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)

Tobias Harris Era

The chasing of stars was not stopped at the acquisition of Jimmy Butler. Later in the season the Sixers also added 6’8 SF/PF Tobias Harris with hopes to complete the title-contenting team. At the cost of Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, 2 first, and 2 second-round picks, Tobias was able to make his way to Philly along with fan favorites Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic. This trade made it clear that this was the year to put all the chips in the middle in an attempt to win a championship.

The starting lineup of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid was one that the front office should feel proud of being able to put together from a talent perspective. But the painful 5 bounces on the rim from the shot of Kawhi sent the Sixers packing in the Eastern Conference Semis once again. If Kawhi does not get the greatest shooters roll of all-time, it is very possible the Sixers are NBA champions right now. The Raptors then beat the Bucks in 6 games and then overcame the injury-ridden Warriors to stamp their name on the trophy. That shot by Kawhi is one of the most heartwrenching moments in Philly Sports history and it can not be overstated how different things might be if that shot doesn’t go in.

So with all of their chips in the middle and the bet not paying off, the Sixers were forced to scramble. This is where things went downhill for the organization. The team landed Josh Richardson in a sign-and-trade as Jimmy Butler chose to leave. JRich was a solid consolation prize in the inevitable departure from Butler, but it was a step backward in the championship aspirations nonetheless. Tobias Harris was given the richest deal in franchise history by inking a 5 year $180 million extension this past offseason as well.

With Butler already leaving and limited options in free agency, it is understandable why the front office wanted to bring Tobi back. To be fair to Harris he is a very good basketball player. He is a decent shooter and a consistent scorer that helps the team. Harris has also grown into a leader on the team and helped them navigate through an extremely turbulent year. There should not be any anger at Tobias as he is exactly what he always has been. Statistically, he had a very effective year. But where Tobias gets a bad rap is he cannot fill the shoes of being a superstar in the way that the front office imagined (and paid him) to be.

Big Al Horford

The most glaring and least defensible mistake by the front office was the addition of Al Horford. The logic is still somewhat there as there was a glaring need for a backup center and the flashbacks of Horford locking up Joel still felt flashed through many minds. However, at the tail-end of his career, Al was given a 4 year $109 million deal that will expire when he is 37 years old.

Despite what Elton Brand may have said at his press conference, it is nearly impossible to find any shred of analytics that supports this signing. With Embiid and Simmons already slightly different play style from what has come to be the norm in the NBA, this was another move in the opposite direction. Horford created a logjam in the paint and never found a fit in the offense.

The Era of Duos

There has also been a shift in the makeup of teams recently. While a “Big 3” could still certainly be effective, teams have put more of an emphasis on finding a a pair of stars and surrounding them with proper role players. Finding guys that fit the scheme and buy in to the team is necessary for postseason success and it is much easier to find this mentality in guys with lower tier contracts and expectations.

The Clippers paired 2 defensive-minded stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with other hard-nosed grinders including Pat Beverly and two 6th man of the year candidates in Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams. The Lakers added guys like Danny Green, Rajon Rondo, and Alex Caruso to surround LeBron and AD.

Even the Heat, who are the hottest team in basketball right now, have many quality shooters and a great system in place. But while they are a deep team with talent top-to-bottom, they lack star power and Jimmy Butler is the biggest “star” that the team has. The Bucks looked dominant all year by putting players in place to fit around likely 2-time MVP Giannis. Guys like Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez are quality players, but they stay in their lane and serve to complement Giannis which has helped the team take great strides.

The NBA is always evolving. Shifts in team structure and play-style will always be changing. It is a copycat league and what is done by the teams that win will always be replicated and looked to be recreated by others. It has been a failure in the front office for the Sixers for not being able to keep up with the times. The Sixers have nearly $600 million in guaranteed money tied up in Embiid, Simmons, Tobias, and AL Horford over the next 5 years. They have little money, poor on-court chemistry, and non-impressive draft capital. It is extremely difficult to find players of the caliber of Embiid and Simmons. The time is now for the Sixers to clear things up in order to rejoin the championship-contending conversation and avoid living in a basketball purgatory that can be so daunting for a franchise.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire