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The Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs in the 2nd round for the 4th time in 5 years. There's plenty of excuses to be made for this year's exit and lack of playoff success. Embiid missed games 1&2 thanks to a fractured orbital bone/concussion. Even when he played he was notably hampered due to these injuries plus a torn ligament in the thumb on his shooting hand. The Ben Simmons drama throughout the season and the resulting trade for James Harden had an effect on the team. Philly clearly did not get the Houston Harden that they were expecting in return, Embiid even said so himself in his post game presser:
That's neither here nor there as far as I'm concerned, because the multiple front offices had sown the seeds for not only this playoff exit, but the preceeding ones as well years in advance. It's a tale of good front office decision making almost instantly undone by backtracking on said decisions. These failures can be traced back further than this, but I am going to start from draft night 2016. Philadelphia has the #1 pick and selects the now most hated man in the city of Philadelphia in Ben Simmons. The next two players selected are #2 Brandon Ingram and #3 Jaylen Brown. If you have a do-over those selections are probably inverted. Ben was the consensus #1 and supposed to be a generational talent, so I'll give the front office a pass here.
Draft night 2017. The Sixers swap picks with Boston to move to #1 for the second year in a row. With this pick they select Markelle Fultz. The next two players selected are #2 Lonzo Ball and #3 Jayson Tatum. Once again if you had a do-over those selections are likely inverted again. Even worse is the fact that De'Aaron Fox went at #5 to Sacramento. It's crazy to think that the very backcourt that is battling the Milwaukee Bucks right now could have easily been in Philly. A trio of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Joel Embiid was well within the grasp of Philadelphia. In that situation we are likely not talking one championship run, we are looking at a potential dynasty in the City of Brotherly Love. Hindsight is always 20/20 and you can't hit a home run every year, but the pattern is clearly starting to form. Ironically the Sixers would be bounced in round 2 of the playoffs this year by the very Brown and Tatum the Boston Celtics landed thanks to Philly.
Draft night 2018. Temporary GM Brett Brown is in place thanks to burner gate (so much crazy shit has happened with this team over the years that I honestly forgot about this). The Sixers have the 10th pick and select hometown kid Mikal Bridges. This is where the immediate undoing of a great decision comes into play. Mikal is the only pick to be made here. Local kid, mom works for the organization, won a national title at Villanova not too far away, and fills the 3&D hole the team had at the time. The script couldn't have been written any better. Instead Mikal is shipped to Phoenix on draft night for Zhaire Smith. Why? Front office incompetence. I see another trend developing here. Every year draft night is turning into an internal competition between each new front office to see who can outdo the previous management teams foolish decisions. During the 2018-19 season the Sixers would land Jimmy Butler in a deal from Minnesota and Tobias Harris around the trade deadline. In rare W's for the front office these were actually good deals, but that won't last for long. The infamous Kawhi corner 3 would end the Sixers championship hopes again in the second round.
The notorious 2019 offseason. This is where the real pain starts. Philly has a decision to make. Tobias and Butler are both free agents and with Simmons due for an extension soon along with Embiid's, you can only afford one. Philly chooses poorly (shocker) and chooses Tobias and ultimately Simmons over Jimmy Butler. Jimmy is shipped off to Miami in a sign and trade, Tobias is given a max contract (dreadful deal), and Al Horford is signed in free agency for way more than he's worth. I personally have no issue with Tobias as a player, he's a solid player and a great contributor. He's simply massively overpaid and he came at the price of having Jimmy Butler on the team. The same Jimmy Butler who led the Heat to a Finals appearance in the bubble and has now sent Philly packing again in the 2nd round on his way to his 2nd Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 3 years. Don't think for a second that that decision wasn't a motivating factor in this series:
Fast forward to this year's drama and trade of Ben Simmons for James Harden. The failure of the front office year after year, draft after draft has put the team in a near impossible position to be true contenders in the coming years. While there is much blame to go around for this year's failures, in my opinion a lot of it falling on the shoulders of Doc Rivers, Harden, and others, I simply see it as the failures of a completely dysfunctional front office led by different management teams over the years trickling down to a no-win situation on the floor. The Sixers are in a deep hole now, and the dirt falling in is quickly blocking out the light. A situation I do not see the current front office being able to dig it's way out of. I will detail what I think the Sixers options are moving forward in a later blog. For now though we just have to come to grips with our new reality, the dark days are seemingly back in Philadelphia.