How “Starhunting” became the Sixers’ biggest downfall

NBA: MAR 01 76ers at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Guard Shake Milton (18) celebrates with Philadelphia 76ers Forward Al Horford (42) during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

It feels like an eternity ago since Brett Brown boldly proclaimed at the press conference mic that the Sixers were about to go Starhunting.” The date of this was June 21st 2018 which was somehow just 2 years ago. Coming on the heels of a team led by Embiid, Simmons, Robert Covington, JJ Redick, and Dario Saric, Brown was ready for the team to take the next step.

This year’s team was bounced from the Eastern Conference Semi’s in 5 games by the Celtics. The same series that Joel Embiid was locked up by Al Horford for stretches of time and Ben Simmons was held to just 1 point in game 2. While they struggled at points in this series, it had become extremely clear that Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were legitimate franchise pieces to build around. Unfortunately, this was a time in the NBA that it seemed like it took 3 stars to win which has led the team on a downward spiral since this pursuit.

The Big 3 Era

While it may not have all begun when LeBron took his talents to South Beach, that move cemented the direction that contenders chose to take. This 2017-2018 season, that the Sixers were knocked out by the Celtics, ended with the trio of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson lifting the trophy for Golden State. They overcame the challenge by LeBron backed by Kyrie and Kevin Love. This had been the trend for nearly the past decade as there was the trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker as well as KD, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. The tone had been set for this to be the only way for a team to get their hands on an NBA championship was to have 3 stars.

So with Simmons and Embiid in fold, interim GM Brett Brown (another mistake) was ready to find the proper counterpart for them. This was coming after Ben Simmons’ Rookie of the Year performance where he averaged over 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. This paired with Embiid coming off career high’s in his second year with talks of being in the MVP conversation the following year.

It also seemed clear that Markelle Fultz did not appear to be ready to step into a major role for the team following the 1st overall selection. Fultz played in just 14 games this season after the shoulder injury/case of yips that caused him to forget how to shoot. The reports of 3-times-a-day training with Drew Hanlen still left some hope, but it was evidently clear that Markelle did not look like the same kid that played at Washington.

The big Sixers Offseason

The Sixers began free agency by sending out feelers to legitimate NBA stars like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George. The bar then lowered to names like Kyle Lowry, until they ended up basically striking out. The most significant move of the offseason was bringing back JJ Redick on a cheaper contract. Redick took more than a $10 million pay cut to save money on the cap and give his best attempt at a ring. They also added Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler in free agency. Not exactly the stars that Brown painted a picture of.

The draft was fairly successful. They landed Landry Shamet who is a career 40% 3-point shooter and is electric off the bench. He was traded to the Clippers in the deal that landed Tobias Harris, which we’ll dive deeper into later. Since joining the Clippers, Shamet has been extremely effective and plays a key role in their offense.

The Sixers also drafted and traded Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith and a first-round pick (which also became a major key). The jury is still out on what Zhaire’s career has in store but he has played a total of just 13 NBA games in his 2-year career thus far. They also landed Shake Milton in a trade after he was drafted by the Mavs with 54th overall pick. Shake spent some time tearing up the G-League and now has become an important player on the Sixers roster, as proven by winning a starting spot at the end of this season.

Sixers turn to the Trade Block

The problem with this Big 3, star-chasing, school-of-thought is that true star players didn’t want to jump to a team where they would be forced to play Third-Fiddle. While playing alongside Embiid and Simmons should have been an attraction for big-name free agents, in reality, they are not the easiest guys to play alongside. Both Ben and Embiid are extremely ball-dominant. Ben Simmons was 5th in the league this year in most touches on the offensive end and Joel Embiid had a usage rate nearly twice the NBA average. These statistics also come with the most recent attempts of stars (Tobias Harris and Al Horford) playing alongside them.

With free agency being looked at as a failure due to not being able to find a star to pair with Ben and Joel, the Sixers turned to the trade block. This led to a discussion with the Timberwolves about a disgruntled shooting guard, and in early November Jimmy Butler became a member of the 76ers.

It took Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2nd round pick to land Butler. Besides the talent that he brought on the court, Butler attracted the Sixers’ front office due to his will-to-win and natural competitiveness. However, this desire came with baggage as his reputation as a “team-killer” who can cause just as many problems as ways he can help the team.

There were some beautiful moments with Jimmy as a Sixer. For one, he seemed to get along with Embiid extremely well and was the first guy that Joel was content with being so direct with him. As seen with Embiid’s recent tweets as Butler continues his playoff run with the Heat, the pair still seems to have a solid relationship.

Whether it was issues with Brett Brown or not getting along with Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler spent less than a year with the Sixers. While Butler is known for not holding back, he has been fairly quiet about his departure from Philly. On The JJ Redick Podcast, Jimmy talked about not knowing who was in charge in the lockerroom in Philly. It is very possible that the full story on his reasoning for leaving will be told sometime down the line, but it was clear that Jimmy thought his talents were best used elsewhere and joined the Heat that summer.

Continued on the page below.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire