Sixers franchise struggling to get back on its feet

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Updated: October 4, 2016
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Ben Simmons

During the 2000-01 season, the Philadelphia 76ers stormed through the Eastern Conference and finished as the top seed with a 56-26 record. They were led by now-Hall of Famer Allen Iverson — the league MVP that year. Philly met the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, who had a dynamic one-two punch of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant — a couple of guys you might’ve heard of. The Lakers were 11-0 in the playoffs, and had expectations to sweep their way to a second straight championship.

But Iverson went for 48 points, six assists, five rebounds and five steals — a performance that has gone down as one of the most gutsy in NBA history — leading the Sixers to a shocking Game 1 victory, on the road. That was also the same game when A.I. did this:

The Sixers were positioning themselves to win a title, with Iverson carrying the team on his back. Then, the Lakers woke up, won four in a row and captured another ring under head coach Phil Jackson.

That was the last time the Sixers were true contenders, and had a serious shot to win it all. Even though they’ve gotten to the playoffs seven times since then, they’ve only been out of the first round twice. And they haven’t been back to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The last time Philly had a solid team was during a shortened 2011-12 season due to a lockout. They snuck into the playoffs as an 8 seed, upset the Chicago Bulls in the first round, after Derrick Rose suffered his first of several ACL injuries, then pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semis. Since then, they’ve been fortunate enough to have a top-three selection in each of the past three drafts. They took Joel Embiid third overall in 2014, who’s expected to make his preseason debut Tuesday night, but has yet to play in an NBA game. Jahlil Okafor was taken third in 2015, but played in only 53 games last season after suffering a knee injury. And Nerlens Noel, who was acquired from the New Orleans Pelicans via trade during the 2013 draft, missed his entire rookie season due to injury.

That brings us to Ben Simmons — the first pick in this year’s draft. His talent level has been compared to the likes of LeBron James and Magic Johnson. He’s been the most raved about rookie since LeBron in 2003, and he’s expected to be the player that’ll get the Sixers back to relevancy. But, Simmons, like the other rookies Philly has drafted recently, is dealing with a setback that could cause him to miss quite a bit of time this season. He suffered a fractured right foot last week during a scrimmage and is expected to be out for at least three months — possibly longer. That means he’ll miss about half of the team’s games, which dims the Sixers’ chances of being competitive this year. And his agent, Rich Paul, doesn’t want to see him risk further injury by playing at all this season.

So we may not see Simmons take the court until the 2017-18 season, which would fall right in line with what the 76ers are accustomed to: High draft picks, with injury woes. They were on track to have Simmons, Okafor, Noel and Embiid all healthy to start the year, in hopes of building chemistry with their young core. But, we’ll have to pause that thought. It could happen at some point this season, but the chances seem slimmer by the day.

It’s just another example of the Sixers getting the short end of the stick. Simmons is expected to be the centerpiece of what Philadelphia has planned for the future. He’s a pass-first player, and could be the distributor the Sixers have been lacking in recent years. Their point guard spot hasn’t been solidified since trading Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans in exchange for Noel. And even though Simmons likely won’t be listed as a point guard, he’ll definitely play a point-forward role. It’s the strength of his game, and it’s an area where he excels. Simmons showed flashes of his brilliance during summer league, getting Philly fans excited for what’s to come.

Brett Brown, who’s heading into his fourth season as the Sixers’ head coach, will have his work cut out for him — once again. Since he took over the job from Doug Collins in 2013, the Sixers have a combined record of 47-199. They’ve continuously finished near the bottom of the conference, but, somehow, he’s retained his job. Sam Hinkie, who held the title of general manager and president of basketball operations, parted ways with the Sixers after the 2015-16 regular season. In his resignation letter, Hinkie said, “Given all the changes to our organization, I no longer have the confidence that I can make good decisions on behalf of investors in the Sixers. So I should step down. And I have.”

Bryan Colangelo, son of Sixers special advisor, Jerry Colagelo, has since taken over Hinkie’s role.

The last time the 76ers won an NBA title, it was 1983, when they had a roster that included Julius Erving (Dr. Jay), Maurice CheeksMoses Malone and Andrew Toney. They swept the Lakers in the Finals that year, en route to the team’s third championship in franchise history. But that was 34 seasons ago. Before I was born. Before Michael Jordan even entered the league. Will they ever sniff that type of success again? Only time will tell.

The Sixers have young talent on their roster, but they’re constantly in a rebuilding mode. They were hoping this season was different. But with Simmons’ injury, it seems to be the same old story in Philadelphia. Now the onus falls on Bryan Colangelo to help them make the transition from being a laughingstock, to a playoff team.

 

Josiah Turner

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He is a writer for ESPN, and has written for Rant Sports and FanSided covering the Washington Redskins. He's also covered high school basketball for Virginia Preps (Rivals.com). Josiah is from Chesapeake, VA and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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