The Philadelphia 76ers have been working for years to have a roster like the 2016-2017 roster. They tanked for several years, finishing with the worst record in the league. Through free agency or trades, the Sixers had players like Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Kyle Korver, and Lou Williams over the last six years that are no longer on the team. However, we know this already. Everything Sixers fans have been dealing with is expected to pay off this season. This is supposed to be the Sixers year to at least be a playoff contender, but wasn’t last year supposed to be the year?
It was, until the Sixers’ biggest challenge and for those from the Philadelphia area may refer to it, the Philly sports curse. The 76ers have been dealing with a series of injuries. Last year, it was rookie Ben Simmons. The Australian native from LSU was projected to be the next Lebron James. As the first overall pick of 2016, a 6’10 player able to play at the guard or small forward position, Sixers fans had big hopes for him. Then he had a foot injury, that at first seemed like it would have him only miss the remainder of summer league play. Yet, every return to the doctors’ office had his timetable of returning to the court pushed back further and further until he simply missed his entire first season as an NBA player. Despite not having Simmons, it was okay. Philly fans still had Joel Embiid.
He became the man that was all the hype and excitement of a fun fan experience, the talent on the court, and a center with a presence to get those around him playing at a higher level wrapped up in one player. Embiid had fans at away arenas chanting his famous three words, “Trust the Process”. So should people trust the process? Joel Embiid’s excitement off the court was not enough as he partially tore his meniscus in March. Doctors and the training staff reported that it was just a slight injury, something minor, and expected the recovery to be fairly quick. As anyone knows with a meniscus injury, that is very possible, but it is also possible that the recovery takes roughly six months. Fast forward to September, and as of this week, Joel Embiid is still not cleared to play in any 5 on 5 drills or for full-court play.
So just looking at the last year since Ben Simmons was drafted by the Sixers, Simmons who was projected to be a top rookie to lead the Sixers to the playoffs, suffered a season-ending injury. Also due to injury, Center Joel Embiid who was drafted as the third overall pick in 2014, did not play his first game until last season. However, he hit the ground running, making up for the two years he could not play, to boost Philly morale as a possible rookie of the year, and the player to lead Philly back to playoffs for the first time since they lost 4-3 in the conference semi-finals to the Boston Celtics in 2012. Embiid not only got hurt, but the Sixers also went downhill after his injury, and Milwaukee Bucks Malcolm Brogdon won the Rookie of the Year award. So no playoffs and no rookie of the year in Embiid or Dario Saric, both who seemed to be frontrunners through most of the season winning rookie of the month honors through the season.
This year, once again have a first overall pick in former University of Washington Husky Markelle Fultz. Although Fultz suffered a minor foot injury in summer league this year, he is back and ready to go. With Simmons cleared to play, Fultz, and hopefully, by the time the season gets underway, Embiid as their big three, the Sixers are looking to have a strong team this year. The roster also features players such as Dario, T. J McConnell, and Robert Covington. On paper, the Sixers have a young group of talent. Most recently, as of Friday night, they also signed a veteran in forward, Kris Humphries with a non-guaranteed deal along with a former member of BC Khimki in the VTB United League in Russia last season, Jacob Pullen. With all these pieces in place, it still remains to be seen how it all comes together. From the start of the season to the time playoffs roll around, it will be interesting to see who is doing well, but also who is still healthy and playing.
The biggest challenge is not really the other teams in the NBA. For the Sixers, the biggest challenge will be based on what happens with the guys in the locker room. Can they stay healthy all season? Can they manage players minutes and rehab to minimize injuries? Training camp starts officially next week and so it begins. Will the Philadelphia 76ers be a playoff team or another Philly team that gets their fans excited only to fall short of their goals? There is so much excitement around the season along with questions and concerns, but only time will tell.