The Philadelphia 76ers’ offseason began on Monday as they now try to figure out how to pick up the pieces after a dismal collapse in the conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks, losing Games 4 and 5 with spectacular meltdowns and then Game 7 at home after failing to score consistently down the stretch.
For many, Ben Simmons became the focal point of the Sixers’ issues, as it was easy to point to the team’s starting point guard who outright refused to shoot or try and score the ball in the fourth quarter of four consecutive games. Simmons’ value to the Sixers goes well beyond scoring, as his defense was integral in slowing down Trae Young and he is an elite passer, but when crunch time arrives and he becomes unwilling to attack with any type of desire to try and score the ball, his flaws become apparent and the Sixers struggle.
The play that exemplified that best was a turned down wide open dunk to tie the game, where Simmons instead shoveled a pass to Matisse Thybulle who was fouled and split two free throws to keep Philly down one — they would never tie the game again or take another lead. Joel Embiid called it a turning point, Doc Rivers was as flabbergasted by the decision as anyone, and it became the moment of the game, even if there were plenty of examples of the Sixers’ failures that extended beyond Simmons.
Ever since frustrations with Simmons were apparent on Sunday night, the Sixers have been doing a bit of damage control on Monday and Tuesday. Doc Rivers insisted on Monday he believed in Simmons and felt he could do the work necessary to improve this summer, and Daryl Morey spent much of his press conference on Tuesday offering his public support of Simmons, noting he’s “committed to this group” while also leaving the door open for major moves by saying he’ll do whatever is best for the team.
Daryl Morey: "We need to be an overall better team with better players, and we need to make that happen. Of terms of specifics, I can't give you that."
— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) June 22, 2021
Daryl Morey: "We're committed to this group. … A lot of what I'm reading, I frankly don't understand people saying the Sixers are in a bad situation."
Morey notes the Sixers have an MVP candidate, an All-Star and "a near-All-Star," and that the Sixers have a "good foundation."
— Noah Levick (@NoahLevick) June 22, 2021
Daryl Morey asked if Ben Simmons will be on Sixers next year
“We have a very strong group we believe in. We love what Ben brings. What’s next? We’re going to do what’s best to bring the Sixers a championship” pic.twitter.com/xsMENTgLWP
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) June 22, 2021
It is the epitome of GM-speak in this situation, as he can’t come out and say the Sixers are going to look to trade Simmons, because that’s how you tank someone’s trade value. It is still very possible the Sixers start next season with a new point guard and Simmons gets a fresh start that seems like it might be what’s needed for him to get things turned around, both physically with a team offering a new approach and mentally just being in a new place. Everything said publicly by a front office executive should always be taken with a grain (or mountain) of salt, because they will never be fully truthful about what they want to do (and nor should they) because it’s so dependent on other teams being willing to make that happen.
Still, there are some truths to what Morey said on Tuesday. He did say they need to be a better offensive team, which I don’t think anyone will disagree with having watched that series. The question is how they view themselves getting better in that area, because trading Simmons for, say, a CJ McCollum is the most dramatic way to do that (but also opens up the chance to get significantly worse defensively). It’s clear they need more ball-handling on the court and for as great as Seth Curry was in the Atlanta series, that’s just not a role he can consistently play in key moments and situations, so even if they keep Simmons that has to be at the top of their to-do list.
As is always the case with GM/VP/President exit interviews, Morey is going to say the right things to try and keep everyone happy. He’ll acknowledge the general faults of the team and say they’ll address them moving forward. He’ll say he has full belief in the team’s core, which will surely become a clip brought back the moment he trades either Simmons or Harris — I feel confident that Embiid is untouchable, here — because, well, he has to. Morey has to preach calm right now and insist the sky isn’t falling in Philly, but come August we will find out exactly what he believes of this roster when the draft has come and gone and free agency arrives.