The Philadelphia 76ers finished the 2020-21 season with the best record in the Eastern Conference for the first time in 20 years. But, they were ultimately unable to advance past the second round of the postseason as they fell to the Atlanta hawks in seven games in the semifinals. After a disappointing end to a promising season, the Sixers enter the offseason facing a plethora of important questions. Here's a look at four of the most pressing.
1. Will the Sixers offer Embiid an extension?
Joel Embiid has clearly established himself as one of the absolute best players in the NBA, and the centerpiece of the 76ers, both literally and figuratively. Embiid averaged 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assist, 1.4 blocks and a steal per game for Philadelphia this past season, and he was arguably the most impactful player in the league when he was out on the floor. As a result, he finished second in MVP voting behind Denver's Nikola Jokic, who also had a stellar season and played in every single game for the Nuggets.
Embiid was also named to the All-NBA Second Team for the third time in his career. As a result of being named All-NBA, Embiid is now eligible to sign a supermax extension with the Sixers over the offseason. The extension would kick in for the 2023-24 season, as Embiid is currently under contract through 2022-23.
Joel Embiid has earned All-NBA and is now super max eligible. The 76ers and Embiid are now allowed to negotiate an extension of four-years and a projected $191M. The extension would begin in 2023-24.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) June 16, 2021
It's very likely that the Sixers will indeed offer Embiid such an extension, given how valuable he has been to the franchise, both on and off the floor. There would probably be some level of concern, given the fact that the extension would be a whole lot of money for a player that has had his fair share of injury issues. But, when it comes to Embiid, the risk is worth the reward. For all of the injury issues he's dealt with, he's been available for Philadelphia in each of the last four postseasons. He even played through a torn meniscus during the Sixers' recent run. Plus, Embiid's last extension included injury provisions that protected the team. Perhaps they could do something similar this time around. Regardless, an extension should be expected over the offseason.
2. Will the Sixers trade Ben Simmons?
Ben Simmons had a less-than-stellar semifinals series against Atlanta, and he shot a historically poor percentage from the foul line during the postseason. In 12 playoff games, Simmons made just 25 of his 73 attempts from the charity stripe, which equates to 34 percent -- the worst mark in a single postseason in NBA history. Simmons' struggles from the foul line clearly shook his confidence, and that leaked over into other areas of his game. In the full seven-game series against Atlanta, Simmons took three total shots in the fourth quarter. He didn't attempt a single shot in the fourth quarter of five of the seven games.
Simmons' struggles, combined with his perceived lack of improvement over his four seasons with the Sixers, led to an explosion of trade speculation on the internet after the Sixers were eliminated. Simmons' agent has already met with Philadelphia's front office regarding his future with the franchise, but no trade demands were made. And while some Philadelphia fans are eager to unload Simmons, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey was much more measured when discussing Simmons, and the rest of the Sixers squad as currently constructed, saying that he was happy with the group without ruling out the potential of a major shakeup.
"We have a very strong group we believe in. None of us can predict the future of what's going to happen in any place. We love what Ben brings, we love what Joel brings, we love what Tobias [Harris] brings," Morey said. "In terms of what's next, we're going to do what's best for the Sixers to give us the best chance to win the championship with every single player on the roster. So, any move that will help our team win the championship, or improve our odds, we will look at and do if it makes sense to do that."
Based on his track record, it's safe to say Morey will evaluate all options when it comes to improving the Sixers over the offseason. Morey was reportedly willing to trade Simmons for James Harden during the season, so he obviously wouldn't be opposed to doing so -- if the right deal were to present itself. Still, that doesn't mean he'll make a deal just for the sake of making one.
At just 24 years old, Simmons still has a lot of upside and he's already one of the best defenders in the entire NBA. Trading away a player like that for pennies on the dollar could prove to be a major mistake. For what it's worth, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said that he's still very "bullish" on Simmons despite his recent postseason struggles. Perhaps his feelings on the matter will be factored into any decisions.
3. How many of their own free agents will Philly bring back?
Several of Philadelphia's key contributors from the 2020-21 season are set for free agency this summer. Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott will all be unrestricted free agents, and it will be interesting to see how many, if any, of those players the Sixers bring back.
Given the fact that he was largely out of the postseason rotation, it's very possible, likely even, that Scott has played his last game for Philadelphia. As for the other three, a case could be made for all of them to be brought back. Howard was a reliable, productive center behind Embiid, capable of eating up a lot of regular season minutes, if nothing else. Plus, he provided the team with a solid locker room presence. When it comes to backup centers, there are far worse options out there.
The Sixers will always need shooting around Embiid (and Simmons, assuming he's still on the team), and Green and Korkmaz both provide that. Green also gives the team another solid perimeter defender and a player with ample championship experience. If he weren't hurt for the last few games of the series against the Hawks, things might have turned out differently. For those reasons, Doc Rivers wants Green to remain in Philadelphia.
Given that Morey, Brand and Co. will be looking to improve the roster around Embiid, it seems unlikely that they'll run it back with the exact same set of players that just lost to the Hawks in the second round. A large chuck of the Sixers' salary cap space is tied up in Embiid, Simmons, and Harris, so if they bring back all their free agents they'll have virtually the same squad. But, depending on how things shake out, some of the impending free agents could conceivably be back.
4. How much can Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey develop?
In Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers have two of the most promising young players in the entire NBA. Both players could play enormous roles for the Sixers moving forward, but both players will need to continue to improve in order for that to happen.
Thybulle has quickly established himself as one of the best defensive players in the league, as he was recently named to the All-Defensive Second Team in just his second season. But, his game needs to catch up on the offensive end. He shot just 30 percent from long range last season, and he has not yet garnered a reputation as a guy that defenses need to respect from beyond the arc. This was evident against the Hawks in the semifinals, as they routinely left him open on the perimeter in order to apply pressure elsewhere. If Thybulle can improve his shooting stroke and get it up to close to 40 percent, he would quickly morph into one of the best two-way players in the league -- the type of guy that could play close to 40 minutes a night on a legitimate contender. He's close to being that guy, he just needs to put in the work behind the scenes.
Similarly, Maxey appears to have an extremely bright future in the league, and potentially as Philadelphia's lead guard of the future. In order for that to happen though, he will also need to work on his shot (he also shot 30 percent from long range last season), along with other areas of his game. At just 20 years old, Maxey is far from a finished product, and that should be extremely exciting for Philadelphia. Speaking of exciting, it will be exciting to see just how much Thybulle and Maxey can grow their games over the offseason.