There are plenty of factors that go into the daunting task of winning four consecutive series in the NBA playoffs. As the Miami Heat demonstrated last spring, a few role players getting hot from three and a critical injury can be what it takes to propel a team to the NBA Finals.
But in a league that’s seen rampant player empowerment and team turnover in the last decade, a factor that’s gone underrated is continuity. The Golden State Warriors have been, for lack of a better phrase, the golden example of this.
They’ve won four NBA titles in 10 years with the same coach and core of three All-Star players in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. That year-to-year continuity is something the reigning MVP of the league hasn’t really experienced, but would like to.
“We’ve never had consistency,” Joel Embiid said on media day Monday, “every summer, there’s been changes here and there. So I feel like at some point, if you want to win, you need to have that consistency. I think that’s the next step for us.”
In his eight-year career, Embiid has gone through four different front office regimes, three head coaches and three All-Star players meant to be his co-star — two of which demanded trade requests. Seeing other teams stick together and come away with more success over this time is definitely something Embiid has noticed.
“You see all the other teams... Denver just won a championship and they’ve been together for so many years. Golden State, they’ve been doing it for a long time,” he said, “you need to be consistent. For me, that’s the only thing I’m focused on.”
This isn’t the first time he’s used those specific examples. Embiid has also credited continuity for the continued success the Boston Celtics have had in the Eastern Conference under Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
The problem with this is unlike tweaking his jump shot or working on recognizing double teams. The Sixers can’t just improve their continuity by their best player focusing on it over the offseason.
This offseason has only provided more turnover, with James Harden’s situation still uncertain, and yet another head coach the team will have to acclimate themselves with.
Even if the team is able to recoup impactful players in return for Harden, they won’t even have a full training camp to learn their new team. Perhaps Tyrese Maxey could take another leap to become good enough to be the second-best player on a championship team. But he’s eight years younger than Embiid, and it feels like their timelines might just be too far off. Simply put, if Embiid wants to win a title as he enters his 30s, he’s going to have to make it work on the fly.
While most teams that have won a championship recently are teams like the Nuggets, Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks that have been together a while, that continuity doesn’t have to be a necessity. In 2020 the Lakers were able to go all the way in just the first year of the LeBron James-Anthony Davis pairing.
Perhaps a more relevant example would be the 2019 Raptors, who not only added Kawhi Leonard, but also brought in Nick Nurse as a first-year head coach. Both Leonard and Nurse are long gone from Toronto, but everything clicked that year for them to win the title.
So unless Harden has one of the most drastic changes of heart we’ve seen in this league (he’s shown up to practice, but who knows how long it will last), the continuity route won’t be an option for the Sixers. If they want to win a title with Embiid, they’ll have to do so by jamming together what pieces they can find together on the fly, a task that grows harder and harder and as their assets diminish.
If there is one saving grace, it’s that the team has a coach who’s been in this exact position before, and knows how to succeed in that task. Whichever way the team goes from here, they are running out of time.