There's no question the situation in Philadelphia is messy. With the season tip-off just over a month away, the 76ers find themselves mired in uncertainty.
For a franchise that finished the 2020-21 regular season with the No. 1 seed in the East, the fallout has been nothing short of spectacular.
The question marks around the long-term viability of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as a star duo has been a raging debate for years, yet it finally appears we are on the brink of a breakup between the two crown jewels of the 'process'.
At this point, it's impossible to know whether reconciliation is necessary or even an option but needless to say the timing of all this is terribly unfortunate.
Eliminated in the second round by the upstart Atlanta Hawks, criticism was levelled at Simmons from all and sundry - including his own locker room. At that moment, it felt we had watched the last game for Simmons in Philadelphia.
The All-Star duo have spent four seasons on the court together since Simmons made his debut at the start of the 2017-18 season.
Those seasons have produced a regular-season record of 195-114 and four straight trips to the postseason. Despite the clear success entering the postseason, the Sixers have been bundled out in the second round three times and the first round once.
"Stats don't lie"- StatMuse (@statmuse) September 1, 2021
The Sixers record, including playoffs:
.675 - Embiid & Simmons together
.490 - One plays without the other https://t.co/XcJEeQRtiL pic.twitter.com/sM0IQr3K84
MORE: The dominant numbers of the Simmons-Embiid combination
Injuries have hardly helped their cause, with Simmons missing the 2020 playoffs and Embiid carrying a meniscus through the 2021 run. Neither has roster continuity, with the Sixers constantly changing the roster around their two stars searching for the right mix.
Winning championships requires a significant level of luck and the Sixers were on the wrong end of the scale in Game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors. Was Kawhi Leonard's series-winning shot luck or skill?
To be fair, it was most likely a combination of both but the gravity of the moment for the Sixers franchise should not be glossed over. Was it really that dissimilar from Kevin Durant's toe on the line in Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals?
Like the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee went on to win the championship, giving Mike Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo in particular the opportunity to flip the narrative on their postseason legacy.
The Sixers lost on the court and in the offseason that year. Jimmy Butler, arguably the team's most important playoff performer moved on to Miami while JJ Redick also moved on. The team executed a trade for Al Horford that never worked and a disappointing 2020 season followed.
Of course, there were and still are the rumblings of discontent between Simmons and Butler, but one has to wonder if a championship would have healed all wounds. As it currently stands, the Embiid and Simmons era has fallen short of projections with health and yes...some bad luck working against them.
It's funny how that works. Only team can win and in some cases, one shot can be the difference between becoming a legend or a disappointment such is the life of being a contender in the NBA.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of all this is the portrayal of Simmons in the public eye. Having just turned 25 years old, Simmons is entering the prime of his career. The former No. 1 overall pick has collected three All-Star nods, two All-Defensive team honours and was the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year. In addition, you could certainly make the case he should have been the 2020-21 Defensive Player of the Year.
MORE: Four pressing questions following report Ben Simmons wants out of Philadelphia
The point is that despite what you might hear, he is really, really good. If Simmons does indeed want out, the Sixers are in a really difficult spot. Philadelphia have no time to waste when it comes to Embiid's prime. An MVP caliber talent without question, a long injury history with a man of his size poses legitimate question marks over his longevity in the game.
The Sixers will no doubt want a player of Damian Lillard's status in any potential trade, but if Simmons simply decides not to show up, it hardly puts Philadelphia in a position to leverage at the trade table. Given the window for a championship is now, you wouldn't expect Embiid would be thrilled by the thought of collecting young talent which leaves you wondering if it's possible for the Sixers to negotiate a trade that puts them in a better position than they would be with Simmons.
The Australian was disappointing in the postseason, there's no denying that, but he wasn't alone despite taking the brunt of the blame. If Simmons does move on, he will join Jahlil Okafor (No.3, 2016) and Markelle Fultz (No. 1, 2017) as the 76ers' top-five selections to head elsewhere since Embiid was selected at No. 3 in the 2014 draft.
The pressure to win in Philadelphia is real. The franchise and its fans are impatient. Perhaps Simmons will be the next player to depart. Time will tell whether it's the right move, but the clock is ticking.
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