It’s no secret that the Philadelphia 76ers have championship aspirations. With a back-to-back MVP runner-up on the roster in Joel Embiid, it would be foolish not to try to do everything possible to seize the team’s title window during his prime. Daryl Morey made his big swing last February, sending a package centered around Ben Simmons to Brooklyn in exchange for old friend James Harden, a former MVP still playing at an All-Star level when healthy. Although the Sixers disappointed in a second-round exit to Miami in the spring, the hope is that continuing to develop chemistry and better health for those two, with an enhanced supporting cast, will yield better results moving forward.
To his credit, James Harden has seemingly made winning a title a top priority, opting out of his $47.4 million player option for this season to sign a two-year deal starting at a much smaller $33 million figure. His “sign who we [need] to sign and give me whatever is left over” stance has endeared him to the Sixers fan base, and enabled Morey to add both P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr. in free agency. Along with the draft night trade for De’Anthony Melton from Memphis, the Sixers now sport a much deeper and more versatile roster than last season’s squad.
But were those moves enough to get Philadelphia over the hump? As of this writing on July 26, DraftKings lists the Sixers with +1400 odds to win the 2022-23 NBA Championship, the eighth-highest odds in the league behind the Celtics, Clippers, Warriors, Bucks, Suns, Lakers, and Heat. Let’s examine the case for Boston, Milwaukee, and Miami all being listed above them in the Eastern Conference.
Boston is coming off an NBA Finals appearance, led by 24-year-old Jayson Tatum and 25-year-old Jaylen Brown, who should both continue to improve. They didn’t lose any key pieces to their postseason rotation, and added Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari this offseason. The trade for Brogdon from Indiana was an especially nice bit of business by Brad Stevens. If he stays reasonably healthy, adding a player just a step below All-Star level without losing a core piece is a huge boost. The Celtics are justifiably the title favorites.
It’s easy to make a case for Milwaukee as well. The Bucks were the 2021 champions, then took the Celtics to seven games in the 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals despite the absence of All-Star Khris Middleton due to an MCL sprain suffered in the first round. Without that bad bit of injury luck, we’d likely be discussing a Bucks squad that either reached the Finals in consecutive years, or were back-to-back champions seeking to establish a dynasty.
The Heat are a different story, however. Miami may have beaten the Sixers in six games last postseason, but I’d argue the reverse would have occurred if Joel Embiid hadn’t been playing with a broken face and torn thumb. Even so, the Heat didn’t make any major additions this offseason, and lost starter P.J. Tucker to Philadelphia in free agency. I would safely say Miami has a worse team than last year, although given their recent postseason track record (two Conference Finals appearances with one Finals appearance in the past three years), I understand why our friends at DraftKings would still feel compelled to list them with the third-best odds in the East.
The other looming wild card is Brooklyn and what will happen with Kevin Durant following his trade request. Rumored interest from Boston could really shake things up, or a trade to Toronto could catapult the Raptors back into the top tier.
For now, though, the Sixers have certainly made improvements to the roster, and I would personally slot them above Miami, so there’s a bit of value to be had in the current listed odds. Tucker, House, and Melton are not only worthwhile additions to the roster, but all effective two-way players who should lift up the postseason rotation. Past Sixers rosters contained too many one-dimensional players who could be exploited at one end of the court or the other with more in-depth playoff game planning, and that’s no longer as much the case.
Ultimately, the Sixers’ ceiling will be defined by health from their two primary stars and continued progress from 21-year-old breakout star Tyrese Maxey. If nothing gets derailed in those areas, the improvements to the rest of the roster may not make the Sixers favorites, but at least place them firmly in the championship conversation.