In the 2013-2014 season, the Philadelphia 76ers began the so-called “Operation,” a scheme designed to gather talent at the ultimate championship level. Although proponents of the “process” often described it as a genius way to build a team, it wasn’t really anything new.
The 76ers were intentionally bad for four straight seasons, amassing as many first-round picks as possible, and ended up with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as cornerstones of their franchise.
And now, we will remember failure.
The Philadelphia 76ers couldn’t beat the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 At home on a Sunday night. They couldn’t do it even though Hawks star Trae Young had one of the worst shooters of his career, hitting just 5 of 23 off the ground. In fact, they couldn’t do that against a jumping team that didn’t shoot particularly well over the entire series.
They couldn’t do it in front of their fans, which they earned because they had the best record in the Eastern Conference. They couldn’t do that with the jaws of opportunity wide open in the most bizarre NBA season as none of the remaining teams had a championship pedigree. They weren’t able to do so even though most of the Hawks’ starting players have been lacking any playoff experience whatsoever this season.
They couldn’t do that because the end result of all those years of losing has been a series of poor choices that now put Simmons at the fulcrum as the 76ers move on from here.
How bad is this for the 76ers? In the eight years it took them to reach the point of no return, the Atlanta Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals with a superior roster, destroyed them, briefly fell to the bottom of the league and returned with a brand new team that went to Philadelphia and won three times in the past two weeks, including Victory 103-96 In Game 7 not many expected.
The shot Sixers fans will remember above all else from tonight happened with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left. That’s when the Hawks, trying to protect their 88-86 lead, made a defensive error that left Simmons under the basket wide open for a dipping that would have tied the match up.
For some reason—perhaps because the massive shooting problems in these playoffs were so firmly implanted into his brain—Simmons chose not to accept the gift from Atlanta. Instead, he made a pass to Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled and made 1 of 2 off the line. From that point on, the 76ers never had a shot in the air for the rest of the game that would have equalized or topped.
“I’ll be honest,” Embiid said. “I thought the turning point was when – I don’t know how to say it – when we had an open shot and we did one free throw.”
Embiid wasn’t the only one to do the passive-aggressive portrayal of Simmons. When asked after the game if he could be the points guard on the championship team, 76ers coach Doc Rivers — who has been pumping Simmons into the media all season — said “I don’t know the answer to that now.”
The heap is not unjustified. Simmons was zero in attack for the Sixers, and in seven games against the Hawks, he scored three total field goals in the fourth quarter and was often off the bench at a critical time because the 76er couldn’t risk making mistakes. As for the previous #1 overall pick who will make about $146 million over the next four seasons, that’s not good enough.
However, as much as the 76ers might want to pull the plug on this list and restart with a different point of protection, there is no clear path to a trade that takes the 76ers to another level given Simmons’ contract and how bad his stock has gone down. this series.
If nothing else, the NBA has shown us time and time again over the past few years that play-offs are won by players who can create shots against great defense in moments of stress. With Simmons choosing to attack in prime time, the 76ers only have one player who can do it – a 7-foot center and his effectiveness in the fourth quarter will be based on his ability to make jumpers 18 feet while tired.
“Offensively we were bad,” Rivers said.
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Nobody expected the Falcons to be in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the way they won in this series shows that you don’t have to be awful for half a decade to build a good team. In fact, one of the Hawks’ problems was that when they decided to rebuild after the Paul Millsap-Al Horford-Jeff Teague-Kyle Korver race, they never got it bad enough to earn a great spot for the #1 overall pick.
But what Travis Schlink, the Atlanta general manager, did, besides get Young, pick John Collins and Kevin Huerter in consecutive years with the 19th draft pick. One night that Young struggled to take hits, those two points combined for 41 points and 23 rebounds and throughout the Hawks’ career he looked like the players she wins in the playoffs despite not being excellent draft picks.
It’s been several long years,” said Huerter, who scored 10 of his 18 field goals. “It’s only my third year, but it’s been two long years of being at the bottom of the East and all you hear is development and guys getting better and preparing for the future. And this year in an effort to change the situation, our whole way of thinking has changed and the development process is over.”
In fact, when Hawks majority owner Tony Ressler decided to spend the free agent’s money off last season, there were plenty of critics who said Atlanta was speeding up its own procedures and that delegating ownership to start winning games was inconsequential.
It may have looked that way in early March when the Hawks were 14-20, but the change of training from Lloyd Pierce to Nate MacMillan and the subsequent toughness that has grown within this team playing close matches has validated everything about Atlanta’s choice of rebuilding.
Nearly a decade in the process, the Philadelphia franchise has never felt so aimless. Atlanta’s future has never looked more promising. And now in the Eastern Conference Finals, the present isn’t a bad half either.
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