The first thing is first, this team is not built to withstand losing Ben Simmons. The organization made a clear decision last off-season to attempt to build around Ben. Harris and Horford both play into Ben’s skill set better than they play into Joel’s. Jimmy, who was detrimental to Ben, and J.J. who improved Joel’s ability on the court are both gone. The lack of perimeter creation is appalling, and with no real competent player to initiate the offense outside of Ben, is clearly hurting this team. The Horford and Tobias contracts may prove completely devasting to the team, but this is what we are dealing with, and it’s never been too clear that the team needs Ben Simmons.

In a game and time that is predicated on pace, the 76ers have attempted to play a bully ball style of basketball that just isn’t efficient in today’s game. It looks like the Al Horford acquisition may be the nail in the coffin for this team. First thing this offseason would be to hire a new coaching staff and try everything they can to trade Al and get some kind of return. I’ve argued and held faith that they could make it work. But I am not sure it’s possible, the best course of action may be addition by subtraction and unload Horford as quickly as they can.

The thought of breaking the two young superstars up crept in my mind, especially seeing an offense this playoffs that was predicated on scoring through the low post, but after settling down and doing a small bit of research, I don’t believe that they need to rush to trade one too soon. However, this season didn’t help the two, playing way too much with Horford, and not nearly enough with just Joel and Ben.

Figure 1: 5 Man Line ups > 25 min with Joel and Ben and no Horford per

127 total minutes of line ups that played more than 25 minutes together, where your two superstars played together without the one guy that makes their job harder is a disaster. Joel Embiid lost 2 years of playing basketball due to injury, Ben Simmons lost his first pro year, and since then there has been immense pressure to win that it never allowed the two guys to grow together. It may be a by-product from the process, because of the unprecedented way the 76ers lost, outside noise grew louder quicker to win and win now. Unfortunately, the teams’ ownership gave in to the pressure and pushed all their chips in. The sped up timeline did nothing but a huge disservice to Joel and Ben, who now may be running out of time to make this thing work.

Coming into Orlando, Brett spoke about Team Al and Team Joel, basically eluding to the idea that Joel and Al can’t play together. All of that changed when Ben hurt his knee and opted for surgery. Since then, the Sixers have dropped 3 straight games to the Boston Celtics, and have forced the offense into an inefficient low post or pick and roll midrange game. With no playable player able to run the offense or push off a break we say the teams’ pace drop from 99.6 to 96.17. While it doesn’t seem like a huge drop, prior to game three the 76ers have a playoff low 92.5. In comparison teams like the Bucks, Raptors, and Clippers all are well over 100.

Back to my initial overreaction that Joel Embiid just doesn’t have the passing ability or stamina to play fast. Seeing the Sixers constantly go into the low post, and trade hard twos for easy threes at the other end, I started to lean towards the idea that a guy like Joel doesn’t belong in modern-day NBA. But with some research and time to emotionally depress I think it can work.

If we look at figure 1 there are clear instances of Joel and Ben playing fast, 107 pace, 123 offensive rating, and a +24 net rating. In figure 2 we can see the best line up with all 3 is a 101 pace, 105 offensive rating, and a +4 net rating. Clearly, you’d prefer one to the other.

Figure 2: Ben Joel line ups with Al Horford

The hardest part is trying to figure out all that went wrong this season is the lack of time the two stars played together. Even from the beginning of their career, it has been they start together, then because there was so much emphasis on winning the team needed to keep at least one on the court at all times. Which basically turned into limited playing time together. The two should have been on the court together way more than they have. And now with 3 years left on Joel Embiid’s current contract and a mess of a roster, the two have been robbed of the time they should have had to make it work.

How to fix the Sixers?

It’s time for the 76ers to get creative and fix this because if not we are going to wake up one-day Embiid will be gone, Ben will have one door out the door, and The Process would all be for nothing. However, even with all the mess-ups, one thing is for sure; when you have talents like Joel Emiid and Ben Simmons anything can be fixed.

For a while, I have said that consistency around these two players would be great for their and the team’s development. I’ve argued that given time the Horford, Joel, and Ben experiment could work and that unless the team finds suitable return for Al they are better off keeping him. I think I was wrong, I think you need to get Al off the team at all cost. And it’s very possible to maybe even get a return for him. If bright Twitter minds like Marty Teller and Last Out’s own Jason Timperlay can come up with creative moves they could make, there has to be someone in the front office or a replacement that can do it too.

