July 21, 2021
The dust has finally settled, and a Milwaukee Bucks team Sixers fans never seemed to fear or respect that much has emerged as the 2021 NBA champion, thanks to an all-time great playoff run from Giannis Antetokounmpo. But who needs to celebrate that title when you can take a look at who the oddsmakers are picking to win next year's championship?
The 2022 NBA Finals odds are in, and the reigning champions are already being slighted by the oddsmakers. Sitting at the top of the board, according to the folks MGM (via Pickswise), are the Nets, who clock in at +225 to win next year's title as belief in Brooklyn persists despite how fragile their health turned out to be in the playoffs. They're followed immediately by the Lakers at +450, a nod to the respect commanded by a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
A look at the top-10 shows you where the Sixers sit in the public consciousness, and honestly, their +1600 odds feel pretty fair for the time being:
The odds are slightly different elsewhere (UniBet has the Sixers at +1800, while PointsBet clocks them in at +1200) but ultimately they fall in the same spot in the order each time. Frankly, I would probably bump the Sixers a bit further down, given that the Clippers were still able to go on a Conference Finals run and push the Suns to six games without Kawhi Leonard healthy and available. You could argue that free agency and Leonard's health uncertainty bump the Clippers down a bit, and the biggest factor is likely that they play in the West, which has a tougher, deeper field of teams to go through. But there are similar points to be made regarding Joel Embiid's health and a number of other variables for the Sixers.
Philadelphia, never taken that seriously as a title threat by bookmakers compared to the likes of the Nets, continues to run a distant third place in the Eastern Conference looking toward next season. And it's hard to blame anyone who feels that way — the Bucks went out and won the damn title, while the Nets took that same title team to a dramatic seventh game despite Kyrie Irving's absence and James Harden basically playing on one leg. The Sixers have a high degree of uncertainty heading into next year, and it's hard to see where a big leap forward comes from save for a major trade by Daryl Morey.
All indications suggest they're looking for one. The Sixers are inviting phone calls on Ben Simmons, are said to be one of the more active pursuers of Damian Lillard, and made dramatic changes during a strange offseason last year, at a time when it looked where they were painted into a corner and saddled with bad contracts. Nothing is ever as static and hopeless as it seems in the worst of times, and the Sixers continue to have one of the best players in the league manning the center position moving forward.
The trouble is that the proof of concept for this version of the Sixers has not come up with results yet. Rivals around the conference have either won titles themselves or come closer to a title than they have in the early stages of the Embiid/Simmons era. Boston experienced a down year this year, but Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have already been to multiple Conference Finals together. The Bucks and Raptors have now both won titles, swinging asset-heavy trades to bring in a final piece and push strong cores over the top. Trae Young's Hawks shook up the playoff picture this year, even if that was a function of Philly's faceplant as much as Atlanta's success. Even the Miami Heat, who were accused of being a retirement home for Jimmy Butler by the Sixers fans he left behind, made an inspired run to the Finals last season, just two wins away from a title.
At some point, the Sixers are going to have to start showing signs of progress that manifest beyond the end of the regular season. New, currently unseen threats will emerge, and while they are still relatively young in the grand scheme of things, the allure of upside is not as bright as it once was. Simmons' inability to take meaningful offensive steps forward has soured many on their chances to progress from here and save for a 2021-22 regular season where he looks like a completely reinvented player, no one is going to give this team real consideration to win the title unless they shake off their demons and prove the skeptics wrong (or swing a massive trade that changes the conversation entirely).
Milwaukee proved this season that playoff ghosts can be driven out, making regular-season adjustments that better prepared them for this moment. But there are bigger, perhaps more profound questions for the Sixers to answer before we get to the 2022 playoffs, starting with whether this core will stick together in the first place.
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