When the Philadelphia 76ers went all in on “The Process” a little less than a decade ago, the goal was simple: bring a championship to Philadelphia. Too many teams get caught up in basketball purgatory by overpaying players to stay marginally relevant en route to an early playoff exit.
The Sixers have been far from marginally relevant lately. Over the last five years, Philadelphia owns the league’s second-highest regular-season winning rate. It’s not hard to understand how the Sixers have been so strong during the regular season. Headlined by Joel Embiid, the team has kept a steady cachet of stars at the top of the roster: Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris.
But for all that regular season success, the Sixers have certainly stumbled in one department: playoff wins. The Sixers have finished seeded fourth or higher in the Eastern Conference in four of the last five seasons.
But just as the regular season has followed a predictable path lately, so too has the postseason. Philadelphia hasn’t advanced past the Eastern Conference Semis since Allen Iverson was stepping over Ty Lue during the 2001 NBA Finals. It’s a ceiling that’s haunted the Sixers and one that Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley believes will not be broken next season.
Sixers Have ‘Plenty of Potential Roadblocks’
If Philadelphia bowed out of the playoffs in the second round yet again, it would be nothing short of a catastrophe. Every move the front office has made this summer has been geared towards building a team that can go the distance.
The Eastern Conference Semifinals is not “the distance.”
And while the Sixers earned high praise for their offseason moves, Buckley wants to pump the brakes on any premature celebration. After all, Philadelphia has yet to prove capable of any sustained playoff run.
“The Sixers have plenty of potential roadblocks, and it starts at the top. Embiid is awesome, but he’s also a 7-footer who has battled myriad injury issues. Harden can shred nets, but he still shot just 41 percent overall and 33 percent from range last season, and his history in big moments isn’t exactly encouraging,” Buckley wrote on September 22.
The roadblocks aren’t limited to Philadelphia’s roster. The Eastern Conference looks as deep as any in recent memory. The Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, and Cleveland Cavaliers each added major talent this summer. Even the typical lottery locks — Orlando, Indiana, Detroit — could be frisky after infusing their teams with intriguing young talent.
Thus, even if Embiid remains healthy, Harden finds a vintage form, and Maxey makes the All-Star leap, the team still faces an uncertain path. There’s no clear favorite in the East (other than, maybe Milwaukee), but that also means many more hungry teams have a reason to compete this season.
Fortunately, Philadelphia’s lineup could be one of the best trotted out over the last half-decade.
The 76ers Made Major Moves This Summer
Last year, Philadelphia’s poor bench performance meant added pressure on the starters to succeed. The second unit finished 27th in assists and 28th in scoring across the league.
But Sixers boss Daryl Morey got to work quickly this summer to address those concerns. The team brought in PJ Tucker, Danuel House, and Montrezl Harrell via free agency. And Philadelphia added De’Anthony Melton on draft night by sending Danny Green to the Grizzlies.
The roster looks retooled, and Buckley agreed as much.
“Philly has fielded uber-talented teams in recent seasons, too, and been bounced from the second round in four of the last five years. This group arguably looks the best on paper, but it could still suffer the same fate,” Buckley wrote.