The Philadelphia 76ers' terrible, no-good, very bad 2019-20 season came to a merciful end at the hands of the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon. Feeling the absence of Ben Simmons and suffering from a lack of production from all their role players, Philly was swept in the first round of the playoffs despite Joel Embiid averaging 30 points and 12.3 rebounds per contest. It is the third consecutive year of playoff disappointment for the Sixers, who were supposed to be enjoying the fruits of The Process' labor by now.
Shortly after the game ended, it was quickly reported by Adrian Wojnarowski that Brett Brown probably wouldn't be back as head coach next season. On Monday morning, The Athletic published a similar report from their own NBA insider, Shams Charania. Suffice to say it would take a rather big swing for Brown to not get fired very soon.
It's time for Brown to depart. He did an admirable job as commander of the most egregious tank job in league history and was rewarded with several years' worth of playoff opportunities to prove he's the right man to coach superstars to their full potential. He has been unable to do so, and for the Sixers to take the next step, one of the necessary changes will be at head coach.
But Brown is not the root cause of why the Sixers have disappointed so deeply with a superstar tandem of Simmons and Embiid. Yes, his rotations were confusing and he was thoroughly outcoached on several occasions, especially by Brad Stevens in the postseason. He did call out Simmons pretty aggressively earlier this year for not shooting threes, demanding one attempt per game from his young star to the media, and looked a bit foolish when Simmons continued to not shoot threes. He apparently clashed with Jimmy Butler during his short stint under his watch. Ultimately, though, Brown is decent coach. The Sixers' pieces are so tough to fit together Philadelphia needs a great coach to reach full potential.
However, Philly needs a top-to-bottom reset if they really want to become the championship contenders the talent of the roster suggests they can be. Brown did not do a great job steering the ship, but he was not helped out in any manner by his front office. Butler was clearly a good fit for Philadelphia even if his leadership style was grating; a guard who can run pick-and-roll and play well with both Simmons and Embiid on the floor was the biggest missing piece from this year's team. According to a report published yesterday by Yahoo! insider Vincent Goodwill, Butler and the Sixers discussed a max contract last offseason, but Philadelphia would only offer it if Butler didn't take any recruiting pitches from other teams. Butler, hitting the open market for the first time in his career, obviously did not agree to that stipulation and ended up in Miami.
And that was only the beginning. The Sixers followed up the Butler situation by signing Tobias Harris to a $180 million contract extension. To that point, Harris had only averaged 20 points per game once in his career, when he reached 20.9 PPG in 2018-19. He theoretically solved their spacing problems with their shooting, but paying a 26-year-old forward who had hovered in the late teens for his points per game average over the last few years was not great at the time and has not gotten better with age. Then, of course, came the $109 million Al Horford contract handed out in an effort to buy the talents of a player who had proven to be Embiid's kryptonite in the playoffs. Making a clean $27.25 million this season, Horford rewarded the faith of the Philadelphia front office by averaging 11.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4 assists per contest this season. In the playoffs? Horford threw up a line of 7.0 points and 7.3 rebounds.
The most damning statement about the quality of this front office is who they would have had if they had done absolutely nothing over the last two seasons.
It's all just so very bad. There isn't an easy solution in sight, either. In normal times, Harris and his huge deal might be a feasible trade asset; bad teams have traded for mid-tier scorers on big deals in the past to get the fanbase excited. But there might not be fans in seats for a part of next season, and nobody is going to be overflowing with cap space or money to blow after the financial implications of COVID-19 affect everybody's bottom line. Horford is almost a completely sunk cost. A better coach might be able to utilize his strengths as a quality bench facilitator, but that would not change the fact that Philly is paying nearly $30 million a year for a guy who can't play with their two superstars. Nobody will touch his contract with a 10-foot pole.
The well is poisoned in Philadelphia. Brown will be the scapegoat, but the problems run far deeper. The situation is not at DEFCON-5 level yet. Wojnarowski reported this morning that there are no plans for the Sixers to split up Embiid and Simmons yet. But everything can go downhill in a hurry if superstars aren't happy. A complete reset is needed before it's too late.