Coming into the NBA playoffs as a 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, many thought this could be the year for the Philadelphia 76ers to win the NBA Finals. It was a general consensus to the Philadelphia fanbase that they would at least make the conference finals this season with ease considering there were only three powerhouses in the Eastern Conference coming into the playoffs. Instead, they absolutely dropped the ball and got eliminated in the second round to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games. As someone who’s been a season ticket holder for years and was in attendance of the game, this is one of the worst losses in the history of this city. Philadelphia will have multiple free agents this summer and plenty of decisions to make after another disappointing season. Let’s break down some of the decisions this team needs to make in order to reload for another championship run.
Let’s look at the facts of what happened this postseason for the 76ers. The roster was much better compiled for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to succeed together after Al Horford and Josh Richardson created a clogged interior for Joel Embiid to operate. Danny Green and Seth Curry brought more than enough spacing for Joel Embiid to perform at his maximum level. He ended up earning runner-up MVP during the regular season. The bench assembled for this team was put together well. Shake Milton was the clear scoring option off the bench, something this team has lacked since having Lou Williams. They also bring great veteran experience with Dwight Howard and George Hill, while also having young players like Tyrese Maxey and Furkan Korkmaz. This was by far the best roster that the 76ers front office has put together in a very long time.
Coming into the postseason, the production of Ben Simmons was extremely important for how well this team could succeed. Ben had a solid regular season campaign and was one of the best defenders in the entire league. He was one to always pick up the best player on the opposing team’s roster. He did a phenomenal job at it as well, earning himself a runner-up Defensive Player of the Year Award. His first against the Washington Wizards was a mixed bag. His numbers on the surface are stellar. Simmons averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He also shot an incredible 64 percent from the field and played some outstanding defense on Russell Westbrook. Westbrook was held to shooting only 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from three, a large result of that was from Simmons’s defense.
Things really fell off in the Atlanta Hawks series. A lot can be mentioned from this series, obviously, the biggest being his disappearance of aggressiveness. The most shocking stat of them all is his numbers in the fourth quarter. Ben Simmons through seven fourth quarters only took three shots. And while he made them all, that absolutely doesn’t matter in this circumstance. The second-best player on a championship team can’t be taking that few shot attempts, let alone on any team if they want any shot at making an impact in the playoffs. His scoring in general against Atlanta just fell off, scoring less than 10 points a game in the series. But Ben’s free throw shooting is what likely cost Philadelphia the biggest trouble. After only shooting 35 percent against the Wizards, Simmons was only able to make 33 percent of his free throws against Atlanta. These numbers hit historic lows in playoff history, nothing any 76ers wanted to see.
Deciding on what to do with Ben Simmons is the number one priority for this franchise; there is zero question about that. However, the issue gets much more complicated when you look at numbers and possible numbers. Right off the bat, options are limited considering Simmons is going to make $31 million in the 21′-22′ season. That is a huge financial commitment for any team to make on whatever level their status is on. Even the Oklahoma City Thunder would be a tough sell because he becomes a strain on their flexibility even if he turns his career around. Ideally, as a speaker for the Philadelphia fans, this team needs a new young guard to reset their franchise. De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgous-Alexander are two names that fans would love to have. That’s impossible at this point with the value of Simmons diminishing by the day.
Trade offers being thrown around currently involve players like CJ McCollum, D’Angelo Russell, and Buddy Hield. These aren’t offers that the 76ers would be drooling over considering the expectations Simmons has had since coming to the organization. If they chose to keep him, that obviously comes with a major risk. If Simmons never reaches his potential from the draft, he could live up to one of the biggest disappointments the league has ever seen, even with his defensive ability and all-star appearances. Trading him might be the best option for the franchise to get a return for his highest current value, even if it isn’t as high as the team wants it to be. In the four years that Simmons has been in Philadelphia, there has not been a lot of improvement in his game. He certainly hasn’t developed any form of a three-point shot, let alone a jump shot. His free throw shooting is still below par, especially in the playoffs. His only real improvement is his defensive versatility.
But Ben Simmons isn’t the only issue the Philadelphia 76ers have on their hands. Their performance from the bench players in the series against the Hawks was eye-opening. Shake Milton was seen as the first scoring option off the bench, but he only averaged four points a game on 10 minutes of playing time in the playoffs. Milton’s only game where he brought flair was 14 points he had in Game 2 that helped them tie the series. Tyrese Maxey had a similar playoff performance. He saved the season with his incredible play in Game 6. But when he was needed for Game 7, his production wasn’t nearly the same. Furkan Korkmaz didn’t provide a ton once he was moved to the starting lineup for Danny Green. Green’s absence was huge as well, despite the opinions of others after his strange season with the Lakers. Without him, it created an environment where all the role players had to provide a bigger role that simply wasn’t capable of from them on a nightly basis.
Free agency will be a very likely place for the 76ers to fill their holes of depth. Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton will have another season to develop to be the backcourt off the bench. Dwight Howard could resign as the backup center if he would like. But other options could be in sight if he chooses to sign with another contender. Nerlens Noel, Daniel Theis, JaVale McGee, and Boban Marjanovic will all be options heavily considered by the front office to fill the backup center role if Howard leaves. Furkan Korkmaz is another likely target to sign elsewhere. His experience showed a ton in the playoffs and they’ll likely want a more experienced option to fill Korkmaz’s role. James Ennis, Doug McDermott, and Trevor Ariza could be some of the many options considered. An upgrade at the backup power forward is also needed. James Johnson, Nemanja Bjelica, and Trey Lyles aren’t bad options Lastly, a veteran point guard isn’t a bad idea if Maxey’s development isn’t as fast as hoped for. Ish Smith, Avery Bradley, and Elfrid Payton are all solid options. The bottom line is that this team needs to add more consistent scorers to their arsenal.
The Philadelphia 76ers will have a lot on their plate to deal with this summer. They’ll have important draft selections to make as well. They’ll likely have a first-round pick in the mid-20s unless they choose to trade it to add more experienced players. They’ll have to also decide which contributing players they choose to re-sign or not, Danny Green especially. Ben Simmons will be their most important decision. There is no doubt it will be franchise-altering whether they chose to keep him. Daryl Moray will have his hands full rebuilding what he thought was a championship roster after a disappointing 2021 playoffs.