For the past 5 years, with the exception of the 31 games Joel Embiid played in, fans of the Philadelphia 76ers have been trapped in a basketball void.
Philadelphians have grown accustomed to long losing streaks, a gutted roster, and a seemingly endless collection of assets. For much of those five years, losing games was viewed as a positive, as each game in the loss column gave the team an improved chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. While that five years appears to have been worth it (thank you, Sam Hinkie), nobody can argue that it was a grueling period of basketball.
Now, it is up to the young stars of the Sixers to lift the team from depths basketball obscurity and into championship contention. Of course, nobody realistically expects the 76ers to compete for a champion this year (or next year), but seeing the team advance to the second round of the playoffs would be highly encouraging.
For the first time in years, the 76ers will be involved in meaningful basketball games that a national audience will want to watch. Summer League debuts aside, how many Sixers games over the past five years have you thought, ‘I have to watch this?’
Returning to the point, big time games in any sport create rivalries, something the Sixers have lacked for the past five years. One frequently underlooked aspect of the Sixers future is figuring out what teams they will develop rivalries with. With the ways of tanking behind us, here are three potential rivals for the new-age Sixers.
Rival No. 1: Milwaukee Bucks
This is a newly minted rivalry that like modern feuds, involves Twitter. During the introduction of general manager Jon Horst, owner Wes Eden seemingly randomly dropped the line, “Guys in Philly want to talk about the process, I’d rather talk about the results.”
"Guys in Philly want to talk about the process, I'd rather talk about the results." – Bucks Owner Wes Edens pic.twitter.com/rHmRym25zs
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 19, 2017
Fortunately, “Sixers Twitter” unleashed on the Bucks in the comments. The official Bucks Twitter account then proceeded to not so subtly subtweet the 76ers when Malcolm Brogdon won Rookie of the Year of over Embiid and Dario Saric.
Jokes aside, both teams possess talented cores that should begin their ascent in the Eastern Conference standings around the same time. Milwaukee’s lineup features a scary amount of length and players that can defend, all centered around budding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The re-emergence of center Greg Monroe during the playoffs gives them frontcourt depth behind Thon Maker.
Similar to the Sixers, the Bucks have dealt with their fair share of injuries. During the upcoming season, Milwaukee will be hoping that Jabari Parker’s knee holds up and guard Khris Middleton can finally stay healthy. The Bucks were not able to make a splash in free agency, but their young core should continue to develop. As for their on-court rivalry, what could possibly be a more entertaining first round series between the Sixers and the Bucks. It should be noted that the league has scheduled the Sixers and the Bucks to play each other on ESPN twice this year, including the season finale in Philadelphia.
And let’s not forget the ’01 Eastern Conference Finals.
Rival No. 2: The Los Angeles Lakers
You can add the 76ers players to the ever-growing list of “people that dislike LaVar Ball“. Much like the Sixers feud with the Bucks, it was ignited on Twitter. Following the Lakers’ selection of Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick, Ben Simmons tweeted out this:
— Ben Simmons (@BenSimmons25) June 22, 2017
To which Joel Embiid promptly responded:
Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.. https://t.co/cMvt5RYiSQ
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) June 22, 2017
This led to a public spat between Embiid and LaVar Ball, which resulted with Embiid being fined $10,000 from the league. This occurred after Embiid used an explicit term to insult LaVar Ball during an Instagram Live stream. However, the rivalry between the Sixers and Lakers already goes deeper than internet disagreements. Because they are both storied franchises, it always means something when the Sixers and the Lakers matchup.
In addition, the recent rebuilds both teams underwent will forever be connected, because they took place on a similar timeline. Both teams feature their fair share of exciting players, and could potentially be competing for the services of LeBron James in the summer of 2018.
As for the regular season, both matchups between Philadelphia and Los Angeles will be nationally televised. It is highly unlikely that the Lakers compete for a playoff spot in the 2017-2018 season, but they could become a force in a hurry if Ball and Brandon Ingram live up to their lofty expectations. Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should be able to make serious contributions to the team as well. As for their games against the 76ers, we can only hope that Simmons fulfills the prophecy laid forth by Embiid, and sends the NBA world into a frenzy.
Rival No. 3: Boston Celtics
While the 76ers and the Celtics have always been rivals, the games the teams have played against each other have lacked intensity over the past few years. Historically, the 76ers and Celtics have played in many important games, even facing each other in an NBA record 19 playoff series. The Celtics were also responsible for the 76ers most recent playoff defeat when Rajon Rondo, of all people, caught fire late in the 4th quarter in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semis. Rondo recorded a triple-double, scored seven straight Boston points in the final three minutes, and hit the perpetual dagger, sending the Sixers home.
Fast forward to today, and the Celtics are in very peculiar situation. While they’re still building towards the future by accumulating draft picks and developing young talent, the Celtics are in a “win now” situation. Boston is all but guaranteed one of the top two spots in the East, because of their veteran starpower, their depth, the weak Eastern Conference, and their brilliant coach, Brad Stevens.
If the 76ers land the 5th or 6th seed in the playoffs and advance to the second round, the Celtics could very well be the team that the Sixers matchup with. Boston has one of the premier “big threes” in the league, boasting a trio of Isaiah Thomas, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford. In addition to their starpower, Boston has veteran depth at the forward position, in Jae Crowder and Marcus Morris. The Celtics also possess some young talent in players such as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Danny Ainge favorite, Terry Rozier. Although the team will miss Avery Bradley, the are considerably more talented than last season, mostly due to the addition of Hayward. The team has also acquired a plethora of draft picks that could be valuable trade pieces should they attempt to trade for another star. As things currently stand, the 76ers will play one nationally televised game against the Celtics this year on January 18, and the teams will duke it out in London on January 11.
“Photo: Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports”