The Philadelphia 76ers find themselves at a crossroads following their first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics.
The upcoming off-season looms with the air of change on the horizon after the firing of head coach Brett Brown, but Philadelphia's lack of post-season success is more than just a matter of replacing the coach.
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Entering the 2019-20 season with a fresh starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid, the 76ers looked to have put together one of the most formidable starting groups in the league, with a strong combination of playmaking, defence, scoring and size.
Over the course of the regular season, the pieces that looked good on paper struggled to mesh due to a mix of Simmons and Embiid's preference to play in the paint, Horford never quite finding his footing and the lack of offensive punch from the second unit. (The 76ers ranked 26th in bench scoring this season).
The 76ers are currently on the books for $147 million in salary for 2020-21 with a large chunk ($127m), committed to their core of Simmons, Embiid, Harris and Horford.
Here's how their salaries play out over the remaining years of their deals:
The Simmons and Embiid dynamic
Much of the pressure falls on Simmons and Embiid, the franchise's two young All-Stars and the faces of 'The Process'.
While there are obvious concerns about their long-term fit together on the court as a tandem, General Manager Elton Brand re-iterated that the team isn't looking at breaking up the duo just yet.
"I'm not looking to trade Ben or Joel. I'm trying to complement them," Brand said. "They're 24 and 26 and want to be here. You try to make that fit as long as possible."
Embiid and Simmons give the 76ers two young building blocks, under contract through their prime years, so it makes sense to at least see what that looks like with a different coach at the helm.
Coupled with that, the pair haven't entirely been healthy and on the court together for long enough to determine whether it's not going to work moving forward.
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Both were solid this season and were named All-Stars, with Embiid averaging 23 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 blocks per game, while Simmons averaged 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.0 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game, with both players for stretches looking like Defensive Player of the Year candidates.
With Simmons missing their playoff series with injury, Embiid acquitted himself well, averaging 30 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per game against the Celtics, shooting 45.9% from the field and 25% from the 3-point line.
While Simmons' brief run at power forward yielded mixed results, there is still optimism he can excel next to Embiid. With the ball in his hands, there's already plenty of evidence that suggests they are indeed capable of playing together, but the lack of outside shooting on the current roster limits their ability to play to their strengths.
Is it as simple as adding more shooting to space the floor for Simmons' drives and giving Embiid legitimate threats to pass to out of double teams?
Just take a look at how things have changed for the duo over the past three seasons (via ESPN's The Jump):
The 2017-18 roster, which saw the 76ers go 52-30 in the regular season, good for third in the Eastern Conference, was rich with shooting talent, including Robert Covington, Dario Saric, JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova and T.J. McConnell, each of whom shot at least 36% from the 3-point line.
That season Philly ranked 13th in offensive efficiency, third in the NBA in defensive efficiency and top 10 in the league in 3-point percentage.
Teams around the league will no doubt enquire about trading for either Simmons or Embiid, but Brand and the 76ers front office seem committed to finding players better suited to playing alongside their star duo, which could see them explore deals for Harris and Horford.
With the amount of money they have committed to their roster moving forward, it's going to make it difficult for the 76ers to do much of anything in free agency and any deals involving Harris and Horford, bring their own complications.
Harris has proven to be a reliable scoring threat, but his contract might make it hard to find a trade partner for the 76ers. It could be even tougher to find a new home for Horford, who showed signs of decline this season.
To get a deal done, they will likely need to either attach a young asset or draft pick to either contract. They currently own the no.21 pick in this year's draft (via) OKC, plus four second-round picks (no. 34, 36, 49, 58).
After seven seasons at the helm, head coach Brett Brown was relieved of his duties this week following their first-round exit at the hands of the Celtics.
Brown oversaw the length of 'The Process' in Philly, winning 19, 18, 10 and 28 games in his first four seasons, before back-to-back 50-plus win seasons and 43 wins in 2019-20.
"We'll begin a search for a new coach immediately and will examine the rest of the front office and the roster," Brand said. "I owe it to our fans to deliver on our goal. I still believe in our young core."
Brand also added that he plans on discussing potential moves that could help the team with Simmons and Embiid.
"I'm going to talk with Joel and Ben, about the game and how they see it, where they felt we were weak and strong in our play," he said.
Brown deserves a ton of credit for getting the team to this point, coaching over 100 different players in his time in Philly, while coping with injuries and quickly elevated expectations.
At present, several names have been linked with the 76ers job, including current assistant coach Ime Udoka, Clippers assistant Ty Lue, Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, Villanova's Jay Wright and former NBA head coaches/current analysts Stan Van Gundy and Mark Jackson.
According to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown is also on their radar.
Whichever coach gets the job, the 76ers won't have time to waste as they look to get back into 'win now' mode, with the franchise pinning their hopes on Simmons and Embiid completing the process.
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