On Wednesday, the Sixers officially announced the signings of Tobias Harris and Al Horford as they continue to reshape their roster. Philadelphia has been both praised and criticized for letting Jimmy Butler leave in free agency and the polarizing move was weighing heavy on one analysts’ mind.
ESPN’s Chauncey Billups, the former point guard for the Detroit Pistons, ripped the Sixers’ front office for losing Butler in the offseason. Speaking at a summer league game, he used strong words to defend what Butler meant to the Sixers’ success, calling him the “heart and soul” of the team. Butler averaged 18.2 points per game in the regular season after being traded from Minnesota, while upping that to 19.4 in the postseason. He was often the player with the ball in his hands when the Sixers absolutely needed a bucket.
“I’m not crazy about what they did,” Billups said on ESPN’s The Jump. “Even though I’m a big Al Horford fan and the [Josh] Richardson kid is going to be real good, but Jimmy Butler was their heart and soul, offensively and defensively. If we’ve seen anything and we know anything in today’s game, closers have the ball in their hands. They’re in pick and roll, they’re in iso … they don’t have that guy anymore.”
His partner on the panel, Paul Pierce, was quick to heap on the Sixers hate. Pierce spent 15 seasons playing for the Boston Celtics and was a constant thorn in the Sixers’ side during his career.
“I’m very concerned about this team because the thing I look at is fit,” Pierce said. “Now with the way the NBA is going with stretch fours and shooting the three-ball, you got Al Horford who obviously can knock down shots but I like Tobias Harris at the four next to Embiid. I’m not sure I like a lineup with Al Horford and Embiid, especially down the stretch.”
The Sixers will most likely trot out a starting lineup consisting of Ben Simmons at point guard, Josh Richardson at shooting guard, Tobias Harris at small forward, Al Horford at power forward and Joel Embiid at center. Of course, head coach Brett Brown has been known to be a mad scientist and will have the freedom to tinker at will based on chemistry and production.
Ben Simmons: Perfect Fit with Al Horford?
While some analysts are scoffing at how well Embiid and Horford fit together in the Sixers’ puzzle, the one thing most can agree on is the way it should maximize Ben Simmons’ game. The face of the franchise has been offered a max deal of five years and $170 million, but he needs to establish a consistent jump shot for defenders to take him seriously. Simmons has heard the criticism and hit the gym this offseason with famed NBA trainer Chris Johnson.
But having Horford on the squad should also help him mature as a leader. Simmons often drives through congested lanes and when he gets bottled up, he looks for a teammate to kick the ball out to. Horford has always been a willing shooter in his career — 52 percent from the field, 37 percent from the three-point line — and a clever passer.
Horford’s skills and marriage with Simmons should best be exemplified when Embiid is on the bench. This will allow the two to run some legitimate pick-and-rolls, a play that often stalled between Simmons and Embiid. According to The Ringer’s Ben Detrick, it could be a lethal combo.
“Horford changes that. Not only is he an exceptional defender, but his ability to shoot from deep and clever passing make him an ideal fit with Simmons when Embiid is on the pine,” Detrick wrote. “With every meaningful center minute occupied by an All-Star-caliber wide-body, Philly should see a significant uptick in consistency and have ample opportunities to rest each. And when Simmons feasts in the decongested paint, be sure to credit Horford’s sage veteran leadership.”
The Sixers need Simmons to get his shot fixed, that reality is never going to change. However, the addition of Horford should do much to take the burden off Embiid and help turn the Sixers into one of the best defensive teams in the league. It’s going to be a fun experiment in Philadelphia this year.