Should the 76ers really be “championship or bust” this season?

Tobias Harris
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Tobias Harris (12) looks on 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)

Should the Sixers really be “all in” this season?

Prior to the Philadelphia 76ers win over the LA Lakers earlier last week, President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey conducted a live pregame interview with the likes of Stephen A. Smith. During the (virtual) questionnaire, Morey had some interesting things to say about the current state of the Sixers.

“I think we’re pretty championship or bust I have to say…you go into every season, hoping to win the title, not a lot of teams have a chance, but we absolutely have a chance and we’re going to continue to work hard so we give ourselves the best chance possible. And I think we have a very good chance.”

At face value, comments like these don’t come across as particularly surprising. The Sixers have one of the more expensive rosters in the NBA, they have an elite head coach/front office partnership in Doc Rivers and Morey, and Joel Embiid is obviously playing at an MVP level. In terms of a “championship window,” the time appears to be right now.

But do they really need to be “championship or bust?”

As I’m writing this, Embiid is 26 years old and Ben Simmons is 24 years old. Guys like Shake Milton, Tyrese Maxey, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle are all 24 years or younger.

Even some of the team’s older starters – Seth Curry and Tobias Harris – are still just 30 and 28, respectfully.

The Sixers are an incredibly young basketball team.

Now with that said, like previously mentioned, their “window” is absolutely open. This is the first time we’ve seen Embiid legitimately look like the best player in basketball, and Harris finally appears set to crack his first All-Star game.

However, Morey’s assessment of the 2021 season being “championship or bust” seems a bit premature when taking into account the overall youth and outwards projection of the 76ers. There’s plenty of reason to believe that guys like Embiid and Simmons can continue to get even better as they mature, and first and second-year guys like Shake, Thybulle, and Maxey will all definitely improve in the near future.

The championship window has definitely been opened for the 76ers – but it’s not championship or bust. Moves should be made with the next 2-3 seasons still being kept in mind because the current roster should (in theory) have them set up for a handful of season’s worth of contention.

For example, shipping away multiple valuable assets for the likes of Kyle Lowry, or even PJ Tucker, would do more harm than good to the Sixers’ long-term aspiration of winning a championship. A “panic trade” like that might make them an immediately better basketball team, but it would pin them in a position where no further improvements could be made later down the road.

Should Daryl Morey do borderline whatever it takes to land the likes of Zach Lavine or Bradley Beal (without giving up Ben Simmons)? Yes, absolutely. A trade like that makes the Sixers legit contenders here in 2021, while simultaneously keeping their window open in 2022, 2023, and beyond.

With that said, a failed Finals run this season does not mean all hope is lost; it would not be fair to call that a “bust” of a season. There’s little reason to make a splash trade just for the sake of being “all in.” If they had traded the moon for James Harden, and then failed to win it all, that would be considered a bust of a season.

However, the team didn’t land Harden, and they likely won’t land Beal/Lavine. The 76ers have tons of young talent and plenty of draft capital to work with over the next 2-3 seasons. Keep that window open for as long as possible, and keep pounding away at that Finals run until it finally happens.

Who knows, maybe another “Harden-like” player becomes available on the trade market in the offseason. It’d be quite a shame if the 76ers were unable to be players in that conversation due to them spending all of their assets on a fringe All-Star like Kyle Lowry.

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire