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May 19, 2023

Eytan Shander: Thoughts on the Sixers' failures

After yet another second-round flameout, columnist Eytan Shander gives his takes on the state of the Sixers franchise.

I need a break.

I’m taking the rest of the postseason off from any Sixers activity. I have this feeling coming, like the early stages of a cold before any physical symptoms, that I may need a little  not permanent  break from Joel Embiid.

No, this is not a “Trade Embiid!” article because I personally think that is a stupid idea. While Rudy Gobert got a nice haul in return, and the argument could be made to trade him  if he wanted the out, not the team  but players of his caliber never return fair deals.

This is more about how far away the Sixers have moved from their initial core plan and message, ever since the idea of Embiid was actualized on the floor. It feels like the Sixers have disconnected from a lot of people in this city and that simply isn’t fair. There were plenty of us  including you, the paying customer  who supported this team during the process. We understood why losing on purpose mattered and the subsequent faith required to see Embiid blossom.

That’s exactly what we saw. A young man blossom into the league’s MVP  no matter what you think of the rest of the league. But even the leader of the process has wavered from the plan, and it seems like there’s nobody left to bring this team back.

Daryl Morey is charged with fixing a mess that was a huge waste of time this year. Yes, outside of Embiid winning the regular season MVP award, this season accomplished nothing. Which again, is an affront to any fan  processer or not. Morey wasn’t here when Sam Hinkie tore down the team, nor was Doc Rivers. Nor were Tobias Harris and James Harden. We’ve had so much happen since, between Burnergate, Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons Simmons, Mikal Bridges, all the way to today with another failed experiment in Harden and Embiid and nother second-round exit by the most predictable head coach in the game.

I hope you are watching the rest of the NBA playoffs despite the Sixers' early exit. You get a clear idea of who is dominating this league when it truly matters. Guys like Jimmy Butler, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and, yes, Jayson Tatum remain able to take over halves to games on any given night. The Sixers weren’t ready for this. That's an affront to any fan, paying at the arena or watching on their couch.

We sat through a bunch of awful basketball and warded off ignorance about the league as to why tanking was bad. I sat on the radio and tried to push your pro-process calls because I believed in the plan. It yielded the team Embiid, an MVP, which was always the plan. The process was kind of like only betting parlays, your record of W-L in draft/trades may not be above .500, but if you hit a monster, you make money hand over fist. You can be 1-15 in parlays, but if that ticket is an injured kid from Kansas turning into the MVP… you get the picture.

Bringing Harden back is utterly ridiculous, as would be hiring any coach associated with him. Bringing back Harris and anyone else hired to play this  or next  year should be gone. At this point I honestly don’t care who the next coach is  outside of some absurd hire like JJ Reddick  because the culture is rotten from the core.

I don’t know what Embiid can or should do following that horrific Game 7 performance, and I’m reminded about it every time I see a Jokic triple-double by the end of the third quarter. I see the past haunt me again in the form of Butler just owning a team like Boston. I still believe in Embiid, but do the people around him?

The personal growth of Embiid is without question or argument. He’s stellar. The team build around him? Failure. No, this is not a “Let Embiid off the hook!” column. He’s guilty for his performance in Game 7. But what about the “performance” of management? Is this just Brett Brown, Doc Rivers and Bryan Collangeo’s collective fault? I guess we throw Morey in there for trying to bring back a band that’s tone deaf.

Nobody in their right mind would look at the talent in Embiid and suggest they either trade him or rebuild with him, but they certainly can rebuild around him.

The last point is either swept under the rug or simply forgotten because of people’s outrage on how the Sixers ended the season. The team had the right idea and the right thought, but it just a horrific execution of the plan. 

While most of us had the foresight to see trouble, the benefit of hindsight allows the rest of you to see the drastic flaw – Harden. They built around Harden for some asinine reason and expected Embiid to just make it work.

That’s just not how things work  gelling in a course of two seasons, two playoffs, expecting to win. They doubled down and upgraded talent by building around Harden, again. It failed. The coach was undone by an interim, Harden disappeared more than he appeared, and even Embiid looked like he quit. It’s sickening to think about because the Eagles refused to quit right down to a controversial final drive. The Phillies pushed through the impossible to make a World Series run. The Union turned a historic season on defense to a run that also failed at the final leg. All three teams refused to quit. That bare minimum that we ask, the lowest of bars  just go out there and look like you care.

That’s not a “Philly” thing, it’s an “any fan with a pulse” thing.

The team needs to recognize its two best pieces, Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. They also need to push Embiid to start recruiting. Who out there wants to play with the big man? Let’s see if there’s any noticeable connection between him and anyone else that can be a massive upgrade to Harden. That’s part of Morey’s challenge, finding the right voice to replace Rivers, but also help Embiid find his recruiting voice.

It's a mess, and it’s not our job to clean it up. But we were here before this thing turned south and deserve more than lip service from the front office.

The only thing we have left for this offseason is that amazing smile from Maxey with the hopes he’s getting some necessary time to relax. See you in the fall, kid.

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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