For a plethora of reasons, the 76ers are entering one of the most pivotal seasons in franchise history.
This year could end up being viewed as a resounding positive, or things could go south fairly quickly. The 2017-2018 season has the potential to be a critical development year for the young talent the team has amassed over the past few seasons. That being said, there’s always a possibility that things take a turn for the worst.
Because of the pessimistic nature of Philadelphia sports, it is only fitting that we discuss the worst case scenario first.
Picture this: It’s a week before the start of the season, and Joel Embiid has not been cleared to play.
The Delaware Valley anxiously awaits an announcement from the 76ers brass regarding Embiid’s health. Then, six days before opening night, Bryan Colangelo announces that he will hold a press conference focused on the status of Embiid. Much to the relief of Philadelphians, Colangelo announces that Embiid has been cleared to return. Colangelo also makes it clear that “JoJo” will be in the starting lineup come opening night.
October 18 finally arrives, and the Sixers travel to Washington D.C. for the season opener against the Wizards. The Sixers play well enough in the opening frame to take a 26-18 advantage into the 2nd quarter. In addition to having the lead, Joel Embiid has picked up right where he left off against the Houston Rockets.
Then, with 7:18 to go in the 2nd quarter, everything comes tumbling down. Joel Embiid sizes up Markieff Morris at the top of the key before roaring through the lane and throwing down a monstrous dunk. As soon as Embiid lands, he crumples to the ground, clutching at his knee.
Ben Simmons and Robert Covington immediately rush over to Embiid before frantically motioning for the medical staff. After a five minute stoppage, Embiid is practically carried off the court by two trainers.
He gives a “thumbs up” before entering the tunnel, giving Sixers’ fans a sliver of hope. The next day, however, any remaining hope is dashed when the team confirms that Embiid is done for the season with a torn ACL.
Without Embiid, the 76ers stumble out of the gate, and own a 10-20 record. The team is good enough to remain competitive in most of their games, but they simply don’t possess the firepower to outscore their opponents down the stretch. Simmons and Markelle Fultz play like the inexperienced rookies they are, and they struggle to find their footing without Embiid. The team once again has to lean on Covington and Dario Saric for the bulk of their scoring. The 76ers end the season with a record of 33-49, only good for 10th place in the East.
In addition to that, the Kyrie Irving led the Boston Celtics defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and stun the Golden State Warriors in an epic seven-game series to capture the title. Fans can only watch as the city of Boston celebrates what seems like their 1000th championship since the turn of the century.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Lonzo Ball averages a near double-double on his way to winning Rookie of the Year. The Lakers even earn a playoff berth, finishing as the 7th seed in the deep Western Conference. More importantly, LeBron James takes notice of this and opts out of his contract to become a free agent. Then, on July 4, LeBron announces his move to Hollywood. Soon after LeBron’s decision, Paul George, a Southern California native, heads home to LA to team up with LeBron.
After a disappointing season, the Sixers fail to attract any marquee free agents. They are also faced with a tough decision regarding Joel Embiid’s contract.
This may seem a little too optimistic, but given the train wreck that was the worst case scenario, it’s only fair.
A week or two before the start of training camp, the Sixers announce that Joel Embiid has been cleared for 5-on-5 action. The team and their new acquisitions mesh well during the preseason, and the 76ers hype train departs from 30th Street Station and rolls into the nation’s capital for the primetime showdown against the Washington Wizards. After a slow start, the Sixers run the Wizards out of the building en route to a decisive 120-96 victory.
The Sixers gain confidence from this victory and use it to navigate through the difficult first month of the schedule. Joel “The Process” Embiid once again takes the league by storm, and shrugs off any lingering concerns about his knee. Dario and “RoCo” develop into excellent complementary options, and both thrive in their assigned roles. As for the rookies, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, and are neck-and-neck in the Rookie of the Year race. Fultz has displayed an ability to be an elite scorer while playing off the ball. Meanwhile, Simmons is a transition nightmare for opponents, and is already stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis.
The bench develops into one of the most dependable units in the league, and the 76ers are able to provide their starters with plenty of rest. JJ Redick and Amir Johnson become valuable leaders for the young Sixers and are able to contribute on the court. Jahlil Okafor is finally shipped off for a draft pick, and is given an opportunity to shine elsewhere.
Come playoff time, the 76ers earn the 4th seed in the East, and are hitting their stride at the perfect time. In the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers are set to square off against the Milwaukee Bucks. Although most NBA pundits pick the Bucks to advance, the Sixers soon prove that for what they lack in experience, they more than make up for in talent. The Sixers go down 2-1 in the series, but win the next three games to close out the Bucks in six.
At this point, most fans are satisfied with how far the 76ers have come. After all, nobody expects the 76ers to defeat the #1 seeded Boston Celtics. Luckily, the Sixers are full of surprises. Philadelphia rides a 40 point performance from Markelle Fultz to a road victory in game one. The Celtics battle back to take a 3-2 series lead, but the Sixers defend their home turf and grind out a 95-88 victory to send the series back to Boston.
With Game 7 tied at 102 with nine seconds to go, Brett Brown calls a timeout and draws up a brilliant play. Things go awry when Gordon Hayward almost steals the inbounds pass, but Fultz retrieves the ball near half-court. With 2.5 seconds to go, Fultz puts up an ill-fated jumper that barely grazes the rim. Then, out of nowhere, Joel Embiid soars into the air and lays the ball in as the buzzer sounds. The Sixers escape the Garden with a victory, and advance to play Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.
While the Sixers have surprised the NBA world thus far, their magical run comes to an end at the hands of the Cavs. LeBron, Isaiah Thomas, and the new look Cavs oust the Sixers in six games en route to a Finals rematch against Golden State.
Following his second straight Finals defeat, LeBron opts out of his contract and enters Free Agency. He doesn’t rule out a return to Cleveland, but it becomes clearer and clearer that the 76ers are a serious contender for his services.
While this may seem a bit far-fetched, and it probably is, the Sixers have a high ceiling this year if the “FEDS” play to the best of their abilities. It is certainly possible that the Sixers win their first round series, but advancing to the ECF seems unlikely at this point. The 2017-2018 Sixers will most likely land somewhere between these two scenarios.
This year, the 76ers will display flashes of greatness and will look like the next NBA dynasty. On the other hand, there will also be stretches where the team looks inexperienced and plays poorly. Just remember, the Sixers aren’t there just yet, but when they are:
“Photo: Bleacher Report”