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Answering 2 Big-Picture Questions About the 76ers Heading Into the New Year

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

The 2021-22 season has been one of inconsistency for the Philadelphia 76ers. The team currently is in the midst of one of their best stretches of the season, capping off a 3-0 roadtrip with a huge win over the Brooklyn Nets. However, the Sixers sit in only sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a thoroughly average 19-16 record.

The up-and-down first couple months of the season, combined with the Ben Simmons situation, led to multiple questions surrounding the 76ers both this season and long term. Should there be a coaching change? What is this team's true potential both this season and in the future?

Should Doc Rivers be on the hot seat?

When the 76ers first hired Doc Rivers before the 2020-21 season, the move was deemed a home run by many. Rivers has underperformed thus far in his one and a half year tenure in Philadelphia. His coaching ability has not been up to par, with the 76ers often being out-coached in terms of drawing up plays and other in-game decisions.

Rivers, for the most part, has repeatedly made the same mistakes coaching the 76ers. He continues to mismanage the team's rotation, sending out all-bench lineups that get killed instead of staggering the minutes of his starters to avoid the all-bench units. On a team with better depth, the all-bench units might not be as big of an issue. However, the 76ers don't have a ton of depth at certain positions and Rivers has to recognize that and manage the rotation around the strengths and weaknesses of his roster.

The mismanaging of the rotation is just a symptom of the primary problem plaguing Rivers: stubbornness and a lack of creativity. The problems surrounding Rivers' coaching in Philadelphia center around an inability (or unwillingness) to adapt and be creative. The lack of creativity comes out late in games when Rivers fails to draw up a good play out of a timeout or, again, when he fails to come up with different ways to stagger players' minutes.

Hiding Ben Simmons in the dunker spot works due to his respective skill set and lack of scoring ability. However, why is the team having Tyrese Maxey move into the dunker spot at times this season? They are two totally different players being used the same way when playing off the ball.

Having Maxey be in the dunker spot is just one example of a problem hurting the 76ers' ball spacing and off-ball movement. Way too often the spacing around Joel Embiid when he gets the ball in the post consists of players standing still. Why is Rivers and the rest of the coaching staff not making an effort to fix what is an easily correctible problem? When Embiid gets the ball in the post, everyone should be moving and putting pressure on the defense rather than being stagnant and allowing the opposing defense to collapse around the paint.

Rivers very much deserves to be on the hot seat. However, his stature in the NBA and the five-year contract he signed to coach the 76ers will allow him to have a much longer leash than just one season and some change.

What is the 76ers' true potential for this season and the future?

The 76ers were once, and perhaps still are, one of the top teams in the NBA. They had Joel Embiid, a true superstar dominant player, to go with another All-Star player in the form of Ben Simmons and a good third option in Tobias Harris. However, last season's terrible playoff series loss to the Atlanta Hawks and the resulting fallout around Simmons have knocked the team down a peg.

The results so far this season show the 76ers are an average team without Simmons in the lineup. At this stage, it seems the only outcome - whenever it occurs - of the Simmons situation is trading him away. General manager Daryl Morey has not pulled the trigger on a deal involving Simmons yet, but rumors continue to swirl around the return in any trade involving the disgruntled All-Star.

Teams around the league are all aware of the glaring holes in Simmons' game (lack of aggressiveness and scoring ability, no threat to space the floor). As a result, no team has been willing as of yet to give the Sixers what they truly want in return: a top-25 player. To compete with the teams like the Nets, Warriors, Suns and Bucks, the 76ers clearly will need to add another top player to go along with Embiid and Harris. Embiid has been doing everything he can on a nightly basis, and the team's overall results have only been average.

Assuming, for arguments sake, the 76ers will not be able to get a top flight talent (ie: Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal) and they end up with a player like DeAaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Collin Sexton, does that elevate the team to a high enough level to compete and win a championship? It should, at the very least, put them back into the conversation whereas right now they are on the outside looking in.

There are growing concerns this season will be wasted as the organization sorts out the Simmons situation and waits to get an offer worthy of pulling the trigger. How will that affect the rest of the roster? Embiid isn't getting any younger, and, at his size with his injury history, each and every year of his prime is incredibly important. In the end, as I wrote multiple times over the last couple months, the 76ers need to hold out until they can make a Simmons trade that will greatly improve the team. Trading him for a bag of peanuts would effectively leave the team where they are now - not good enough to win a championship. If holding out to get the right deal means this season is wasted, then so be it.


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