As the first round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs wind down, let’s zero in on what happened to the Philadelphia 76ers’ season, Palawan.
With a roster stacked with the likes of Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid, and Al Horford, expectations were high for the City of Brotherly love. They did lose veteran sharpshooter JJ Redick who packed his bags in free agency to move to New Orleans last offseason but the Sixers still have a pack of shooters in Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, and late additions Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III. The Sixers had a roster to compete and make a deep playoff run.
Alas, things didn’t turn up well for Coach Brett Brown. Al Horford didn’t blend well with Joel Embiid I’m the starting unit and Ben Simmons’ continued struggle from downtown resulted to a log jam down low. The Sixers tried to make an adjustment in the bubble and converted Simmons to play power forward and moved Horford off the bench. The move showed a little bit of promise until an injury caused Simmons to shut down for the season … and the Boston Celtics wasted no time in completing a 4-0 sweep of the Sixers in their first-round matchup.
It’s an off-season of pondering for General Manager Elton Brand, but the window is small, and they need to act quickly. The first action the Sixers did after this dismal showing in the bubble was announced that they let go of head coach Brett Brown. The decision was made the day after they got the exit ticket from the Celtics. I think with all the pieces and chances given to Brown (7 seasons in Philly), it is time for a different set of eyes to hone and develop the young Sixers core.
Do they need to trade away some pieces in the offseason? I believe there are excess minutes down low in this roster with Embiid, Simmons, and Horford making their living in the paint. Simmons and Embiid deserve a second chance together at least for another season. The Sixers think tank needs to find a way to trade Horford out for a floor spacer that can maximize Simmons’ good court vision and complement Embiid’s low post play. Things are not going to be that easy as Horford is signed to a max contract but I’m certain a contender needing a big might find a way to make a deal happen.
First on Brand’s checklist is to find Brown’s replacement so let’s see who do we feel are fit to take the coaching helm at Philly. The candidate should have extensive experience in handling a blue-chip big man. A few options come to mind with this requirement.
Jeff Van Gundy, who has worked with big man-centric teams in the New York Knicks (Patrick Ewing) and the Houston Rockets (Yao Ming), is the first to come to mind. A sports analyst over the past few years, Van Gundy may possibly be rusty in as far as coaching is concerned but he has stayed in tune with the developments of the modern NBA. His name has been floated around coaching openings in the league but if the Sixers opportunity comes his way, I am certain Van Gundy would find that opportunity hard to pass up.
Other strong candidates are Mark Jackson, Tyrone Lue, and Jason Kidd but the last two are heavy favorites to land somewhere else particularly if the Brooklyn coaching gig opens up and if Sacramento comes calling. There may be some tenured assistant coaches who may also catch the Sixer’s attention. Hall of Famer Maurice Cheeks, a member of the infamous Sixers 1983 “Fo’, Fo’, Fo’” championship squad and current OKC Thunder assistant coach, may appeal to them once again. Cheeks had head coaching rounds with the Portland Trailblazer, the Detroit Pistons, and had a 3-year stint with Philadelphia from 2006-2008. He won’t be a stranger in handling superstar post players having played with 2 of the best of them in Moses Malone and Charles Barkley.
The Sixers have a long history of good basketball teams and a long line of all-stars that would include Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, Malone, Barkley, Cheeks, Dikembe Mutombo, and Allen Iverson. The trio of Harris, Embiid, and Simmons can be perennial all-stars with the right leader on the bench. Let’s see who the Sixers name as a coach over the next few weeks. Whoever gets it is guaranteed a roster that can compete at a high level. With such a young core, there’s no way but up for Philadelphia.
The HOT HEAT
It seems the Pat Riley succession planning is on full display in Miami with the Heat sweeping the Indiana Pacers in their first-round 4-0. Head coach Erik Spoelstra has fully embraced Riley’s winning culture and he’s quite ready to stir the team deep into the bubble playoffs. The addition of all-star Jimmy Butler in the last offseason did shore up their roster but let us not miss out on the development of Bam Adebayo as a force down low in the Eastern Conference. Although it seems like the Heat is a key player short of making a good run for the NBA finals, their sweep of Indiana is something that should not be overlooked.
Spoelstra is getting the very best out of veterans Goran Dragic, Andre Iguodala, Kelly Olynyk, and Jae Crowder and the Heat’s player development staff is able to maximize the potential of young stars Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, Derrick Jones, Jr., and Duncan Robinson.
The Heat will be facing the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks – Orlando Magic series (Bucks up 3-1 as of this writing) and they have time to make some adjustments on their next possible opponent but I am certain they’re preparing for the Bucks. Do they have the pieces to match well against Milwaukee? I believe so. Adebayo and Olynyk could match up well against the Lopez twins (Brook and Robin) at the post. Dragic, Nunn, and Butler can match well with any opposing backcourt.
I believe it’s the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokoumpo, that would pose as a major threat to the Heat’s hopes in the bubble and here’s where defensive specialists like Crowder and Iguodala will be tested. They don’t have to shut down last season’s MVP completely because that is kind of impossible to do to a very good player, but if they can at least make things harder, shave off a few points from his regular and playoff averages, then the Heat may have a chance for an upset.
I am sure Riley will also impart some playoff handy advice to the Heat team. He has gone through some solid runs in Los Angeles and New York and still continues to influence the game today.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)