As the Sixers trudge along in the 2021-22 NBA season, it’s time to look at the team and realize there are some hard truths that we may have to accept.
Morey’s Gamble with Simmons Hasn’t Paid Off.
Immediately following the Sixers playoff loss to the Atlanta Hawks, with Ben Simmons passing up a wide-open dunk, there were going to be issues with the starting point guard. While Simmons has developed into, arguably, the best overall defensive player in the NBA, his offensive game has slowly regressed over his four seasons playing for the team. His scoring, rebounds, and assists were all down from previous years. He has not shown a willingness to take the next steps in improving his game.
With that being said, Simmons is still a valuable piece that teams throughout the league would love to have on their roster. The old adage is that sometimes players need a change of scenery. This is especially true in Simmons’ case. He can not survive in Philadelphia. The damage has been done. He’s alienated the team, players, coach, management, and the fans throughout the city.
Daryl Morey, to his credit, stated that he wouldn’t be giving Simmons away and that his hope was for Simmons to rejoin the team and work toward a championship. That’s not going to happen. It’s too far gone, and Morey is still playing chicken with the most valuable asset his team has right now.
The Sixers, after a Thursday night 118-96 loss to the Utah Jazz, now sit at 14-12 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They’re behind the Cavaliers and Wizards, and that should tell you all that you need to know.
With Joel Embiid signed for the next five seasons after this year, the Sixers have a limited time to win a title. Given that Embiid has averaged 52 games played in his five seasons with the team, you can’t count on his health throughout the remainder of the Super-Max deal he signed over the summer. The time is now.
The team, after dealing with a few injuries and extended absence from Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Embiid, due to Covid protocols, is coming together, but they’re not where they need to be. IF the Sixers are to compete for the title this year, when there’s no clear-cut superior team in the league, they need to stop playing games with Simmons and his agent Rich Paul.
There’s no point in having players like Isaiah Joe, Jaden Springer, and Paul Reed, who all have a good bit of upside to their potential if they’re not going to be used. The best way to maximize their potential is to find a team willing to take Simmons and maybe one or two of those younger players in order to secure some pieces that will actually contribute and help the Sixers be an elite team, rather than a talented team that can’t seem to put it all together.
Doc Rivers is Still the Same Coach He’s Always Been.
While Doc Rivers gets a lot of credit for being a player’s coach and a successful one, he still doesn’t come through when it counts. Rivers is 0-4 in game sevens through his career in the playoffs. His 29 losses when able to clinch a playoff series are the most of any coach in NBA history. His .341 win percentage in those games is the worst in history among coaches with at least twenty chances.
He gets a break because his career winning percentage is .584 with just over 1000 career victories, and he’s still mentioned as a championship coach. That can’t be taken away, as his Boston Celtics team did win the title. But, he needed the Celtics to bring in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, two elite players at the time, in order to pair them with prime Paul Pierce, an up-and-coming Rajon Rondo, as well as several key role players.
Rivers didn’t lead that team to a title, he managed a superior roster and rode that team to the title. He’s had quality teams in Orlando and Los Angeles that he’s not been able to get over the hump, in spite of having some very highly talented players. After his first season in Philadelphia, it seems that it’s much of the same with Rivers. The game management, failure to adjust in-game, and rotation have all been questioned during his short time here and throughout his career.
Is there a better coach out there for the Sixers than Rivers? Right now, the answer is no. It doesn’t mean that Rivers can’t lead the Sixers to a title, but it’s looking more and more like he’ll be collecting his salary and managing to keep a talented team just competitive enough to stay relevant.
Tyrese Maxey Needs Help
Tyrese Maxey has been a blessing for the Sixers this season. Considered a steal in the 2020 NBA Draft, Maxey showed out when given some time during his rookie season. This year he was counted on playing an important role, but with all of the Simmons drama and Shake Milton getting injured, Maxey was thrown into the starters role at point guard for a team that was expected to compete for a championship.
He has not disappointed. Maxey is currently averaging 16.5 points per game. He’s shooting 47% from the field, 36% from beyond the three-point arc, and slightly over 88% from the free-throw line. He’s giving the team 3.7 rebounds and just under 5 assists per game while snagging just under a steal a game.
For a high-energy, young player like Maxey, there should be a good number of things you could point out that may not be as strong as you’d like them to be. In Maxey’s case, that’s just simply not true. After the aforementioned stats and how he’s played over 34 minutes per game this season, a huge stat is that he’s only averaging 1.2 turnovers per game this year. For all of the hype and talk about Ben Simmons, he averages 3.4 turnovers per game. Maxey is only averaging two fewer assists than Simmons averaged last season, but he’s not turning the ball over as much. The difference in their turnovers is just as valuable as the two extra assists Simmons would give you.
Maxey just needs help. As a young player, he’s succeeding, but he shouldn’t be asked to run thirty-five minutes per game. It’s not that he physically can’t do it, and he’s shown the drive and desire to improve that Sixers fans hoped Simmons would have a tenth of but, it’s a lot to do in his first full-time assignment on the Sixers. Unloading Simmons and picking up some complementary pieces, especially at point guard, would give the Sixers the ability to cut back Maxey’s minutes, however slight, and keep him healthy and producing well into a deep playoff run.
Something Needs to be Done
Regardless of how you feel about the team, its players, management, or coaching, the Sixers need to make some changes. While Doc Rivers isn’t going anywhere, the team has the pieces to make a good solid move that will improve the team. Long gone are the ideas that the Sixers need a Superstar player in return for Simmons.
Having watched Tyrese Maxey over the first 26 games of the season, they need to realize that they have what they had hoped Simmons would be. Get the help needed before they waste Embiid’s prime years. Give coach Doc Rivers some more quality depth for the roster and allow him to manage them the way he did with the Celtics. A good leader uses each of his assets to the best of their ability and tries to minimize their weaknesses.
Morey’s weakness is being stubborn, the owners need to let him know that they don’t need to see that from him. Doc Rivers’ weakness is adaptation. Morey needs to get him the pieces so that when he’s just “managing” the team, they’ll have the quality depth to be successful. Maxey doesn’t seem to have a weakness. The guy is a flat-out killer on the court but, that can’t come back to haunt them if he’s running himself into the ground in the regular season and falls off in the playoffs.
Now’s the time; let’s hope they don’t waste it.