Next Season May Be The Philadelphia 76ers Last Chance At A Title With Joel Embiid

Chris Szagola/AP Photo

Next Season May Be The Philadelphia 76ers Last Chance At A Title With Joel Embiid

Basketball

Next Season May Be The Philadelphia 76ers Last Chance At A Title With Joel Embiid

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Chris Szagola/AP Photo

The Philadelphia 76ers have had mixed success in the NBA Draft this past decade. The one decision that set Philadelphia on the path to success and contention was selecting Joel Embiid in the 2014 NBA Draft. Embiid dealt with severe injury problems the first three years of his career but bounced back into being a franchise centerpiece, developing into a perennial MVP candidate year after year. 

Philadelphia has had successful regular season after successful regular season, but it’s never amounted to much. In the Joel Embiid era, they’ve yet to make it past the second round and have yet to be seen as true contenders for the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy. Their front office has gone through many different teams, trying to give their fans and Embiid a taste of title success once again. However, they’ve continued to fall one step short of contention year by year, for one reason or another.

This past season was arguably Philadelphia’s weirdest in recent memory. It took them half a season to find the right deal for Ben Simmons, and when they did, the player they received in return did not meet expectations for them. The deal to acquire James Harden this past deadline was an unexpected one but was one that many thought could catapult the 76ers into title contention right away. However, due to Harden’s nagging hamstring injury combined with him getting older, he wasn’t the same Harden of before. His offensive game in the playoffs was a flat-out liability at times with his passiveness and lack of shape limiting his production and Philadelphia’s chances. Therefore, Philadelphia lost in the second round yet again to the Miami Heat in just six games.

Despite yet another disappointing season for Philadelphia basketball, they’ve had one of their most promising offseasons in the Embiid era. Acquiring P.J. Tucker on a three-year, $30,000,000 deal may turn out to be an overpay due to his age, but he should still be an impactful starter for next season. Tucker was one of Miami’s most valuable pieces this past playoff run and has been the label of consistency the past few years for every team he’s been on. He was a crucial piece for the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense during their 2021 title run. He was also one of the Houston Rockets’ most valuable role players for the entirety of his time there. Even at age 37, Tucker was still able to provide for Miami with his combination of spot-up shooting and defense last postseason. He won’t be asked to do more than hit corner three-pointers and play help defense in Philadelphia, which is always what his role has been. Tucker will be the glue guy role player Philadelphia has been looking to acquire for years and should be able to help chip in for their pursuit for a title.

The 76ers also acquired underrated role players in De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House this offseason. Melton has always been a sound role player but has also been underutilized in many situations. His defense is his calling card, as he’s a great on-ball defender who can also hold his own on the inside, despite standing at 6’2. Shooting a respectable 37% from three last year, he’s also a guy who can knock down shots when needed while being able to run an offense for spurts. House was always a good role player in Houston for his three-and-D ability but has been overlooked since he hasn’t played for a true contender. Now that he’s alongside two stars in Embiid and Harden, expect House to get more looks for three, bolstering Philadelphia’s shooting while contributing defensively.

Arguably the most promising part of Philadelphia’s offseason doesn’t even come in the form of a new player addition. Many sources have stated that Harden is “more motivated than ever” to win. After the former MVP took a $15,000,000 pay-cut instead of seeking a max deal elsewhere, Harden’s true intentions have become clear. When he initially requested out of Houston, Philadelphia was always his top choice. However, it’s clear that he was unmotivated last year, for several reasons. Coming off a hamstring injury is way tougher than one may think, and due to this, Harden started the 2021-2022 NBA season on a rough note. This, combined with the Brooklyn Nets drama all season long, simply made things way harder for Harden. Although he was dealt to the team he wanted to be on mid-season, it’s almost impossible to completely flip the switch right away while recovering from his hamstring issues.

Now, with a full off-season where Harden can rehab and get back into game shape, there’s no question that he bounces back into form. Harden has supposedly been more motivated than ever to bounce back and prolong his career while looking to win his first NBA championship. Expect Harden to come out providing full effort, with a Chris Paul-Esque bounce-back season.

The 76ers still have other positive contributors returning from last season. Tyrese Maxey is coming off an incredible season, and he should only get better, molding into a more than capable third option. Maxey can easily break the 20 points per game mark this year, helping the 76ers form one of basketball’s best backcourts. Tobias Harris is still a solid starter despite his massive contract due to his shooting and creation abilities. Matisse Thybulle is still one of basketball’s better defenders as well.

Philadelphia has surrounded Embiid with the best possible team they can, but even so, that may not be enough. The league continues to get deeper and deeper, specifically the Eastern Conference. The Milwaukee Bucks are a proven championship team coming back this year healthy. The Boston Celtics will only be better with the development of their young core and the addition of Malcolm Brogdon. Teams such as the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers could take unexpected jumps into contention. The only real East contenders that have gotten worse are the Miami Heat, and potentially the Brooklyn Nets depending on what happens with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Philadelphia is going into the season as the third-best team in the East, but the gap from the second-best team to the third-best team is relatively big. It’s going to be hard for the 76ers to beat the likes of Boston and Milwaukee for years to come, but this is the absolute best chance they’ll have. There’s a small chance Philadelphia can make a run for gold this season, but the likely outcome is that they don’t. If they don’t, what’s next? Well, the answer to that question may not make 76ers fans happy.

Since 2018, Philadelphia has done everything possible to surround Embiid with a title team. After this season, it’ll be five years of going through team after team for Philadelphia. For most organizations with star players, if you’re contending for five seasons and fail to even reach the conference finals once, chances are your star player will become unhappy. With Embiid being 28 going on 29-years-old, if Philadelphia fails to break the glass ceiling this year, the chances of him wanting out next offseason become incredibly likely. Every offseason, there’s one star player who wants out, and Embiid might as well be that player next.

Embiid has been loyal to the city of Philadelphia ever since being drafted there, but he’s never stated his loyalty as much as stars like Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal have to their organizations. Lillard and Beal are two of the massive outliers in a situation like this, as they’ll likely always be loyal to their organizations despite not truly ever competing for a title. Mostly every other player that has been in Embiid’s position has either requested trades or walked in free agency after going year after year without winning. One example is Embiid’s co-star, James Harden.

This is Philadelphia’s final chance to make Embiid happy. If they don’t make a run to the finals this season, chances are they won’t for the foreseeable future. With the majority of their core getting older and older, it’ll be hard to make moves and improve upon what they’ll be this season. Let’s say Philadelphia loses in the second round once again, what’s the incentive for Embiid to wait another year and try again? Embiid’s intentions are clear; he wants to win championships. If Philadelphia underperforms once again, expect Embiid to become more and more disgruntled, leading to him and the 76ers inevitably parting ways next offseason. 

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