Sixers not Satisfied with First Round Win
They may have already exceeded expectations this season, but the young Sixers are not satisfied.
“We have a lot of room to grow,” Joel Embiid said after the Sixers eliminated the Miami Heat from the first round of the NBA playoffs in convincing five-game fashion. “I think we have a special team, we know we got a lot of talent and they’re all good guys. We love each other, we love playing with each other. When we play the way we want to play, sharing the ball, being the best defensive team in the league, we feel like we’re unstoppable.”
Sure, the Sixers were supposed to truly contend eventually; that was the point of ‘The Process,’ but not this quickly. It was supposed to take at least a couple seasons of maturing, but heading into the Conference Semifinals, they have the best odds to come out of the East (tied with a veteran Raptors squad).
If the Sixers season ended without another playoff victory, it would still be considered a smashing success: the team jumped from 28 to 52 wins and established itself as a top-tier team in the East moving forward. Ben Simmons established himself as an elite player and a future superstar. Joel Embiid was able to shoulder a larger load both in terms of minutes and total games and was able to stay largely available (save for the freak collision with Markelle Fultz). Dario Saric took major steps forward in his sophomore season.
I could go on about the strides that the Sixers made throughout the 2017-18 season, but the point is, that the team isn’t dwelling on their quick come-up, or what they’ve already accomplished. Instead, the team’s vision is locked ahead, as it has been since Brett Brown took the reins in 2013.
“I was hired in 2013 and I sat with Josh Harris and David Blitzer and a few of the other owners, and we talked about the vision, what we hoped to build,” Brown after his first playoff series victory. “Through rough times, through adversity, we didn’t blink. We stayed strong in what we were trying to do.
“We’ve got more to do. We’ve got more to give. We’re excited for sure and there was a sense of just gratitude and I’m proud of all of us for just staying together – owners, team, direction that we’re heading – we didn’t blink. We didn’t pivot out of what we said we were going to do and I think slowly we’re reaping the benefit of that.”
That forward focus trickles down from the head coach to the rest of the team. For an organization that spent so much time and manpower engineering a team that could compete in the postseason, there seemed to be very little time spent celebrating their first step of success in a postseason, outside of the water and chocolate milk shower that Brown was on the receiving end of.
“On to the next series,” Ben Simmons said. “We've got to focus on that. But for me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now. Going into it, we've got to lock in and focus on that next team we play."
While advancing in the postseason may not have been a direct goal for the Sixers at the season’s start, as just getting there seemed to be daunting enough, the team has become accustomed to altering its short-term goals on the fly.
“We’ve changed our goal like 4 times this season,” J.J. Redick said, referencing the Sixers’ goals of making the playoffs, winning 50 games, getting homecourt advantage in the first round, and now – moving even further into the postseason. “This group is not satisfied, we want more.”
The Sixers success this season may seem sudden, or come as a surprise to some, especially considering where they came from just two seasons ago (for those that willfully forgot, the Sixers finished the 2015-16 season with an abysmal 10-72 record). But, one person who probably isn’t so shocked by the Sixers’ ascension this season is the man that is responsible for the foundation of the team as currently constructed.
"We're focused on how to put the building blocks in place that have a chance to compete in May,” former Sixers General Manager Sam Hinkie said in February 2015. “Those teams win in the high-50s. They don't win in the teens and they don't add two or three wins a year and they don't add a win a month for a little while to try and get to where they're going. They get all the way to the 50s. And they get there usually on the backs of great players. We are still — as much as I've talked about how we make decisions and as much as I've talked about our organizational goals and our player development — it is a players-driven league, still. When we have a set of players that can carry us deep, that's the only way, that's the only way to get where we're going."
In Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers have that set of players that Hinkie spoke of, and they are indeed ready to carry the Sixers deep into the postseason.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.