“We Can Never Know About the Days to Come”
“But we think about them anyway….” Carlie Simon wrote a classic song in 1971. It has since been covered many times by many artists including J. Mascis (my personal favorite).
When you look at this journey that the Philadelphia 76ers have been on since 2013, it’s hard not to wonder what it is all leading to. What is just as important, however, is to not lose sight of how unique and special this team is right now as constructed. In 20 years, these will be the good old days. The Sixers and perhaps the league itself has never seen a tandem as special as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. They are 22 and 25 years old respectively. Not only is the future bright, the present is fantastic.
“But we think about them anyway”
As the team heads into the final 10 games, they look to repeat 50 win seasons for the first time since 1986, late in the Julius Erving and early in the Charles Barkley era. You legitimately have to go back that far to find a Sixers team as talented as this one. And yet, as prisoners of the moment, it can be hard to appreciate what is happening.
The Sixers have had 11 head coaches since 1986. Brett Brown will all but certainly become the first Sixers head coach since Billy Cunningham to win 50+ in back-to-back seasons. Sixers Twitter would have you think that Brown is holding this team back, which is a fairly silly notion.
Brown has created a culture that has withstood withering critiques and even interference by the league office. He has coached countless lineup combinations. He has implemented modern schematic philosophies with so many players it can sometimes be laughable. The very notion of “Process Sixers” defines an era of roster churn. And yet a culture developed, a “spirit” as Brown himself likes to say.
History will look back on this era fondly.
“I think the responsibility and sort of the weight given his history with this organization, certainly he’s aware of. I think he embraces it and tonight he showed in many ways just how much it means to him, and I respect his tenacity.”- Brett Brown on Joel Embiid
Ben Simmons statistically may not show a leap from year 1 to year 2, but his command of the offense and defense has grown. “He has Defensive Player of the Year potential,” said Brett Brown recently to me after a game.
What is growing most in Simmons is the toughness and determination in key moments during games when the team begins to sag into a lull and opponents gain confidence. Often it is Ben Simmons who will grab a rebound and run the entire length of the floor and get a shot at the rim to put the opponent back on its heels. Simmons is scoring 17.1 points per game on a 58% true shooting while grabbing an average of 9 rebounds and 7.8 assists. At 6’10” with nearly unlimited defensive versatility, Simmons is a rarity in the history of the NBA.
Yet it is impossible to ignore the visions of some finer day in the future where this team may reach its ultimate goal. And that makes it all too easy to forget what we have and what we have had over these past nearly six years.
In many ways, this entire epic saga has been built on anticipation. When Sam Hinkie was named General Manager, the team was devoid of any hope for a “finer day.” “Your crops had been eaten,” wrote Sam Hinkie in his infamous resignation letter. This meant that the team had been sapped of both upside and assets, leaving it in a place with limited prospects for improvement.
What essentially began on draft day in 2013 tore down all vestiges of consideration for short term results and began the phase of the “longest view in the room.” With the trade of Jrue Holiday for what became Nerlens Noel, the team pivoted its focus to a future that promised to bring a dawn after darkness. Some despaired during the three years of hardcore losing and ignored the war chest of assets that was being amassed. Others saw the future potential.
“Keeping me Waiting”
In hindsight, it is all so obvious. At the time, however, drafting Joel Embiid instead of Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum, or Marcus Smart in 2014 was questioned strongly. First of all, it was the second year in a row drafting a center. And furthermore, the second year of drafting an injured center who would likely miss his entire first season.
Nerlens Noel had still not played a single game for the Sixers before they drafted Joel Embiid. The roster was still in the process of being dismantled at that time. To add onto things, the Sixers drafted an international player who was under contract in Europe for at least 2 more years. People around the league and city began to realize on that night that Hinkie and the Sixers were taking no shortcuts to contention. They were not going to climb a ladder to get to the moon.
The trade deadline move in 2015 of trading Michael Carter-Williams was another shock to the system. Both an affirmation of the “1 part courage, 2 parts patience” philosophy and a rebuke of the pressure to field a competitive team each game (or season), the Sixers embarked on the open tryout portion of the Process.
“Thinking about how Right Tonight Might Be”
Robert Covington and TJ McConnell were discovered during this era. The drafting of Jahlil Okafor was a gamble that did not pay off. By the lottery in 2016, Sam Hinkie had resigned.
Ben Simmons was drafted in 2016, and Dario came over that summer. Joel Embiid made his debut and showed in just 31 games his all-world potential. The crops had been replanted and were beginning to near harvest. When Simmons made his professional debut in 2017, questions remained. Flaws were apparent in the team’s roster, but as 2018 dawned, the team began to push. 16 straight wins to finish the season vaulted the Sixers into an improbable 3rd seed in the East and a first round victory against the Heat. So far from 10-72 in just a few years.
Elton Brand replaced Bryan Colangelo after #burnergate. Brand has walked the fine line of thinking about the future while also pushing all his chips into the table. PFO launched in the summer of 2018 and has made its mark by focusing on the talent pipeline continuing. Our beginning was in draft coverage, a topic that was so prominent in the minds of Sixers fans since 2013.
As the team has grown into a truly dangerous team with signature wins against Milwaukee and Golden State on the road, it all still feels new. The current starting lineup of Simmons, Redick, Butler, Harris, and Embiid has played just 8 games together, going 7-1 in that stretch. Time is running out to build communication and trust, but the early results are quite a sight to behold. And we should enjoy it RIGHT NOW.
“And Tomorrow, we might not be together…”
The future for this team is not certain. There is a possibility that this team disbands in July. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris could leave in free agency. JJ Redick, Boban Marjanovic, James Ennis, TJ McConnell, and Mike Scott are all free agents as well. The truth is, 2019/20 may look entirely different for this team. This is important to remember. Embrace the moment, appreciate the now.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are legend level Hall of Fame talents. They are the pillars upon which this franchise and city can proudly stand for many years. But many things can change…
I’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s waysCarly Simon – Anticipation 1971
So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now
And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days