After an extremely disappointing 2019-20 season that saw them fall short of all expectations, the Philadelphia 76ers are poised to make some major organizational changes over the offseson -- changes that could occur from the front office all the way down to the roster.
The first major move was made shortly after the Sixers' season came to an end at the hands of the rival Boston Celtics when the organization decided to part ways with head coach Brett Brown. Over the course of his seven seasons in Philadelphia, Brown took the team from the basement to contention, but ultimately couldn't get them over the top. The 76ers are now in the midst of a search for a new head coach, led by general manager Elton Brand.
Who they will select as Brown's successor is just one of the many questions looming large over the Sixers this offseason. Here's a look at four of the most pressing.
1. Who will be their next head coach?
For the first time since 2013, the Sixers are in the market for a new head coach. Whoever is eventually hired will inherit an extremely talented yet seemingly ill-fitting roster, and will enter facing immediate expectations -- something that wasn't the case when Brown was hired.
While we don't yet know who the next coach of the Sixers will be, we do know who it won't be. Tom Thibodeau is off the market as is Steve Nash. Both were hired by the Knicks and Nets, respectively. It also won't be Villianova head coach Jay Wright, who released a statement saying that he wasn't a candidate for the position despite rampant speculation.
Even with those coaches no longer in the mix, there's no shortage of qualified candidates for Philadelphia to consider, including Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue and Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin. The Sixers will likely take their time when it comes to selecting Brown's successor as the magnitude of the decision can't be overstated. Whoever is selected will be tasked with setting the tone for a whole new era of Sixers basketball, and leading them somewhere they haven't been since 2001: the NBA Finals.
2. Will the front office undergo any changes?
Brett Brown was the fall guy, and he wasn't blameless in the Sixers' struggles. Still, Philadelphia's front office should shoulder a large amount of the blame. The front office saw the direction the league was trending in, with an increasing emphasis being placed on floor-spacing and dynamic guard play, and then it constructed a team that was the complete opposite of that popular paradigm.
In free agency, instead of pursuing players who complement their two best players in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers blew the bank on two players in Tobias Harris and Al Horford who aren't capable of consistently generating offense and don't make life easier for Embiid or Simmons, and just generally don't raise the ceiling of the team much, if at all.
Given the failures of the front office, the job security of those making the personnel decisions for the team should be called into question. Brand is safe, for now, as ownership has basically tasked him with cleaning up the mess that he helped to create, but what about those directly under him? Executive vice president of basketball operations Alex Rucker and assistant general manager Ned Cohen are holdovers from the Bryan Colangelo era, and at this point it's fair to wonder if either should remain with the franchise moving forward.
During a press conference following Brown's dismissal, Brand said that he would be evaluating the front office over the offseason and that he would be looking to strengthen the team's brain trust. What exactly will come out of Brand's evaluation remains to be seen.
"We under-performed. I felt it was time for a new voice, a new perspective," Brand said. "We'll begin a search for a new head coach immediately. I'll also be conducting an evaluation of the front office and that infrastructure. ... I feel like we need to strengthen our organization from top to bottom. That starts with the front office also, balancing out our strengths with analytics and strategy with more basketball minds."
This is a bit of a vague quote from Brand. Will he be looking to replace the likes of Cohen and Rucker? To complement them? We'll find out eventually, but it sure seems like a change of some sort is in order.
3. Can Simmons overcome injury issues?
Ben Simmons had a brutal 2019-20 season in terms of injury issues. Simmons missed the entirety of the postseason as he underwent surgery on his left knee. Simmons likely would have also missed the playoffs had they started in April like they were originally scheduled, as he was sidelined indefinitely with a back injury at that point in time. Knee and back issues aren't to be taken lightly, and thus it's fair to wonder just how healthy Simmons will be by the time next season rolls around. It's also fair to wonder how these injury issues will impact Simmons' ability to put in work on his game over the offseason.
At his best, Simmons is a nightly triple-double threat and one of the best defensive players in the entire league, and the Sixers will need him to be at that level -- and available -- if they're going to reach their ceiling as a team. The Sixers have a lot of money invested in him moving forward, and thus their success is tied to his continued improvement. The hope for the Sixers is that SImmons will be able to hit the ground running under a new coach next season.
Speaking of the new coach, it will be extremely interesting to see how whoever the Sixers hire decides to use Simmons. Brown used Simmons as the primary ball-handler for most of his tenure with the team, but he experimented with using him off ball at times over the past couple of seasons. Whoever does get the gig will have options when it comes to Simmons, and perhaps a new voice will help him unlock another level of his game.
4. Will they trade Horford?
The Al Horford experiment didn't work for Philadelphia. That was evident to anyone who watched the team this season. Horford doesn't fit well alongside the team's two best players in Embiid and Simmons, and in turn he struggled to find ways to make a positive impact.
The main issue is that Horford's skill set on the offensive end is redundant with Embiid and Simmons. Horford is at his best when he's operating either from the elbow or the low block. He is very comfortable with creating good looks for himself and others from these areas. The problem with that is Embiid and Simmons are also both most comfortable in these areas, especially on the low block, where Embiid does a fair share of his damage, and where Simmons is often relegated as a result of his inability to space the floor with his shot. Thus, Horford has been forced to spend a lot of time on the perimeter, where he's limited, and not especially effective.
Horford could potentially work as a backup center, but the Sixers are paying him entirely too much for him to be relegated to a reserve role, and so a trade seems likely, even inevitable. Rumors already surfaced during the season that the Sixers would look to flip Horford for some shooting over the offseason, and that would make sense since the Sixers could certainly use some enhanced floor-spacing around Embiid and Simmons.
The problem for Philadelphia is that finding a trade partner for Horford will be easier said than done, especially if the team is looking to secure some shooting in return. Floor-spacing is at a premium in the NBA today, while there isn't much of a market for traditional big men on the wrong side of 30 years old (Horford is 34), especially ones who still have three years and over $80 million remaining on their current contract. If the Sixers had signed Horford to a two-year deal, moving on after a single season would have been much easier. Instead, they signed him to a four-year deal, and now there's almost no chance that they'll get good value in return in a deal even if they are able to find an interested suitor. After how poorly he played in the postseason (7.0 points, 7.3 rebounds in 32.3 minutes per game), the Sixers will almost certainly have to throw in an additional asset -- or two -- to get another franchise to take on the remainder of Horford's deal.
So, will the Sixers move Horford? That's to be determined, but they're certainly going to try.