It’s easy to watch what transpired this summer and look at the Eastern Conference as a wasteland. Paul George and Jimmy Butler were shipped West for little return. LeBron James is not so quietly planning a move to LA himself, leaving the East wide open for any star who is willing to take a seat at the throne. Assuming LeBron leaves it will be the first time someone else will represent the East in the Finals.
Things are definitely in limbo to say the least. But with so much star talent outbound there will be a lot of opportunity for the other guys. John Wall has carried himself like a superstar and now he can finally make that run. Giannis Antetokounmpo made some noise last year. With just LeBron in his way the Greek Freak could start his ascension as the new king of the East.
Same goes for the two unicorns in the Atlantic division, Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid. Can they start to carry their struggling franchises back to relevance or will the Boston Celtics reign supreme? A lot of moving parts to get to in a conference that is going through a rebuild itself.
Let’s break it down with takes from Mike Cortez and Tyler Birss of H&H.
Is “The Process” complete in Philadelphia? Can the 76ers realistically make some noise in the East?
If by complete you mean make the playoffs and have each of their cornerstones play more than 35 games? Yes, I think the Process is close to completion. This will be the trendy team of the season, the young team led by their big three of young beasts. You have the frontman, Joel Embiid, who is unguardable and unfuckwittable on Twitter. If Embiid plays a whole season he’s a top five center as well as a top five player out East.
Then you move on to last season’s top pick Ben Simmons. He was compared to LeBron James during his pre-draft hype and from a passing standpoint there is some legitimacy. As for being the Spartan God LeBron is I think Simmons is already behind the 8 ball with no shot of catching up. Still, he figures to be the guy controlling the offense and making sure both Embiid and Markelle Fultz get their shots.
Fultz is the final piece to this foundation. The Sixers jumped all over the chance to draft him and they did it for a reason. Fultz is the guy they will look to for the big buckets once he settles into the NBA life. He was mostly unknown last season playing in Washington but one thing that sticks out in his YouTube highlights is his poise. The game never looks like it effects his flow and his facial expression never seems to change. His responsibility in his rookie season will not be massive, but he will be relied on to complement Embiid as well as run the offense when Simmons isn’t doing so.
Around that youthful foundation will be second-year forward Dario Saric who figures to start alongside Embiid at the four. Saric was great after the Sixers lost Embiid and can also stretch the floor and guard multiple positions if needed. Veterans J.J. Redick and Robert Covington will space the floor further with their three point shooting. Jahlil Okafor can still carve out a role on this team as a second unit big man if he decides to play defense.
The final form of this team is a positionless group of studs wreaking havoc all over the court. That will take time, Simmons and Fultz have yet to play a professional minute, but a first step will be snagging a low seed. As noted before the East is a post-Apocalyptic wasteland right now. It’s not too much to ask for this team to win 35 to 40 games next season which will be enough to sneak into the playoffs.
In any facet of life, the evolution behind a process is never fully complete. Even when an organization wins a title, multiple people within the franchise quickly shift to how to once again win the title next season. Framed from that perspective, Philadelphia remains far away from a complete process. But progress of the process has been made. For an organization who has been living in the center of mockery and criticism, that level of growth should be appreciated.
Markelle Fultz is expected to be a stud, Ben Simmons will be playing in his long awaited rookie season, Dario Saric is a legitimate building block, and Joel Embiid has superstar potential. The issues? Fultz already got banged up in the preseason and we don’t fully know his game as of yet. Simmons has to prove that he’s healthy. More importantly, Embiid’s health often feels like a ticking time bomb. I do feel like the 76ers will be substantially improved, but this isn’t exactly a predictable roster. They have two high-profile rookies and a star big man who is extraordinarily fragile.
However, Philly should be applauded for its subtle touches on the roster. J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson are quality additions. I like the potential of Justin Anderson as a productive role player. Robert Covington is a quality pro. In the lowly East, the 76ers can easily make some noise with a healthy roster. There aren’t exactly multiple juggernauts banging on the door of conference respectability. That “healthy roster” idea is contingency, though.
With all rosters, health is a major variable – it just seems like health can work against Philly more so than it can for other teams. Say Embiid only plays in 30-40 games. I would put Philly in the low-to-mid 30 win total area if that’s the case. But say Embiid tops 60 games on top of Fultz/Simmons being healthy, then it becomes easy to visualize the 76ers going along the lines of 45-37.
This sounds like a middle ground approach, but it’s difficult to answer this question without being able to predict the future of Embiid’s health. I can fairly say that Philly will make noise in the East with a healthy Embiid, they won’t without him. However, relevance in Philly is back. The roster is at least interesting and hope is a possibility. Neither of those aspects were existent during the past few seasons. The process in Philadelphia should be trusted even though a true process never stops.