Mark R. Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
Anyone who wants to share a take about the Philadelphia 76ers should be required to preface it with this stat: Their starting lineup, featuring Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler and Joel Embiid, have outscored opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions in 205 minutes.
From a macro point of view, this is one of the few things that matter: Philadelphia’s Big 3, with one of the best shooters in the league and versatile-ish forward, is doing what it should be expected to do. As the 76ers get better at understanding each other’s tendencies and, more importantly, acquire or develop a better supporting cast, they should be a force.
The problem is that, even for a fan base and media contingent that lived through The Process, it is difficult, maybe even impossible, to cling to this big-picture perspective these days. Butler has been so frank about his confrontational leadership style that, even if you don’t buy his and coach Brett Brown’s assertion that he didn’t cross the line in a recent film session, it’s hard to believe he didn’t approach it. Embiid voiced his own displeasure with his touches on the record. Oh, and the Markelle Fultz situation remains unresolved.
The Sixers have been many things in the past few years, including both a tanking team and a fringe championship contender. There has always, however, been something — from the Fultz trade to the Bryan Colangelo scandal and Zhaire Smith’s medical issues — making sure they are not dull. I wonder if, in the second half of the regular season, that might change.
A recipe for normalcy: Fultz either returns to the lineup with a not-horrible jump shot or is shelved or traded. The front office signs or otherwise acquires a couple of rotation-caliber players to balance the roster, like it did last buyout season. Butler refrains from doing anything that would lead anyone to speculate about his future in Philadelphia. The Sixers win with such frequency and ease that people stop wondering whether or not it’s a problem that Embiid hasn’t invited Simmons over to play a board game like he did with T.J. McConnell.
I cannot in good conscience predict that all these things will happen, and I am not the kind of person who would suggest that Philadelphia’s 26-14 record means everything is absolutely fine. This team has too much talent, though, for the story to always be about Butler’s attitude, Simmons’ lack of a jumper and whatever Embiid says after a frustrating loss. There is a real dissonance between how the Sixers are performing on the court and how it feels to take part in the conversation about them. A combination of raised expectations and unlucky breaks means that the stakes are extremely high, even in the regular season, and there is pressure on everyone involved to make this thing work right now.
I kind of miss The Process.