Understandably, nobody on the Sixers wanted to talk about the future Sunday night.
“I’m not worried about that right now, after losing. I’m not going to talk about anything but basketball,” Jimmy Butler said when asked about his impressions of the Sixers.
Soon enough all the talk around the Sixers will be about the future.
GM Elton Brand ended “the process” and turned Philadelphia into a “win now” team with a target of the Conference Finals – at the very least — as the goal by trading a lot of assets this season to land Butler and Tobias Harris. Philadelphia entered the playoffs with the second-best starting five in the NBA: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid.
Only two of them are under contract for next season.
And this team only reached the second round of the playoffs (although in part because of a Kawhi Leonard shot that was a punch to the gut).
Coach Brett Brown could be the scapegoat, with reports he would be let go if the team faced a second-round exit.
“The club can respond to that,” was how Brown answered a question about his job security after the loss.
The bigger issue this summer in Philly is Butler, Harris, and Redick are unrestricted free agents. Philly owner Joshua Harris said he will pay whatever it takes to keep this starting lineup together — and the Sixers can offer more money than other teams — but each of those players will have multiple teams calling and offering different roles on the court and potential lifestyles off it. If any one of them were not happy or comfortable, they have options.
For the Sixers, they have yet to really see what this roster — thrown together during the season — can do.
“We haven’t been together for a while with this group but there’s a lot of potential,” Simmons said of the Sixers starting five. He said team grew a lot in the last couple of months.
What did the Sixers learn from the loss? “It’s simple, we got to get better,” Simmons said.
Beyond the three free agents, Brand and Philadelphia need to deal with a couple of big questions.
For one, can Simmons and Embiid win at the highest levels together? No doubt both are talented players — both are All-Stars, and someday Simmons will join Embiid on All-NBA teams — but do their games pair well? Simmons does not have a jump shot to speak of and needs the ball in his hands to drive and create, but Embiid should operate more down low, where he is a beast but clogs the lanes for those drives. Simmons is best in transition but Embiid is never going to be a gazelle running the floor. In the playoffs, as Butler became more and more the primary ball handler and shot creator in the half court, Simmons was relegated to the dunker’s spot. He had some quiet games.
That said, the Sixers were +8.1 per 100 possessions this season when Simmons and Embiid shared the court (in 1,431 minutes) and that jumped to +19.8 in the playoffs.
Philadelphia’s other big question this summer is where do they find more depth. Against the Raptors, Embiid was +90 when on the court, but when he sat the Sixers were -109. Brand traded away a lot of “assets” — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Robert Covington, and a couple of first-round picks — to get Butler and Harris, but it sapped Philly of its depth. That was an issue in the playoffs (see Embiid’s +/- number above). The Sixers will have little room to maneuver but need to find quality depth at a fair price.
All that combined is a lot of uncertainty. A lot of decisions need to be made and questions answered.
Nobody was doing that Sunday night, but they will soon.