February 06, 2020
Despite making a couple of moves on Thursday, it may have been the day before the 2020 NBA trade deadline that was the most important for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Sure, the Sixers acquired Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, traded away James Ennis to Orlando, and waived Trey Burke ahead of the deadline, but Philly's fate this season will not be decided by any of these moves. Instead, it will likely be up to the players currently on the roster, specifically the starters, to turn this thing around down the stretch. And that's why the stories coming out of Wednesday's practice were likely more important than the deals Elton Brand executed in the 24 hours since.
First, there was Joel Embiid lamenting his team's lack of offensive identity, which on its own is troubling enough, but the terms with which he spoke also hinted that something more might be going on below the surface when he said he and his teammates need to make sacrifices.
Then there was Al Horford, who has been struggling quite a bit this season, alluding to issues inside the locker room in a quote that was likely blown out of proportion even before it arrived in the hands of national TV talking heads looking for something to talk about on Thursday morning.
Here's the full Al Horford quote that everybody is taking the wrong way: pic.twitter.com/e946sXg3iL— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) February 5, 2020
That ultimately led to Chris Broussard reporting (speculating?) that Embiid and Ben Simmons are at odds in the locker room with both superstars vying to be the team's alpha while also being more concerned with their celebrity status than their play on the court.
.@ColinCowherd: This is why I would break up Joel Embiid & Ben Simmons. It's a chemistry issue.@Chris_Broussard: Embiid wants to be the man. Simmons wants to be the man. They're jealous of one another... They want to be more celebrity than superstar basketball players pic.twitter.com/QoqNXpocRb— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) February 6, 2020
It wouldn't be a stretch to believe that this was the locker room "stuff" that Horford was referencing, but what if it was something else? Something smaller and, ultimately, more positive. Broussard also mentioned a private meeting in which at least one player not named Embiid or Simmons spoke up on behalf of the rest of the team.
According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Sixers indeed held a closed-door, players-only meeting on Wednesday that was led by relative newcomer Josh Richardson.
Perhaps that meeting was after practice and was a result of some of the quotes coming out of the media availability. But what if it happened before the players spoke to the media, and Horford was simply referring to Richardson, who has been sidelined since Jan. 22, speaking up and calling on Simmons and Embiid to lead the rest of the roster?
It's never a good sign when a team has to have a players-only meeting, but in this case it certainly seems better than the alternative — a power struggle between the team's two best players — given that the Sixers are currently in sixth place in the East following three straight ugly road losses.
How will the Sixers respond to the reports of locker room turmoil and their closed-door meeting? We'll find out when they face their final, and biggest, test of this road trip on Thursday night as the Sixers visit the Bucks in Milwaukee.
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