The Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champions, are coming to Philadelphia for a Friday night primetime tilt. Around this time last year Steph Curry was looking for some history, but Matisse Thybulle put on a masterclass defensive performance and prevented him from breaking Ray Allen’s all-time triples record that night:
But I guess you could argue the remainder of that 2022 NBA season went better for Steph and the Warriors than Matisse and Philly...arguably.
Philly is both at home and well rested, and while Tyrese Maxey may not be particularly close to his return, they should have the requisite firepower to get the job done. Emphasis on should. Joel Embiid has been on an absolute warpath.
In terms of style, you may get different ends of the pace spectrum here. The Warriors lead the league in pace, the Sixers rank just 26th.
But still they’re pretty close offensively. The Warriors’ offensive rating is 113.3, good for 11th in the NBA. The Sixers offensive rating is 112.4, which ranks 14th in the NBA, so they’re both just above average in that category despite playing with polar opposite tempos. The team that controls the tempo in this one may prove victorious.
Defensively, Sixers have the fifth-best defensive rating in the entire league. Golden State comes in at just 19th.
Embiid has done a tremendous job protecting the paint most nights. And Steph’s absence will let him do more of that and less guard chasing in a land far, far away from the cup.
But with Steph out, there’s a little less to analyze in terms of X’s and O’s. So why don’t we zoom out for a minute and reflect.
When we look back at how the Warriors built a dynasty, from tearing down the “We Believe” group, tanking sometimes intentionally, sometimes by accident, sometimes shamelessly, forming the Splash Brothers, nearly disbanding them, to the Hamptons 5, the greatest team of all time (that Kevin Durant version only ever truly challenged by James Harden, P.J. Tucker, and Daryl Morey’s 2018 Rockets) and an eventual fourth ring for the cool dynasty... and then we compare all that to “The Process,” then the weird collaborative science experiment stuff that came after it, and then the awkwardly fitting Daryl Morey-Doc Rivers duo years.... sheesh.
It can illuminate for us a bit how vital the role of ownership plays in professional basketball. Take it from The Athletic’s Danny Leroux, who’s covered the Warriors (and the league) for over a decade:
Ownership is the biggest competitive advantage in the NBA— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) January 31, 2019
While Bob Myers gets most of the credit, it was Dubs former GM Larry Riley who drafted Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. There’s probably no rings at all without that guy doing what he did. Riley hired Mark Jackson as head coach. It was Riley who presided over the controversial Monta Ellis for (an injured) Andrew Bogut swap. Riley was in charge when they largely dismantled the “We Believe” team, dealing guys like Stephen Jackson and Brandon Wright for the draft picks which became guys like Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green, and ensured they were awful enough to keep a protected pick and nab Harrison Barnes.
A lot of things happened and a lot of things almost happened. There are rumors that some within wanted to trade Klay Thomson for Kevin Love but Jerry West, a special advisor, was having none of it. Guys like West, Riley and Bob Myers (then an Assistant GM) stood up to Governor Joe Lacob and persuaded him not to move Klay. They persuaded him (and likely coach Jackson too) to move Ellis instead. To Lacob’s credit, he deferred against his own judgment to a strong team.
There were near misses.
For example, they tried hard to sign Dwight Howard, and that might have wound up costing them guys like Draymond Green to clear space, and perhaps a few titles if they got what they wanted so desperately.
But at each step along the way, Lacob listened to better basketball minds, and promoted the ones who proved right. And crucially, moved away from the ones who didn’t. At so many vital crossroads, GSW went the right way. And cut ties with the voices who’d pushed for the wrong way in order to improve future decision making. They even cut ties with a respected and capable coach, who had overachieved and wasn’t the “central problem” for things that went wrong... twice, before they found Steve Kerr.
Lacob himself even embraced public humiliation head on when he promised fans a playoff run via letter, then changed his mind mid-season and embraced one of the more shameless tanks in recent memory. Warriors fans booed him at the time but there might be no titles at all had he not. That startup dude can certainly iterate, huh?
The Sixers have done way too much of, well...the opposite. The Process was producing talent at a nearly unmatched clip. But the Sixers’ owners made the crucial mistake of pivoting to Jerry and Bryan Colangelo. Sam Hinkie’s regime assembled guys like Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Dario Saric, and picks that led to names being called such as Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Mikal Bridges, Romeo Langford, Landry Shamet, and plenty more. But they caved to league and media pressure and halted the influx of weapons and assets.
The Colangelos assembled names like Markelle Fultz, Ish Smith, Jerryd Bayless, Anzejs Pasecniks, Amir Johnson, JJ Redick, and Trevor Booker. Still, it was the Colangelos and not Hinkie, who ownership seemed to (vastly) prefer, despite the staggering difference in b-ball acumen.
Even when things devolved hilariously into Twitter mayhem and opprobrium, the Sixers org. stuck with and even promoted many of those Colangelo underlings. Jerry West sure has a better track record as an advisor than a Colangelo, doesn’t he?
Josh Harris once sounded as if he thought the Hinkie era was a weird “science experiment:”
Saw that some people needed some clarification on this, so here was the part of the quote that Josh Harris touched on GM experience, with the "science project" characterization. pic.twitter.com/sdgnmL79Dk— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) July 10, 2018
So instead he formed something even weirder... this Josh Harris, David Blitzer, David Heller, Scott O’Neil, Brett Brown, Alex Rucker, Ned Cohen, Elton Brand collaborative decision making entity. If they’d been cool with relinquishing final say to a top-five GM, maybe they could have landed themselves a Mike Zarren.
But three long years after Joe Lacob famously bragged his team was “light years ahead,” the Sixers wildly overmatched collaborative spent a ton of picks and nearly half a bill on Ben Simmons, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Doc Rivers, while letting names like Jimmy Butler, Mikal Bridges, and Tyronn Lue slip through their grasp.
You reach a fork in the road and make a choice.
The Warriors ownership group made more good decisions than the Sixers over the years, but far more importantly, they moved away from folks who nudged them towards mistakes and promoted those whose voices proved better.
In Philly, the best basketball voices were squeezed out, and less talented ones were promoted. Cream rising to the top vs. some soggy, curdled antithetical sinking metaphor.
We’re pretty hard on Joel Embiid around here. But if he got to play the last five or more seasons with Jimmy Butler and some combination of Ben Simmons then James Harden, and perhaps one or both of Jayson Tatum and Mikal Bridges (all doable), his flaws may not matter to us much.
So when we watch this game, there will be plenty of storylines swirling around, but some of us will also be ruminating on the team’s top decision makers and how their respective rebuilds shook out.
Anywho, there’s a game to watch and we can stop looking backwards and enjoy a winnable match. Hopefully the Sixers can learn from past mistakes and empower their best decision makers, and move away from those who’ve already cost them big.
And hopefully the James Harden-Joel Embiid pick-and-roll can wreak some havoc on the perfect dynasty. At least on this night.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Golden State Warriors
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philly, ESPN
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic
The Sixers will tip off against the Warriors at 7:30 p.m. All nationally televised NBA games can be watched on Sling TV.