Philadelphia 76ers: Steps to Contention

The Philadelphia 76ers are in a tough spot. First of all, they have two of the league’s biggest stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That in itself should make them a championship contender. Unfortunately for the 76ers, however, their fit still isn’t clear. Extending on that, Philadelphia also has Tobias Harris and Al Horford under massive contracts. Both underperformed last season. Of course, all the turmoil lead to the firing of Brett Brown as head coach as well. There’s a lot of work to be done within the organization.

Steps to Contention for the Philadelphia 76ers

Step One: Find the Right Head Coach

The Brown experiment failed. The 76ers have far too much talent on their roster that has not lived up to expectations. A lot of blame can be put on Elton Brand and the front office, but it’s typically the head coach who pays the price.

Luckily for Philadelphia, there’s plenty of great coaching candidates available this offseason. Three candidates who will be interviewed, per CBS Sports, are Mike D’Antoni, Tyronn Lue, and Billy Donovan.

D’Antoni stands out as an excellent candidate. He already has a great league résumé. His Phoenix Suns teams of the early 2000s were excellent, and he recently coached the Houston Rockets to consistent playoff appearances. He hasn’t won a championship yet, but perhaps Philadelphia can offer an opportunity.

The offense is the name of the game for D’Antoni. His teams are well-equipped to score at will on any given night. His defenses haven’t always been great, but Philadelphia boasts two of the league’s best defenders in Embiid and Simmons. The bubble made it clear that the 76ers need huge improvements in offensive coaching.

Lue, unlike D’Antonti, has won championships as a player and coach. His most recent championship came with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015-16. Sure, he had LeBron James, but it’d be a disservice to say Lue’s coaching had no part in the success. Lue is currently an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s already coached some of the league’s brightest stars, which suggests he could manage Embiid and Simmons.

Donovan recently departed the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although he didn’t win a championship, his teams were well-coached for the most part. Donovan’s most recent success with this year’s Thunder squad earned him a top-three finish in the Coach of the Year race.

Step Two: Trade Al Horford

This step would’ve been a breeze just a couple of seasons ago. Horford’s play, however, is quickly trending in the wrong direction. He put up averages of 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game this season. Those numbers are solid, but not on a four year, $109 million contract.

Looking into it further, his player efficiency rating was the second-lowest in his career, just barely above that of his rookie season. It dropped from 20.2 in 2018-19 with the Boston Celtics to 15.7 this year. Because he’s 34-years-old, these numbers will surely continue to slide.

There’s no going around the fact that Horford has one of the most untradeable contracts in the league. In the last year of his contract, when he’s 36, he’s going to be owed $26.5 million. He’s not worth that now, and certainly won’t be in two years.

There may be a couple of teams, such as the Rockets and Golden State Warriors, who are willing to take Horford in now to fit what’s left of their championship windows. These teams, of course, would send back another bad contract to Philadelphia like those of Eric Gordon and Andrew Wiggins. These players, however, are younger and provide more scoring.

The best-case scenario for Philadelphia would be to send Horford away for multiple expiring contracts. This would give the team more flexibility for future free-agents.

A Horford trade will be extremely hard to come up with, but it’s in Philadelphia’s best interest.

Step Three: The Philadelphia 76ers Must Add More Shooters

The 76ers desperately need shooting on their team. JJ Redick‘s absence was obviously felt this season. A star like Simmons, who simply cannot shoot, needs shooters around him to be able to attack the basket. Although Embiid is a decent floor-spreader, his best work comes in the paint too, and right now it’s easy for opposing defenses to clog that area.

Philadelphia is going to have to do a lot of maneuvering within their roster to bring in free agent shooters, but they absolutely have to do it. Luckily for them, there will be a few affordable ones this offseason. These include Brad WanamakerCourtney LeeTroy DanielsKyle KorverE’Twaun Moore, Marco Belinelli, and Bryn Forbes.

Truth be told, none of these options are particularly intriguing. What they do offer, however, is solid shooting for a team starved of it. If Philadelphia can manage to sign two of them, perhaps Korver and Forbes as the best and realistic options, then it will surely improve the offense.

Simmons and Embiid are going to be the focal points. Harris and Josh Richardson, if not moved, can provide scoring punches as well. Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle are good shooters already. On paper, it doesn’t look like the starting five needs major moves done. The bench needs plenty of work, however.

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