Sixers Face Daunting Task of Fixing a Mediocre Mess
Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the Sixers loss on Friday night that he understands the daunting task ahead of his team.
The Sixers loss on Friday night pretty much sealed their fate in their best-of-seven series against the Boston Celtics, with no NBA team ever recovering from a 3-0 deficit, and I have news for you, this version of the Sixers won't be the first.
But the daunting task ahead isn't winning this series, it will be fixing this mediocre mess of a roster.
The Sixers have become exactly what they fought so hard not to be, a team stuck in the middle, with no way out, trapped under bad contracts, poor front office decisions and poor roster construction. All of these things have led the Sixers right back down the path of mediocrity.
Sure they have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to show for their struggles, but everything they have done after selecting those two stars has been a mess.
This team was a few bounces away from potentially advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, two years after they won just 28 games. They seemed to be on the right path, ascending with the arrow pointing up. However, Jimmy Butler was sent to Miami and the Sixers pushed their final set of chips into the middle of the pile, gambling on Tobias Harris and Al Horford.
"The changes they have made to this roster, in an era where everyone is going smaller, faster and more shooting, they went bigger, slower and less shooting." said ESPN NBA writer Brian Windhorst on SportsCenter. Then invested over $400 million into contracts last summer, essentially marrying this philosophy."
"It's been a disaster," Windhorst added.
Yes Simmons going down and is a huge loss for the team, but even with their all-star, the Sixers were still a roster filled with a bunch of square pegs trying to fit inside round holes.
The team has made blunder after blunder in the post Sam Hinkie front office. Sure Hinkie had his flaws, and made his share of well chronicled mistakes, but this roster has the look of a team that has had multiple GM's, which they have since 2013 and since Hinkie was pushed out the door in 2016.
Hinkie was hired, tore down a bigger mess, and slowly gained assets to try and build the roster back up. He made mistakes, taking Jahlil Okafor at No. 3 was a miss that is often brought up, but he was never really given the opportunity to show what his vision was for the roster around his two stars, and what he might have put around Embiid and Simmons (we assume he would have drafted Simmons over Brandon Ingram in the 2014 draft).
The assets Hinkie acquired were handed over to Bryan Colangelo, who was brought in, essentially forcing Hinkie out. Right away Colangelo tried to distance himself from "The Process", but found out early, the Sixers fans were on board with the popular rebuild, putting him in the middle of pleasing the fans, and trying to win now. The problem was, he wanted to win now, so he took short-cuts to try and rebuild the team as fast as possible. Colangelo would have a treasure chest of assets, draft picks and cap-space to work with, but fumbled them away.
Colangelo waited to long to trade away young assets like Nerlens Noel and Okafor, getting essentially pennies on the dollar in return for their services.
His signature moment will always be the Markelle Fultz trade. Colangelo traded the Sixers pick, No. 3 overall, which turned out to be Jayson Tatum and a future 1st round draft pick to the Boston Celtics (Romeo Langfred) for the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, which they used to select Markelle Fultz.
He threw away draft picks like a kid taking a lick of a lollipop, not liking the flavor and tossing it aside for a new flavor.
While Colangelo put a competitive team on the floor during his brief tenure, it was filled with players Hinkie acquired. Colangelo had his chance to take the team to the next level and not only failed, he damaged their ability to improve the roster by dealing away so many picks. He was pushed out he door after he was involved in a wild twitter scandal with pretty much no signature move that helped the team move forward.
Brett Brown took over in an interim role and made a few moves, most notably on draft night in 2018, sending the Suns Mikal Bridges and acquiring an unprotected Miami first-round pick and Zhaire Smith in return.
Bridges has been a good, not great NBA player, while Smith has barely stepped on a NBA floor with various injuries and ailments. However, it was the pick the team received that was going to make this deal a win for the Sixers. They later would trade the pick away in a deal for Tobias Harris.
Enter Elton Brand.
Brand came out swinging right away, sending Hinkie favorites Robert Convington and Dario Saric to Minnesota for Jimmy Butler. It was a risk worth taking as the Sixers needed to find that piece to pair with their young stars. Butler's toughness may have rubbed some the wrong way, but his fierce competitiveness on the floor was just what the Sixers seemed to lack.
Almost three months later, Brand was at it again, sending Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, a 2020 1st round draft pick, a 2021 1st round draft pick, a 2021 2nd round draft pick and a 2023 2nd round draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanović and Mike Scott.
Brand, or possibly the ownership group, was determined to go for it and banked on Harris being the guy to put them over the top.
He later traded away Fultz, and then in the offseason, he sent Butler to Miami, and signed Harris and Al Horford to mega-contracts that have the Sixers hand-cuffed for the foreseeable future, left wondering how did we get here.
Whether it was Brand or the Sixers front office group, they miscalculated where they were. It was an organization that preached being patience, then got wildly impatient. The team was making trades, constantly turning over the roster and handing out draft picks like a Cowboy at an old west saloon handing out shots at the bar.
"They are now in the worst position you can be in," Windhorst explained. "They are an expensive, average team."
Wiindhorst is right. They have become an average team, exactly what they didn't want to be. While Hinkie always had another asset or door to open to try and fix his mistakes, the mistakes made since has left have no answer. They have no picks to dangle, no money to spend, and have contracts to big for other teams to take on, especially with the extreme loss of revenue caused by this pandemic.
"They are heading to another round of processing to get this fixed," Windhorst added.
Which leads us to the coach. While many blame Brown for many of the teams woes, and yes he plays a part. Poor roster construction, constant turnover and having the vision of multiple GM's plays a larger part of the Sixers process falling apart. While he has taken the bullet numerous times for the organizations mistakes on and off the floor, he will likely have to do it again - there is likely only one way this season ends, with his job.
"The reality is the pieces don't fit together," Windhorst explained. "Before you break this up, you are likely to change the coach, so the expectation throughout the league is there is a good chance there is going to be a change in Philadelphia. It's not all Brett's fault, some of it the decisions and some of how the players fit together."
Fair or not, something has to change. The Sixers locked into multiple bad contracts, meaning there is likely only one way this things ends. While Brown has two-years and $10 million remaining on his deal, its not a slam dunk that the Sixers will move on from him and pay another coach, but its probably the only real change this team can make this offseason.
"They will be remembered as one of the most disappointing teams of the last 20 years," Windhorst said.