The Sixers Season Is Over, But This Is Just The Beginning
52 regular season victories. 57 total wins. Third place in the Eastern Conference. 17-game win streak to end the season. First playoff appearance and first playoff series win since 2012. This season was one of growth, development, and excitement filled with a number of exceeded expectations. It honestly doesn't feel real. Sure, the losses to Boston hurt, but it's tough not to feel proud, satisfied and excited about the 2017-18 season and what's to come for the Philadelphia 76ers organization this summer and beyond.
Now, let's dive into some quick thoughts on the series loss and the season as a whole.
It seems fitting to start off with Brett Brown. In December, fans were calling for Brown's job and eventually they were calling for him to be a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. When you listen to Brett Brown speak, he oozes passion. He oozes knowledge and he oozes love for his team. The bond between Brown and his young group of players this season is something you can't fail to recognize. As the season progressed after the turn of the calendar year, Brown became very good at making adjustments and the Sixers were one of the best teams in the league scoring out of timeouts. They were tops in points per game, defensive rating, net rating among others. Most notable of them all, Brown was able to find a way for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to co-exist. Two guys with superstar potential both realize that it takes more than just one of them to win. That's on them, but it's the coaching of Brown that really supplemented that process. Brown has been through the entire Process from Day 1 and he's grown as much as this team and his focus on development will continue to be a huge asset to the Sixers organization as long as he's here.
On to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. This duo has the opportunity the become one of the NBA's best. Simmons' first year in the league, whether you think he's a rookie or not, was a memorable one. 38 double-doubles, 12 triple-doubles, incredible court vision and a skill set that most NBA general managers would dream of. After missing a year with a foot injury, it was tough to really know what to expect from Simmons and we were treated to a record-breaking campaign that will serve as a springboard to a long NBA career. This offseason, we all know what Ben needs to work on and
Something happened this season that many thought may not have happened. Joel Embiid is healthy. For the first time since being drafted in 2014, Embiid will enter the offseason completely healthy. Although an orbital fracture cut his regular season short, Embiid showed the NBA how dominant of a player that he is at his size. Whether it is hitting mid-range, three-pointers or disturbing the opposition in the post, Joel is the heart of this Sixers team and he has emerged as a leader in the locker room. This season, he was an All-Star starter and the future is super bright for him. A full offseason with the opportunity to work on ball-handling and other aspects of his game will prove dividends for the Sixers next season.
What can we say about Dario Saric? In Games 3 & 4, The Homie had 52 points and 18 rebounds and shot 17-for-31 from the floor. The amount of passion and heart this guy plays with is unreal. He's active on the offensive glass, has a smooth touch at the rim and has been one of the steadiest guys in the Sixers rotation all season long.
Before we get to the not so good, it would be silly not to mention T.J. McConnell's impact on the final two games of the series against Boston. His journey from the last guy invited to the draft combine to starting in the Eastern Conference Seminfinals is remarkable and it is hard to imagine McConnell ever playing for another team.
Also, despite JJ Redick's tough Game 5, he was a stabilizing veteran all year for Philadelphia. His leadership on and off the court was huge for the young talent and although many view his deal to be a bit steep (I do too), the signing was mostly a success for Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers. If I were a betting man, I'd say JJ returns to Philadelphia on a more organization-friendly multi-year deal. He seems to want to keep his family close in Brooklyn and JJ really grew tight with Joel Embiid and the others this year.
As for the not so good, I'll try not to harp on these things because looking back at the season, it was a success. Robert Covington was a nightmare against Boston. Usually when his shots aren't falling, he makes up for it on the defensive end. That wasn't the case this series. It got so bad to the point where he was removed from the starting lineup in favor of T.J. McConnell (no offense, T.J.). After signing an extension in November, Covington will remain on this team for his defense alone. During the offseason, his focus needs to be learning how to be able to drive to the basket and finish, because watching him try to make a driving layup against Boston was a trainwreck.
One of the biggest issues for the Sixers to start the season was their depth. Their rotation included the likes of Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and others. After the trade deadline, Bryan Colangelo added veterans Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli to the mix and they seemed to be the missing piece for the Sixers as they went on to win 17 straight games to finish the season. In the postseason though, especially against Boston, the veteran duo didn't really do a whole lot to help the Sixers win. Boston defended the perimeter extremely well, thus limiting Belinelli's game. Marco had issues guarding any of the smaller Celtics guards when on the floor while Ilyasova was inconsistent on both ends of the floor. It will be interesting to see if the Sixers show interest in having any of these guys back. They signed with Philadelphia for the group of young players on the roster and perhaps they would be open to signing for cheap, which would be huge for the Sixers' depth next year.
You have to tip your caps to the Celtics. I know as Sixers fans, it is tough to really give a rival any credit, but with all of the injuries they suffered, you have to recognize what they have. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are tremendous young players. Brown came back from a hamstring injury and played a huge part in Games 4 & 5. Tatum was huge all series. Terry Rozier was unreal and Al Horford was the steady veteran at the center of it all. The Sixers and Celtics should be a fun battle to watch for years to come, but they also have Kyrie and Gordon Hayward set to return next season. After seeing the Eagles overcome injury to win the Super Bowl, it's worth recognizing the opposing coaches and team chemistry for coming together and keeping this thing alive. Good luck against The King.
Back to the Sixers. In a way, this upcoming offseason is the most important one for this organization in a while. Joel and Ben have a lot to work on, Markelle Fultz is a question mark and a number of veteran guys are on expiring contracts. On a bigger note, the Sixers have the opportunity to make a splash in free agency with big names like Paul George and/or LeBron James with a sizable amount of cap room. Let's also not forget that they will have two first-round picks this year, with one likely being a Top-10 selection courtesy of the Lakers.
In closing, what a season to be a Philadelphia 76ers fan. Basketball is back in the City of Brotherly Love and (hopefully) there are so many more exciting times ahead. Although this season has come to an end, it's hard not to think that this is just the beginning.
Brandon Apter is a contributor to 97.3 ESPN and managing editor at SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @bapter23