By Shawn Dennis
The Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday Night’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. With this loss, head coach Doc Rivers has tied the record for most consecutive Game 7 losses in NBA history with four. It’s no question that this season was the best that Philly’s had in recent history. Finishing the regular season top in the East with a 49-23 record, having two players make the All-Star team (although getting haircuts kept them from playing), Doc Rivers being an All-Star coach, and Joel Embiid finishing second in the MVP race. However, this playoff series marks the question of if “The Process” that Embiid had continuously referred to in post-game press conferences, practically since the start of his NBA career, is anywhere near complete.
Everyone wants to put the blame on one player for their team’s woes. In Philly’s predicament, the clear culprit behind this is Ben Simmons. Simmons can flat out not shoot the basketball. There’s no other explanation, theory, reason, or whatever else you want to call it. To put into perspective how bad he is at the free throw line during the playoffs, Simmons has averaged about five attempts per game while shooting 52% from the charity stripe. Whether you’re a basketball connoisseur or have never watched a game in your life, you know that Shaquille O’Neal is arguably the worst free throw shooter in NBA history. In his 216 playoff games, Shaq averaged 10.7 free throws a game and made 50% of them. According to my calculations, Simmons could take the crown of worst free throw shooter of all time if he doesn’t figure his shot out. Perhaps that may be another inclination to Shaq stating “If he was in my locker room I would’ve knocked his ass out” after hearing what Simmons had to say in the postgame interview. My only advice for Big Ben would be to switch his form and start shooting righty.
With all jokes aside, 76ers fans should be both nervous and disappointed about their team. Having LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry, all out of the playoffs this early for the first time in what feels like a century, this was the easiest path that they had to getting back the Larry O’Brien Trophy, which they haven’t touched since 1983. Now, with plenty of time to think about what the right moves are this offseason, President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey may be busier this year than he was last.
Although the complications in the 76ers roster were quite clear this postseason, so were the players who exceeded expectations and earned more playing time as a result. Seth Curry was shooting like his brother throughout this series and the 76ers need to do whatever it takes to keep him around as long as they can. Rookie point guard Tyrese Maxey, who didn’t play a whole lot of minutes through the Hawks series, still showed a promising future as he can be utilized on both ends of the ball.
Doc Rivers had coached three star studded teams, to which he had point guards with entirely different styles of play. From his earlier years in Boston, coaching the Celtics with Rajon Rondo at the helm, winning a ring during the 2008 playoffs, the Chris Paul years for the Los Angeles Clippers that were the definition of disappointment, and now Ben Simmons. Although each of these players are completely different with how they utilize the ball and control the one-spot, Paul and Rondo have an attribute that’s nearly impossible to coach. Leadership.
Instead of being held responsible for missing the shots you don’t take, Simmons did the opposite and simply didn’t take the shots. Period. With a mentality like this at the point guard position, it’s very difficult to say that he has the capabilities to be a leader and winner on any team.
If the Sixers want to win a ring while Embiid can stay healthy and during his prime years, they need more veterans that know what it takes to win. Of course, that’s why they brought on Dwight Howard and Danny Green this offseason, but Howard’s return is questionable and Green may go to his fourth team in four-years to improve his chances at winning his fourth ring.
Kyle Lowry was in trade discussions earlier this season with the Sixers as the Toronto Raptors may be on the move to make changes after a catastrophic season. Even if he does sign with Philly, Daryl Morey still needs to make cap space, as well as finding a new home for Simmons. That may be more difficult to pull off after what transpired this playoff series. Considering Simmons is still an All-Star caliber player at everything aside from scoring, finding equal value for him may not come from a straight up player-for-player trade.
If the Sixers are trying to trade Simmons and fill the point guard position, they may resort back to a team they traded with last season. The Oklahoma City Thunder, who recently acquired Kemba Walker, may be an option, as the Thunder have plenty of draft picks to share, or to bring a third team along for this trade.
Lonzo Ball is another name I think would fit the Sixers well if he decided to opt into free agency. As would true point guards like Terry Rozier, Damian Lillard or Zach LaVine that were all in trade talks since last season. Regardless of who it will be, it’s evident that Simmons is done in Philly and change is on the horizon. It’s hard to trust a process that gives you this kind of result.