2019-20 Previews: Philadelphia 76ers

Losses: Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, Boban Marjanovic, Jonathon Simmons, James Ennis, T.J. McConnell, Amir Johnson.

Additions: Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Trey Burke, Kyle O’Quinn, Raul Neto, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle.

Likely Starters
Guard: Ben Simmons
Wing: Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris
Big: Al Horford, Joel Embiid 

Predicted Record: 51–32 | 5th in NBA | 2nd in East

Let’s start with the obvious: this team is going to be a pain in the ass to play against. They are gigantic, athletic, and skilled. Everyone in their starting lineup except for Tobias Harris is an absolute monster on defense. They’re full of guys who can play bully ball. They are going to get every rebound, clog up the whole court, slow things down, and make life hell.

Everything in that previous paragraph is good for the 76ers. That shit makes them title contenders—no way around it.

If you’re feeling a big ol’ but coming on, you’re right. Yes, this team was within a sniff of winning the whole thing last year (honestly, if Kawhi missed that shot in game 7, I think that’s where we may have been headed), but that team had Jimmy Butler and that team had J.J. Redick. This team has Al Horford and this team has Josh Richardson, and while I’m not sure how I feel about that as a two-for-two trade, I’m pretty sure that in terms of basketball fit, it is going to be complicated.

When the 2018–19 76ers needed a big bucket, they most often went to Jimmy or let J.J. and Embiid work in the two-man game. Those options are gone now. There isn’t anyone on this roster as adept as Jimmy Butler at scrounging a bucket out of nothing, and there isn’t anyone scary enough as a shooter to make sure Embiid gets clean post-ups. Can Embiid keep his turnover rate low without Redick around, and with a more crowded court around him in general? I’m honestly not sure. His turnover rate skyrocketed in the playoffs last season, which feels like an ominous sign.

Ultimately, the Eastern Conference is so bad that this team might be able to bulldoze its way to The Finals regardless. Still, there is a reckoning coming, because it feels inevitable that at some point the fact that Embiid and Ben Simmons are a bad fit is going to be impossible to ignore. Simmons needs to be able to push the pace with the floor spread around him. He’s at his best in the open floor. Embiid is at his best grinding out possessions, making the opponent deal with him each and every time down the floor; he might not have the stamina at this point to play the way Simmons needs to play. And Embiid is the star here. He’s the unprecedented, gravitational force. He’s the one you build around.

I love what Ben Simmons could be, but it’s hard to imagine him getting there as the giant point guard in a lineup filled with mediocre shooters and slow-footed behemoths. Without question, Brett Brown will be able to find minutes for him in lineups that make sense (a Simmons, Zhaire Smith, Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, Mike Scott lineup would singe some eyeballs for sure), but ultimately, when it is time to shove the chips into the middle, Simmons is likely to be stuck in the dunker spot, frowning.

And if this was a league without a salary cap, I’d be all for keeping Simmons. He’s a tremendous talent, and it would be heartbreaking to draft him and then see him play elsewhere. But in 2020–21, Simmons + Embiid + Horford + Harris = roughly $120m in a league where the cap is projected to be $116. They’ll be approaching the luxury tax just paying their starting five. If your starting five is a great fit that puts you in contention, that’s great. If you have an obvious, glaring problem, you might have to, like, deal with that.

If they ever get around to it, Simmons will have enormous value on the trade market. I know his contract currently makes it tough, since his extension doesn’t kick in until next season. I’m not saying this stuff is currently possible. Still, think about the following pipe dreams. Simmons for Bradley Beal: who says no? Wouldn’t Philly be much better tomorrow if that trade happened today? Would C.J. McCollum, Anfernee Simons, and Zach Collins get it done? Some version of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr.? Could you get Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam for him and make a run at the title right now?

I’m a Celtics fan. I’m rooting for these guys to mess this up. I’m telling you: I’m praying they hold on to Ben Simmons. I’m terrified of every one of these fake trades. At some point, I think Philly has to pull the trigger. I just hope they wait one more year.

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