Where do they start?

The obvious and first thing that is going to happen is a new coach. But who is still up for debate, while I would look at guys like Ty Lue, there are plenty of other candidates, some like Phil Handy who many may have not heard of, that could really do well here. I personally would stay away from any college coach, the team simply does not have the time to bring in a non-NBA proven guy and hope he figures it out. The first step is to bring in a proven NBA guy and hope he can figure it out.

OAKLAND, CA – DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on as he walks off the court against the Golden State Warriors during their NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on December 25, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Click here for Ty Lue breakdown

Click here for Phil Handy Breakdown

After a coaching change, or maybe before, something needs to happen with the front office. Filled with Bryan Colangelo holdovers, and an inexperienced Elton Brand is a recipe for disaster. Too many voices, too many different ideas about what to do, and then throw in ownership that is out of their league running a basketball team and it’s going to be a disaster. Either wipe the slate clean and bring in a whole new front office or pick one of the two groups, Brand or Colangelo holdovers, and build a team around them. Whatever they do, something has to change in the front office.

Is there anything good?

There is good to build off of though. The team has some young pieces, that with the right coaching, and some time to grow can be contributors. Shake Milton looks like a player that in the right situation could really help the team. Get him off the ball, and shooting more. Maybe even off the bench if they can find an upgrade at guard this off season. Matisse Thybulle, the defensive specialist, looks like he can be a key for the future giving some time to grow. And believe it or not, Furkan Korkmaz is a player that they can continue to groom. It’s no doubt that Furkan can shoot, and he has gotten a little bit better each year. Joel Embiid recently said on JJ Reddick’s podcast that Furkan may be able to fill the role of the 2-man game Joel and JJ used to run, but he may need to be coached more, and that there isn’t much practice time during the season. Furkan would usually leave after the season and play for Turkey over the summer, but giving the current climate and an off season in the fall rather than summer, Furkan may be able to spend some more time in the states and maybe get some work in with the team.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 1: Shake Milton #18 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the LA Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Steps to fix the team!

There is a lot of ‘ifs’ around the team, and there is no guarantee that young players work out. But I don’t believe all hope is lost. Here is my updated steps I would take for the off season:

  • Relieve Brett, and find an NBA experienced coach to take over.
  • Bring in a Phil Handy type guy, that will help mold the young guys. One name that comes to mind is Ben Simmons’, shooting coach Chris Johnson, although I am not sure if that is a position he would like.
  • The new coaching staff should work heavily with Joel and help him learn to recognize the defense, make the coorect read, and work on his passing ability.
  • Straighten out the Front Office, either clean house or build a team around Brand, and move on from the Colangelo leftovers.
  • Trade Al Horford. Use remaining assets you can and see if you can get a player or players in return that may be less of a player than Al but a better fit.
  • I would shop Josh Richardson. And not due to anything Josh has done, but he has a player option in 2022 and the cap-strapped 76ers won’t have the money to re-sign him. With very few trade assets left, Josh my be key to bring another guard in that could provide ball handling that Josh can’t. I would not be in a rush to move on from Josh, but it’s worth exploring to see what kind of return you can get.
  • There is a desperate need for a backup PG on this team. They need to find him, and it looks like Micic will be staying in Europe.
  • The draft is going to be huge, and getting the 21 pick from OKC can really help the team. Whether it is used to facilitate another deal, or draft a player, it is another opportunity for the Sixers to bring in an impact player.

Finally, Lower Expectations

Sometimes it is necessary to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. One major thing this organization and fan base can do is lower expectations. Don’t let high expectations force your hand into making dumb decisions. If they don’t win a championship next year, that’s OK. Let Ben and Joel play as much together as possible, build around them, and try again the following year. Unfortunately, they may not have the proper time to really do this or have the right people in charge that are going to make the right moves needed to fix it, but a fix is possible.

In what looks like the end of an era, it is time for the 76ers to say goodbye to some pieces that have been here for a while, and some that recently have come. Re-tool and build around your two super-stars.

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