Opinion: Will The Sixers Bounce Back from Their 2019-20 Slump to Contend For an NBA Championship?


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2021 may finally be the year for Sixers fans. After a long, grueling process of ups and downs over the last few years, Sixers fans are ready now more than ever for an exciting NBA season. In 2019, the Sixers got their closest to winning an NBA title since the team’s rebuild began eight years ago. Unfortunately, their year was cut short by 4 unlucky bounces in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors. After 2019, the Sixers made significant changes to their lineup prompting, a humiliating first-round exit, letting down their entire fanbase. After many changes within the Sixers’ front office and roster in 2020, the future looks brighter and the team seems to be back on track.

Before the 2019-20 season started, Sixers General Manager Elton Brand made some questionable decisions. Over the offseason, he signed Tobias Harris PF to a max contract, paying $180,000,000 over a five-year span. As a consequence of this move, the Sixers did not have enough money to sign Jimmy Butler, who had led the team to a game seven against the NBA Champions, back to the team. This was arguably their worst decision. By losing Butler, the Sixers lost a scoring machine, a leader, and an experienced vet. This decision likely happened because of head coach Brett Brown’s unwillingness to coach Butler’s “antics.” The Sixers then conducted a sign and trade with the Miami Heat. They signed Butler to a 4 year / $140,790,600 deal and then traded him for Josh Richardson, a shooting guard who averaged 16 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds per game in his previous season with the Heat

Along with this change, the Sixers decided to let go of J.J. Redick, their star shooting guard who averaged 18 points per game while shooting 40% from the three point line. To replace Redick, the Sixers signed Al Horford, a 34 year old center who played for the Boston Celtics the year prior. The idea behind this acquisition was to obtain the only player in the Eastern Conference who could defend the Sixers’ All-NBA center, Joel Embiid. Although many Sixers fans were not happy with the offseason, the signings of Josh Richardson and Al Horford positioned the Sixers to be a defensive monster. Their only problem left was a lack of shooting.

When the season rolled around fans were excited to see how the newly constructed team would fare. Many expected the team to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals because of their lockdown defense and above average height. With a starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid, The Sixers’ future looked bright. Unfortunately, the Sixers shocked the entire NBA in the worst possible way. Their inability to work as a team, incompetent coaching, unsatisfactory defensive effort, and inconsistent shooting led to a miserable and disappointing year for the Sixers. Harris proved to the NBA that he was not worth his max contract after only averaging 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Ben Simmons gave NBA fans more reason to criticize him after another full season of horrendous shooting. Al Horford showed that he simply does not belong on an NBA roster after averaging career lows in many major statistical categories. Al Horford’s strengths mirror Joel Embiid’s, so he was forced to play outside of his range and shoot an absurd amount of three pointers for a player who should primarily play in the post.  

The team finished 43-30 as the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference, 3 spots lower than the year prior. The team often looked lost and unmotivated to win, but there was a little bit of hope left: when the NBA shut down for 3 months due to COVID-19, many believed that the Sixers would be able to rectify their before facing the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Sadly, the team did not surprise anyone with their embarrassing performance, getting swept in four games. It was clear the Sixers did not put very much effort in during the break and that their problems ran deeper than being a poorly constructed team. The team needed a complete remodel — to Sixers fans’ delight, that is exactly what has happened so far in 2021. 

During a shortened offseason, the Sixers made lots of moves extremely quickly. Immediately after the Sixers 2019-20 season ended, the front office took initiative, firing Brett Brown, which should have happened long ago. They hired Doc Rivers, a very experienced head coach and NBA Coach of the Year Award recipient who has made the playoffs 16 times and has an all time record of 943-681. Doc Rivers also coached Tobias Harris in his best season with the Los Angeles Clippers, so he may be able to utilize Tobias Harris in a similar way and help him regain his all-star form. Along with signing Doc Rivers, the Sixers hired Daryl Morey to be the new President of Basketball Operations. Morey has already made some very impressive moves: in order to improve the teams’ shooting, he traded Josh Richardson to the Dallas Mavericks for sharpshooter Seth Curry and traded Horford to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three way deal for Danny Green and Terrence Ferguson. These two trades haven’t been the huge blockbuster trades that many Sixers fans hoped for, but nevertheless could help the team compete.

With the addition of Seth Curry and Danny Green, the Sixers offense will be better spaced and allow Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to work in the paint. This space will also permit Simmons and Embiid to run an effective pick and roll. A common point made by critics of the Sixers is that Simmons and Embiid, while being great individual players, cannot work together. The reason the two haven’t been able to to work together is because of the lack of shooting around them. Simmons and Embiid are often double or even triple teamed in the paint because defenders feel confident leaving the previous Sixers shooters wide open on the perimeter. Now, because of Curry and Green, defenders will hesitate to focus on Simmons and Embiid, leading to more efficient basketball. Although the Sixers lost a defensive star in Josh Richardson, Green’s above average defensive skills mixed in with Matisse Thybulle and Ben Simmons’ abilities on the defensive end should be more than enough to fill the hole Josh Richardson left. 

Along with the acquisition of Curry, Green, and Ferguson, the Sixers drafted Tyrese Maxey from Kentucky — an exceptional playmaker with superb scoring abilities — who will play a pivotal role in the team’s success. Maxey is the only scoring machine that the Sixers have. He will contribute by creating his own shot and scoring without any help. The Sixers also drafted Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed and signed Justin Anderson. Anderson, who played for the Sixers in 2017, brought great energy off the bench and was crucial to the team’s chemistry. In order to be a consistent and winning team in the NBA, there needs to be chemistry and love between the players; Justin Anderson is the perfect addition to achieve that goal. Along with Anderson, the team signed Dwight Howard, a veteran center and NBA Champion. Dwight Howard will bring physicality to the team and serve as Embiid’s substitute. He will be the perfect physical backup for Embiid and fill in the defensive hole the Sixers lost with the absence of Josh Richardson and Al Horford. The team’s composition for the 2020-21 NBA Season is undoubtedly more logical and prepared than ever before. The Sixers are strong in every aspect of the game; defense, playmaking, shooting, physicality, and transition play. The Sixers may have a rough start of the season as many players on the team have never played with each other before, and with a shortened off season, the new players have less time to get to know each other and build relationships. At the beginning of the season, there is no doubt that fans will see some sloppy play, missed communication, and unaccountability, but as the season progresses, players will become more familiar with each other, learn each other’s play styles, and gel together. Led by Doc Rivers, The Sixers will be able to reach their potential with the pieces they have in place and run deep into the playoffs, possibly making a run at a championship.