The Philadelphia 76ers had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, but they were ultimately upset by the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs. After the way their campaign ended, all the talk about the Sixers heading into the 2021-22 season should be about how the team can improve and take another step forward. That isn't the case, though. Instead, virtually all of the conversation surrounding the Sixers is about Ben Simmons and his future in Philadelphia.
Simmons has requested a trade away from the Sixers and made it clear that he doesn't plan to play for Philadelphia again. However, the Sixers remain resolute in their stance that they won't trade Simmons unless such a move benefits the team, which is built to win now around last season's MVP runner-up Joel Embiid. In the meantime, the Sixers want Simmons to re-join his teammates in Philadelphia, and the team has already started to withhold his pay. Moving forward, Simmons will lose out on over $200,000 for every game he misses.
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The two sides remain locked in a standoff with the start of the season rapidly approaching. Ultimately, it could come down to how much money Simmons is willing to forfeit. If he's OK with losing out on a huge chunk of cash that he would otherwise be entitled to, then perhaps his absence could stretch the entirety of the season, or at least until the Sixers find a trade package they like. Meanwhile, Simmons's absence adds a level of intrigue to the Sixers season. In addition to wondering where, and when, he might be moved -- and what the Sixers might get in return -- it's also fair to wonder just how much of a distraction the situation will be for a team with championship aspirations.
While the Simmons' situation has dominated headlines, it isn't the only pertinent Sixers-centric storyline. Here's a look at Philadelphia's roster and three other key storylines to consider heading into the 2021-22 season.
Philadelphia 76ers roster
- Charles Bassey
- Seth Curry
- Andre Drummond
- Joel Embiid
- Danny Green
- Tobias Harris
- Shaquille Harrison
- Aaron Henry
- Isaiah Joe
- Furkan Korkmaz
- Tyrese Maxey
- Shake Milton
- Georges Niang
- Paul Reed
- Grant Riller
- Ben Simmons
- Jaden Springer
- Matisse Thybulle
1. Joel Embiid's health
Prior to preseason play, the last time we saw Embiid on a basketball court was when he was playing through a right meniscus tear he suffered in the first round of the playoffs against the Washington Wizards. Embiid missed a game as a result of the injury, but returned for Philadelphia's second-round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks, playing in all seven games of the series.
We didn't hear much from Embiid over the offseason, but at Philadelphia's Media Day last month, the big man provided a promising update on his knee. "It's been fine," Embiid said of his knee. "I've just been working out all summer. It's been fine, no problems. I'm getting back to where I was and I feel pretty good."
Philadelphia's success this season -- and beyond -- completely hinges on Embiid's health, so the fact that he worked out on his knee all summer and feels fine leading into the season is a solid sign for the Sixers. As a team, the Sixers have enough to worry about heading into the season with the ongoing Simmons saga, so it's a relief that they don't have to add Embiid's knee to the list.
2. Drummond with something to prove
Andre Drummond is just three years removed from being an All-Star, and just a single season removed from leading the league in rebounding. However, after brief and underwhelming stints in Cleveland and Los Angeles, he now finds himself as the backup to Embiid in Philadelphia after signing a one-year deal with the 76ers over the offseason.
At just 28 years old, Drummond likely wants to regain his status as a starting center moving forward. In order to do that, he's going to have to prove that he still has a whole lot left in the tank. The good news for Drummond is that he should still receive ample on-court opportunity in Philly, given that the team doesn't like to overwork Embiid.
Embiid has never averaged more than 33.7 minutes per game over the span of a season -- he averaged 31.1 in 2020-21 -- and he has also never appeared in more than 64 games in a season. That leaves a lot of time for Drummond to rejuvenate his career. He should get a chance to show that he can contribute to a winning team at a high level. For a player who has never made it past the first round of the playoffs, it's a solid opportunity and one that could be very beneficial to him when he hits the open market again next offseason, if he's able to capitalize on it.
3. Larger roles for Maxey, Thybulle
The Sixers will be looking for a few of their young players to take major steps forward this season. Despite an inconsistent role, Tyrese Maxey flashed a ton of potential as a rookie last season, and as a result his role figures to be much more consistent this season, especially with Simmons out of the equation for the time being. The Sixers will look to Maxey to provide a spark for them on the offensive end -- something he showed a knack for as a rookie.
Maxey has an elite ability to get to the rim, and he's an excellent finisher once he's there. This year, he'll have to continue to grow in that area, while also improving as a floor-spacer. Maxey shot just 30 percent from long range last season. That's a number that will need to jump up by a few percentage points in order for Maxey to maximize his effectiveness alongside Embiid. Also, without Simmons, more of the playmaking duty for Philadelphia will fall to Maxey. He averaged two assists per performance for Philly last season. Look for that number to jump up during his sophomore campaign. If Maxey is able to grow as a shooter and playmaker, he could prove to be an extremely important X-factor for the Sixers.
Defensively, Matisse Thybulle becomes the Sixers' best defender sans Simmons, and as such his assignments on that end will increase -- both in terms of duration and difficulty. To maximize the minutes that will be available to him, Thybulle needs to improve as a shooter. Like Maxey, he also shot just 30 percent from deep last season. As a result, opposing teams would leave him open at times in order to apply pressure elsewhere.
If Thybulle can improve in that area to the point that defenses at least respect his shot enough to think twice about abandoning him on the perimeter, he becomes the prototypical wing in today's NBA -- the type of player who could play nearly 40 minutes a night and also minimize the defensive blow that Simmons' absence will have on the Sixers.