It happened again, a star player for the 76ers gets hurt before the playoffs. After learning that Ben Simmons was going to get arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the team took another blow and Joel Embiid left the game with a left ankle injury and did not return. However, good news we saw Embiid smile and laughing on the bench, so hopefully it is nothing serious.
There was still a game to play, and a must-win for the Trailblazers, it looked like all hope was lost for the 76ers without their two-star players. Incomes Josh Richarson and Alec Burks who combined for 54 points, and helped lead the Sixers to a comeback. Down 14 after one, they scored 73 points in the next two quarters, even taken a 4 point lead at times. But the Blazers, and especially Dame Lillard and his 51 points, proved to be too much for the Embiid-less, Simmons-less Sixers and they lost 124-121.
Good news, the OKC pick sits at 23 with 3 games to go. 76ers losing the next few games will only help that pick convey, as they are currently only a game behind the OKC Thunder. Thunder will play the “undefeated in the bubble” Suns tonight, Heat on Wednesday, and Clippers Friday. Sixers’ remaining schedule has them playing the Suns Tuesday, the Raptors Wednesday, and the Rockets Friday.
WHAT DOES THE TEAM DO FROM HERE?
Judging by this quote, and seeing Joel back on the bench, I’m hoping that it is just a sprained ankle. The Sixers currently are the 6th seed and would play the Boston Celtics in the first round if nothing changes. It seems to judge by Brett’s response about Horford and Harris playing, the team has accepted that it’s placed in the standing and prioritizing health over wins.
The idea of making the best out of it has come to my mind. Since Ben Simmons’ injury, if we are being honest with ourselves, whatever chance they had to make a deep run left when Ben chose to get surgery, and rightfully so. With the short offseason, he is better off making sure he is back for the next season rather than try to play now and have to get surgery later. With chances of winning anything significant out the window, I adjusted my expectations.
Here is what I am looking for from now till their season coming to an end:
- Young guys like Matisse, Furkan, and Shake to rack up minutes. There is nothing like in-game experience, and especially playoff experience. With how the Sixers cap looks, they are going to have to rely on cheaper contracts to contribute. This is a perfect opportunity to get these guy valuable experiences that they otherwise may have a short leash with. Maybe even some Pelle and Shayock minutes too.
- As far as Brett, if I were him I’d use this as an interview for the next team interested. Show them that although the team underachieved, when their backs were up against it you got the best of them. A perfect example is last night, the team came out of halftime looking like their lives were depending on it. If I’m Brett I’m trying to drag that out of my team for every game. Also, show the next team how although you thought you would be fired, you didn’t quit and you even helped the team by giving these guys a chance to improve.
- If Joel can play, I think I still may not even play him or play him limited minutes. Again wins would be nice, but ultimately it doesn’t matter.
WHAT ABOUT THE OFF-SEASON?
I don’t know how many major moves can be made. Trading Horford seems to be the biggest move, but if you do not get a player back that can help bolster your roster, trading Al just to get off his contract still leaves you over the cap. An Al Horford for Buddy Heild type trade would be amazing, but how serious are those rumors. The King’s were rumored to have interest in Al and Heild has seemingly unhappy with his place in Sacramento, it seems like there may be a possibility. However, it may be a long shot.
With no big trade or roster moves I can see them doing, here is what I would do:
- Work with Matisse as much as I can. Get his shot to be as consistent as possible.
- Move Josh Richardson to the bench and Matisse into the starting line up.
- Try my best to make sure Burks and Glen Robinson III are back in with the team. Robinson has a player option, and Burks will be a free agent.
- It is possible that due to the virus, and the possibility of no fans in the stands, that free agency isn’t as robust as we are used to. If that is the case maybe Burks takes another 1-year minimum to prove it deal and stays with the team.
- Do everything in my power to bring Micic over. Handling of the coronavirus in the United States may make this hard, especially with unsure start dates for next season, however, the 76ers are in desperate need of a traditional style back up point guard, and at 6’6″ Micic fits the mold of what they would want in a player. Using the TMLE on Micic may be their best option.
- Admittedly, I have not looked at a free agency or the draft, however hope that the OKC pick coveys, then you have a first-round pick and 2 high second-rounders. These can be used to either help facilitate a deal involving Horford or packaged together to make sure they get the guy they want. Because Elton traded away 2 second-round pick, the Sixers are in a unique position to not have as many as they are used to. Hopefully, instead of selling them off, they can find a guy who would fit on a 2-way contract. He could play mostly in the G League, i.e. Shake Milton, and develop there. The Sixers have invested a lot of money and resources into the Blue Coats program for this exact reason.
NOW, THE COACH
There seems to be an inevitable split coming between the 76ers and Brett Brown. And while this may come to the delight of most fans, it piques my curiosity about who will replace him. Coaching is a weird thing for me to evaluate. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea who should replace Brett. I see names like Becky Hammon and Ime Udoka and honestly, I have no idea what they bring to the table. One name though really jumps off the page for me. Tyronn Lue.
Lue won 2 NBA championships as a player, and one as the head coach of the Lebron James led Cleaveland Cavaliers. Lue fits the mold of what, I personally believe, to be a good head coach, ex-player with success but also was never a star. Too often we fall for star player turn coach that doesn’t really work out, but Lue brings an interesting aspect that I like to call the backup quarterback theory. His accomplishments as a player still demand respect, but he should also understand that not every player is born to be great, and you need to get the best out of them at times.
Beyond that, Lue has experience dealing with personalities and stars of the game. Not only did he play with Kobe and Shaq, and in theory learned from Phil Jackson how to manage the egos, he was also the head coach of a championship team that included Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and J.R. Smith, and is now an assistant coach of the Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Tyronn marks off all the checkmarks of being around and succeeding with multiple superstars in every aspect of the game.
It is easy to write off Lue for coaching a Lebron led team, but make no mistake it’s not an easy task. Just coaching in the NBA finals is a huge learning curve, let alone trying to handle guys like Lebron and getting role players to buy-in. We have seen Lue out coach Kerr at times in the finals, and he brings a great defensive mindset that would bold well given the Sixers roster construction. Although his regular-season defense wasn’t great, when it was time to ramp up and really coach in the playoffs, we saw him take the team to the next level. Yes, Lebron is a big reason for them winning, but Lue was too, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Lue is highly regarded around the league, has thrived around the greats in both playing and coaching, and his defensive mentality, how he understands the game, and how he commands respect from his players, makes him option number 1 for me if he leaves the Clippers.
THE REST OF THIS SEASON?
It is what it is. For me personally, it’s free hoops. Back in March we didn’t think this was possible, and now we are here, and the 76ers have at minimum 7 games left. I’m going to enjoy them, no expectations, hope to get Joel back and dominating, watch the young guys grow before our eyes, and press on to next season. When you have guys like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris, and throw in a coach like Tyronn Lue the sky is still the limit.