Are the Sixers Legitimate Contenders in the East?

PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 13: Indiana Pacers Center Al Jefferson (25) reaches in to tip the ball away from Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) in the second half during the game between the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers on March 13, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

There has been an obsession with labelling the Sixers as being in “win-now” mode for some time now. With Joel Embiid’s internal clock ticking and there desire to capitalize on his MVP form clear, it is no surprise why. However, with the clear roster construction issues and looming Ben Simmons drama it may be time to sit back and simply accept that the Sixers may not be the contenders they desire to be. Here is a look around the league at the other top teams in the Eastern Conference and where the Sixers may stack up in comparison.

Milwaukee Bucks

The defending champions had a 46-26 record in the regular season last year before fully hitting their stride in the payoffs. After finding the right pieces to surround their MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have kept their core in tact. Their biggest loss was PJ Tucker who is effective, but in the twilight of his career. Milwaukee replaced him by bringing back George Hill and adding Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood. The Bucks will certainly be attempting to defend their title and will look to continue to find success with their championship roster.

Brooklyn Nets

If the Brooklyn Nets remain healthy they are the best team in the NBA. The organization showed their commitment to Kevin Durant by inking him to a four year extension and also made several solid moves to improve their talent pool. Their most notable addition is Patty Mills who will provide an exciting pop off the bench. They also resigned Blake Griffin to a minimum deal, traded for Jevon Carter, added aging forward James Johnson, and drafted Cam Thomas to add to their scoring options. Expect the Nets to shake the injury bug and, led by their big three of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant, prove to be the legitimate title contenders they are expected to be this season.

Miami Heat

The Heat may have been the most active team this offseason and came away with some key additions to prove this. Adding Kyle Lowry to the core of Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro is notable despite the tampering it took to make it happen. The Heat also added PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris who each fit the “Heat Culture” perfectly, and brought back Victor Oladipo on a minimum deal. On the negative side of things, they lost Goran Dragic, Precious Achiuwa, and Kendrick Nunn in free agency. The Heat may lack the top-end talent to truly compete but would be nightmare opponent in a playoff series and seem around the same category of contender that the Sixers are.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have made some massive improvements to their roster after finishing 11th in the East last year with a record of 31-44. Determined to build around Zach LaVine, the Bulls made several “win-now” moves and added Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to step in and make an impact. They also added several serviceable role players such as Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr, and Tony Bradley.

While this team feels a little strange on paper, it is tough to deny they have made some major strides in the right direction. It will be interesting to see what the dynamic of this squad looks like, but Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine are sure to be an exciting backcourt. They likely aren’t legitimate championship contenders yet but expect the Bulls to have to make any postseason vacation plans for later in the summer this year.

Atlanta Hawks

The Sixers wildly successful regular season was not enough to propel them past the Hawks in the postseason as they were bounced from the second round in a heartbreaking 7 game series. Following their successful year the Hawks were able to bring back John Collins, Lou Williams, Clint Capela. and signed Trae Young to a long-term deal. They also added Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper in the draft, as well as adding Delon Wright and Gorgui Dieng. Whether last year was lightning in a bottle is still to be determined, but led by the 23-year-old Trae Young they plan on running it back with the same core that that showed their previous success.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are in the process of an organizational overhaul which began by Brad Stevens transitioning from Head Coach to a front office role. Stevens was quick to take advantage of the position and swung a flurry of trades and free agent signings this offseason. The Celtics began by bringing back Al Horford in a trade that sent away Kemba Walker. They also brought in Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Enes Kanter, and Evan Fournier. Even with some misfit parts floating around, the Celtics are looking for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to continue their ascension to stardom with some new complimentary pieces.

Are the Sixers Better than these Teams?

There is so much uncertainty surrounding the Sixers handling of the Ben Simmons situation, but it is tough to sit back and feel great about their odds of competing next year regardless of what happens. The Sixers were once again unable to make it past the second round of the playoffs and Ben Simmons is seemingly set on never wearing a Sixers jersey again. The Sixers still need to make a leap to become a true contender and with it unlikely to add an improved or even equal level player in a Simmons deal, it is tough to imagine where this jump will come from.

The X-factor heading into next season is certainly Tyrese Maxey, but there is already an immense amount of pressure on the 20-year-old. The ceiling is sky-high for the Kentucky product, but expecting him to grow into the starting point guard and legitimate scoring option after playing just over 15 minutes per game last season is a loft goal.

If Joel Embiid was not on the roster the Sixers would likely be looking toward a rebuilding year next season. However, with the 27-year-old in the prime of his career and the lingering injury concerns hanging over his head the franchise does not have that luxury. The Sixers must continue to do everything possible to take advantage of his championship window and, frankly, they will always have a chance when he is on the court. There are certainly teams around the NBA that would rather be in the Sixers position than their own, but the franchise may have more questions than answers surrounding their future plans.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire