Sins of Sixers' Past Are Haunting Philly in the Bubble Playoffs

Liam McKeone
Jayson Tatum vs. Al Horford
Jayson Tatum vs. Al Horford / Pool/Getty Images
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The Philadelphia 76ers are not in a good spot. After getting crushed by the Boston Celtics on Wednesday night,128-101, Philly is now down 2-0 in a series where they have a decided size advantage. Everyone knew the road was going to be much harder without Ben Simmons, but there's losing and then there's losing like that.

What makes all of this even worse is that the Sixers' struggles can be directly correlated to the series of decisions made by the front office from 2017 on. Frankly, I would feel sick were a Sixers fan watching this series. Fortunately, I am not, so let's connect the dots, shall we?

The first is the most obvious: the Sixers had every chance, every opportunity to draft Jayson Tatum in the 2017 NBA Draft. They instead made what may go down as one of the biggest blunders in draft history by drafting Markelle Fultz. At the time, it made a certain amount of sense. Tatum was anything but a guaranteed superstar and would have been the Sixers' umpteenth frontcourt player drafted over the last few years. While it's easy to forget after what's transpired, Fultz was the consensus top selection in that draft for a reason. Three years later, though, Tatum is stomping all over Philly; in the first two games of the series, the Celtics star has scored 55 points on over 50 percent shooting from the field. Fultz, meanwhile is a member of the Orlando Magic.

This is by far the toughest pill to swallow for the Sixers. A Tatum/Joel Embiid combo would be a lethal combination, much less when you add Ben Simmons into the mix. There are a lot of ifs ands or buts when it comes to alternative histories like this, but Tatum's talent is so clear that ending up on a team with two other ball-dominant stars wouldn't have hindered him that much. They could have run the East for a decade. Instead, it's looking like Philadelphia's season will end at the hands of the player they could have picked.

Then there's the contracts handed out by general manager Elton Brand after Bryan Colangelo stepped down following his burner account scandal. He gave Tobias Harris a $180 million extension and signed Al Horford to a $100 million deal last offseason. Through two playoff games, the two have scored 21 points less than Tatum combined (34 points between the pair). While Horford was on the court, the Sixers have been outscored by 29 points so far. Harris' selling point is supposed to be his shooting, but he hasn't hit a three-pointer all series and has shot 10-of-30 overall from the floor.

Embiid has been pretty much doing what is expected of him. He starts off quick and slows a bit later on as he wears down and the Celtics continue to harass him with double-teams when he's down on the low block. Could he be doing more? Sure. Embiid's talent is so great that averaging 35 points and 15 rebounds against Boston isn't out of the question. Hell, he's pretty close to that already, averaging 30 points and 13 rebounds so far this series. But the whole point of bringing in expensive talent is so that he doesn't have to do that. At the very least, that talent is supposed to make sure that level of production isn't wasted. But that's exactly what has happened.

Look, at the end of the day, it was always going to be a tall task for Philly to beat Boston in a seven-game series with no Simmons. He's their best perimeter defender and Boston has not one, not two, but three players who require an above-average defender to be limited on every possession. But it's far more painful to lose in such a blowout fashion while their past mistakes are being thrown directly in their faces.

All hope is not yet lost. But if Philadelphia ultimately does exit the bubble at the hands of the Celtics, it will be a very painful summer and fall as the Sixers ponder how they can fix what went so clearly wrong.

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