Another year, another disappointing playoff exit by the Sixers. Coming into the playoffs as the first seed, expectations were rightfully very high for the Sixers. As the first seed, the Sixers had the easiest path to the conference finals, avoiding both the Nets and Bucks in the first two rounds. They first faced off against the Wizards and then matched up against the winner of the Knicks-Hawks matchup. None of these teams should have lasted for more than 5 games against the Sixers, but somehow, someway, the Sixers managed to lose in 7 to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round.
There are two main reasons for this. First is the Sixers’ Head Coach, Doc Rivers. Coach Rivers is still riding off the championship in 2008 as it continuously lands him job after job. He led a team that was expected to win a championship, as they had the only big three in the league, to a championship. Since that ’08 season, Rivers has been unable to lead any team to any sort of playoff success. Despite having Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, and many talented bench pieces, Rivers couldn’t lead the Clippers past the second round for four seasons. Then, after a brief hiatus, the Clippers acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George but collapsed again in the playoffs, this time blowing a 3–1 lead, once again not reaching the conference finals.
After this blown lead, the Sixers questionably hired Doc to a five-year contract. One year later, after ANOTHER disappointing playoff outing, the question remains, “Why is Rivers such an acclaimed head coach?” If it wasn’t obvious in 2014 when the Clippers blew a 7 point lead in the last 40 seconds of Game 5 to take a 3–2 lead over the Thunder or in 2015 when the Clippers blew a 3–1 lead to Josh Smith and the Houston Rockets or in 2020 when the Clippers blew a 3–1 lead to the Denver Nuggets,
it should be as clear as day now that Rivers’ team has collapsed once again that Doc Rivers is NOT the head coach of the future for the 76ers.
Rivers’ inability to make good coaching decisions down the line was a big factor in the Sixers’ untimely collapse to the Hawks. Watching Game 7, I, along with many other viewers, was baffled as to why Seth Curry, the Sixers’ second-best player in the series, only played 31 minutes in a season-deciding game.
Second, of course, there is Ben Simmons.
The Sixers can’t keep going with Ben Simmons on the roster. He needs to go. It’s the best for him and the team.
Simmons has actually gotten worse in the playoffs throughout his 4 seasons in the league on the offensive end. His playmaking has stayed the same, still great, but his scoring and, specifically, midrange and free throw shot have fallen off a cliff. Though this is not really an issue in the regular season, it is much more impactful and a large cause of worry in the playoffs.
In the playoffs, Simmons was borderline unplayable in the fourth quarter as the Hawks would eliminate him from the Sixers’ offense by either using the Hack-a-Ben method and forcing him to make free throws or double-teaming Joel Embiid and challenging Simmons to score, as he could not put points up by himself. And on the defensive end, the self-proclaimed “best defender in the NBA” appeared uninterested and was simply ineffective, especially down the stretch.
The well-documented free-throw woes of Ben Simmons have been plastered all over the sports media world in the last few weeks, as Simmons shot an NBA record-low 34% from the charity stripe in this year’s playoffs. But, this issue extends far beyond just free throws. Simmons has been simply unwilling to expand his offensive game throughout his career so far. During the summer, workout videos are released of Simmons spotting up from three and often midrange after simple turnarounds. Even in the 2016 Summer League, just weeks after getting drafted, Simmons was nailing jumpers comfortably. However, in recent years, likely due to a mix of a lack of confidence and practice, Simmons literally does not pull up for jumpers.
The issue isn’t necessarily just that Simmons can’t shoot jumpers efficiently; rather, it’s that in the four years he has played for the Sixers, he has only regressed offensively, and with the franchise centerpiece Joel Embiid entering his prime at 27 years old, the Sixers can’t hope Simmons will improve next year as they are likely just to be disappointed again like they were in the past three years.
So, what’s next?
Regarding Doc Rivers and the coaching position, if Philly were to fire him, they would still have to pay Rivers for the next four seasons as he signed a five-year deal with them last offseason. So, firing Rivers is likely not financially feasible for the team, so they should go with the next best option: hiring experienced assistant coaches onto Rivers’ coaching staff. The coaches I think would be the best fits are Jarron Collins, Mike Brown, and Sam Cassell.
What about Ben Simmons?
Simmons will be paid about $140 million in the next four years, and looking at his playoff performance, this overpays him significantly, making him very difficult to trade. However, a young player with multiple All-Star appearances will have many GMs desperately piecing together an offer.
Ben Simmons for CJ McCollum
There have been rumors circulating about Lillard getting traded to Philadelphia for Simmons. Still, I don’t see these coming to fruition as the Sixers will probably need to deal far more pieces than they are comfortable giving up. Due to this, I’ll focus on the second, more likely scenario of CJ McCollum for Simmons.
This trade makes a lot of sense for Philadelphia as they will improve significantly with another ballhandler and shooter for Embiid to kick out to. However, the fit on the wing with Tobias Harris will be questionable, as both players have a strikingly similar playstyle. The Blazers will probably be unwilling to acquire Simmons as their main issue now is satisfying Lillard. Trading his best teammate for a non-shooting point forward will likely only disgruntle the star even more.
Ben Simmons for Kyle Lowry and Stanley Johnson
The Raptors have missed the playoffs for the first time in 8 years and desperately need to match the timeline of their roster. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry is now 35 years old, while the rest of the roster has an average age of 26. Within a few years, Lowry will be at the tail end of his career, and the Raptors won’t be able to get a return for him, so now is the best time to move him.
In just this past trade deadline, the Sixers were very close to trading for Lowry but chose to play out the season to see how Simmons and Embiid could work out. Now that it’s clear that Simmons won’t work in Philly, the time is now to swap him for Lowry.
You may be thinking that with Lowry, the Sixers’ timeline would be messed up as well, and though this is true, the reality is that at this point, the Sixers have to get what they can. Less than six months ago, Simmons’ trade value was high enough to be in trade talks for James Harden, but now with his abysmal playoff performance stained in GM's minds, the Sixers need to trade him for as much value as they can get, and if that is Kyle Lowry, it is what it is.
Ben Simmons for Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb
Replacing Ben Simmons with a great shooting point guard like Brogdon would be an excellent step for the Sixers. Brogdon would work well with Embiid as he is one of the elite spot-up three-point shooters in the league, meaning that Embiid could kick it out to him from the post and get a high-quality scoring opportunity.
As for Indiana, the Pacers get Simmons, a player with massive potential, who could become an All-Time great with the correct development. With this trade, the Pacers would hope that the drastic change of scenery away from a big city influences Simmons to put more time into his game. And, in a team abundant with young, athletic talent, like Caris LeVert, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers will have their promising core for the future.