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October 30, 2020

If the NBA season starts in late December, here's how it hurts the Sixers

Late October normally coincides with the kickoff of a new NBA season, but we're a long way from normal in 2020. After building a successful bubble environment in Disney World to finish the 2019-20 season after a months-long hiatus, discussions for the 2020-21 season are now fully underway. From the sound of things, the NBA is pushing to get the league to start again in late December, reminding players of the money they stand to lose if they push the start back further.

Should the Sixers have a rooting interest one way or another? The other plan floating around is to start in late January. Starting sooner than later would certainly help get the foul taste of last season out of their mouths, but it would have consequences for an organization in the midst of an upheaval, which can't be taken lightly.

With that in mind, we're running a pair of pieces at PhillyVoice looking at both sides of it, trying to find the good and the bad. As the headline suggests, this is the article about the downside, and how a quicker return could hurt Philadelphia.

Less time for Doc Rivers to get settled in

I'm not sure we've discussed the turnaround between jobs for Rivers enough. He was unemployed for just a few short days after parting ways with the Clippers, uprooting his life to sign on for the job in Philadelphia. For a team in need of a win, it was a statement hiring.

But now the Sixers have to deal with the reality — a new coach has to implement his vision for the organization during an unprecedented sort of offseason, and do so with restrictions in place on how he can work with his players that have nothing to do with basketball. The work is underway, but unlike jobs he has taken in the past, there is no roadmap for how to handle the situation unfolding in front of him.

By his own admission, there's a lot for Rivers to do. Filling out the staff is/was step one of the process, and while Rivers has already made progress on that front, this new set of voices will have to work with a new set of players and personalities they've collectively never been in charge of before. Rivers has been actively trying to meet and greet his new players — he had plans to go to Atlanta to visit Al Horford, last I heard — but that isn't the same as working with them, knowing their habits, and changing things in a meaningful way at the practice facility.

The good news is that Rivers' offensive installation shouldn't be overly complicated. Some people call offenses "simple" as a means to insult coaches they don't like, but in this instance, Rivers' straightforward approach is good for the group and has shown its merit many times over. The increase in pick-and-rolls and his ability to extract value out of catch-and-shoot players should give them a lift early.

The defense is another story, and time will tell what he wants to do with this group. Will the scheme remain the same with either of Joel Embiid or Horford manning the middle? Will they be a switch-heavy team like last year's Clippers? The hiring of Pacers assistant Dan Burke this week, whose teams have dropped against pick-and-rolls and avoided switching, seems to hint what they might do. But however they decide to set up, Rivers has less time to think about the problems ahead of them. 

Less time to fix the roster 

Speaking of less time, a hearty congratulations to all of the new basketball ops hires the Sixers made. Not only do you get to help fix the current mess, but you also get to do so in what is certain to be one of the weirdest NBA offseasons in league history.

Early intel suggests the window for moves will open soon after the NBA Draft is completed on November 18th. And when I say soon, I mean real soon:

Though there's usually a fairly tight turnaround on the draft and free agency, this is tighter than ever, with the added bonus of training camp following this period less than two weeks later. That's a drastic shift from a typical NBA offseason — big moves come in early July, smaller follow-ups are made throughout the summer, and training camp doesn't get rolling until late September/early October. There is time to rest, reevaluate, and continue tinkering as the offseason rolls along. They don't have that luxury this offseason.

That's a problem, because the Sixers are in need of a pretty major upheaval. Horford needs to go for the sake of pretty much everyone's sanity (including his own), Josh Richardson should probably be swapped out for a better-fitting player in his place, and the Sixers have to make tough decisions on how much or how little they're after when these guys can actually be moved.

Presumably, Elton Brand has had plenty of time to think about this, talk it over with people around the league, and figure out the paths forward. Unfortunately, Daryl Morey is now the guy in charge of the basketball ops department, which will likely bring on a new wave of discussions, debates, and decision-making at the top of the organization.

In many ways, that's a good thing. Morey brings a fresh perspective to an organization in dire need of one, and with the former Rockets executive at the top of the organizational chart, Philadelphia has one guy to take responsibility and lead them forward. When you're brought in as the head honcho, you don't need to worry about stepping on toes or undercutting the work of people who did a poor enough job that your hiring was necessary. 

The collaborative days are dead, and whatever you think about Morey, he's a decisive man who goes after what he wants. Still, any delays in acquisition threaten to mess with the implementation of the new coach's system, the new roles for each player, and the chemistry they need to start building right away. It's a tall task for Morey, who has to work the phones and gauge the market for a new set of players on top of learning the ins and outs of his new franchise.

Think of how quickly most major decisions are made in free agency in a typical year, where if you don't strike deals within the first 48-72 hours of the window, you're out of luck. Now consider the pitfalls the Sixers are attempting to navigate, between the goofy current roster, their few paths to improve the team, their lack of premium trade assets, and you start to get worried real quick. 

There's a lot of work to be done, even if everyone trusts the guy leading more than the old regime.

Less time for Ben Simmons to get right

Simmons has spent a lot of the last month sending positive signs about his rehab — at least if you take Instagram pictures as a sign of progress. Around here, the bar is a little higher.

There has not been an official update on Simmons since he underwent what the team called successful surgery in early August and ruled him out indefinitely. That's not surprising given how quickly they were eliminated from the bubble playoffs, but unlike in normal times, we're not interfacing with the team for the various offseason activities that help you stay in the loop (predominantly draft workouts, which are useful for draft intel but also for catching up and keeping tabs on various things going on with the team).

It may very well turn out that Simmons is ready to go whenever the season starts, late December or otherwise. Though he brings his own set of strengths and weaknesses just like their other star, the one thing you can say about Simmons is that he takes his conditioning seriously, rarely showing signs of wear-and-tear even as he carries a huge burden for Philadelphia.

Even still, bumping the season up gives him less time to get right and get healthy, which in turn limits the time he can spend working on his game. The biggest leaps in skill often come when players aren't playing night-to-night and can spend the whole summer perfecting new moves and wrinkles to their game, and with Simmons needing to focus his energy on just getting back to full speed, we may see another season of lackluster progress on the offensive front as a result.

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