The Philadelphia 76ers spent the offseason revamping its roster, carefully identifying and adding key talent to last season’s top-heavy roster. By all accounts, they look primed for a deep postseason run.
But don’t tell Boston Celtics fans that information.
As it stands, the Sixers likely have the third-best rotation in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia trails Boston and Milwaukee, two teams fresh off of recent Finals runs, with the latter winning it all just a season ago.
And each team sports legitimate superstars in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum, defensive aces in Robert Williams III/Marcus Smart and Jrue Holiday, and Robin-esque number twos in Jaylen Brown and Khris Middleton.
But the Sixers have some star power of their own. Aside from reigning scoring champ and perennial MVP candidate Joel Embiid, the team will trot out playmaking dynamo James Harden and ascendant star Tyrese Maxey. Worried about defense? That’s what the summer signing of PJ Tucker was for. Worried about bench depth? Enter Montrezl Harrell, De’Anthony Melton, and Danuel House.
Despite the partially overhauled roster, some still aren’t buying the Sixers as postseason threats. That includes Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog, who expressed his mixed feelings over the Sixers in a season preview.
“This feels like another team that could go either way,” opined Clark. “They have Finals level upside based on their two stars and a very solid supporting cast. They also have bust potential. Embiid might be the MVP this year, but I’m not sold on ‘Thin Harden’ returning to his heights or even playing at an All Star level. They have a lot of names filling out the rotation, but several of those names are in their mid to late 30s and Father Time is undefeated. So I’ll split the difference and predict them to land in the 4th or 5th seed.”
The fourth or fifth seed? Could that be possible?
The Philadelphia 76ers Face a Revamped Eastern Conference
It’s not just the Sixers that improved their rosters this summer. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Eastern Conference looks to be as deep as ever.
First, there are the “flashy new toys” teams. That includes the Atlanta Hawks, who traded for Spurs star Dejounte Murray this summer to give a defense edge to a backcourt partnership with Trae Young. Also add the New York Knicks to that list, who, despite missing out on Donovan Mitchell, still lured Jalen Brunson away from Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. Oh, and speaking of Mitchell, he joined the East via the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose foursome of Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen should be fearsome.
Did I mention every single one of those newcomers arrived from the Western Conference, as well?
Second are the teams that “could have made a splashy move, but didn’t.” The Brooklyn Nets were rumored all summer to be moving on from the Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant experiment but ultimately kept both. The Raptors, a team linked to Durant, decided to continue building around Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Ditto for the Heat, who hung on to Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo in addition to an aging Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler.
Even the traditional “bottom-feeder teams” look poised to make some noise. The Magic look loaded with Franz Wagner and rookie Paolo Banchero. The Pistons and Pacers also got serious backcourt help for their young guards via the lottery in Jaden Ivey and Bennedict Mathurin, respectively. No one expects these teams to go for gold this season, but they’ll be scrappy.
The Eastern Conference has the makings of a real bloodbath this season.
The Sixers Were Voted ‘Most Improved Team’ This Summer
Despite the flurry of moves this summer by other teams, Dan Aldridge of The Athletic voted Philadelphia as the team with the best collection of off-season moves.
“Relationships matter,” Aldridge wrote this week, “and Harden going way below market value to give president of basketball operations Daryl Morey more maneuverability to add to the roster was a testament to the alliance the two have forged over the years. With Harden accepting a financial haircut, Morey added all manner of perimeter toughness and D with Tucker and Melton.”
Without a doubt, Morey & Co. identified areas of concern on Philadelphia’s roster and sought to improve it. Whether it pays off with a championship remains to be seen.