Emily: 3rd, behind Milwaukee and Boston.
Shamus: Third seed behind Milwaukee and Brooklyn!
Steve, Dan, and Sean: 4th.
How will the Sixers’ 2021-2022 season end?
Emily: I’m going to be optimistic and say with a trip to the ECF.
Tyler: The pessimist in me wants to say the season ends with more second-round pain, but the optimist in me says the Sixers find a way to break through and at least make the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m still holding out hope that Damian Lillard comes to his senses and requests a trade to Philly during the season, and with him running the offense, I think it could be done.
Steve: Joel Embiid and Damian Lillard lead the Sixers to the NBA Finals.
Sean, Shamus, Dave, Dan: Second-round exit.
O/U 59 games played this season for Joel Embiid?
O/U 40 games played for ‘BBall’ Paul Reed?
Dave, Shamus, Tyler, Steve, Dan, Jackson, Adio: Under.
Sean, Emily: Over.
O/U 5 near-fights for the Sixers this season? ‘Near-fights’ are defined here as instances wherein a shouting and/or shoving match occurs between a member or members of the Sixers and a member or members of an opposing team.
Adio, Jackson, Dan, Tyler, Shamus, Sean, Dave: Under.
Steve, Emily: Over.
Away we go, Sixers fans. We’ll get through this together.