National Basketball Association
There's no need to panic about the Philadelphia 76ers ... yet
National Basketball Association

There's no need to panic about the Philadelphia 76ers ... yet

Published May. 3, 2024 2:27 a.m. ET

The loss might have come earlier in the playoffs than usual for this era's Philadelphia 76ers, but unlike years past there was nothing embarrassing about this one. No All-Stars passed up wide-open lay-ups, no future Hall-of-Famers no-showed an elimination game, there was no postgame questioning of the coach, no players were thrown under the bus. 

The only strange thing about the Sixers' loss this time around was how abnormally close they were to not losing. They scored 649 points in their six games against the New York Knicks —— they gave up 650. Three of their losses were by three points. The fourth was by five. And that's with Joel Embiid still working his way back from his injury and playing with Bell's palsy. 

"This series probably could have gone the exact opposite way it did," Sixers head coach Nick Nurse told reporters Thursday night after his team's heartbreaking 118-115 Game 6 loss. "But it didn't."

The series felt more like a conference finals battle than a first-round matchup. And it might have been one had Embiid not missed more than half the season with a meniscus injury. Which is the important part to remember when thinking about these Sixers and where they go from here, and why yet another early postseason exit — the Sixers haven't reached the conference finals since 2001 — isn't cause for concern. At least not yet. 


The Sixers' season ended in the fourth quarter of their Jan. 30 game against the Golden State Warriors. That's the night Embiid went down with the meniscus injury that would cause him to undergo a procedure and sideline him until early April. Embiid at the time was averaging more than 35 points per game and more than one point per minute, something that's only happened once in NBA history (Wilt Chamberlain during the 1961-1962 season). 

The Sixers won 31 of their 39 regular season games where Embiid and Tyrese Maxey played. We know what Embiid is when healthy. And after averaging 29.8 points and 6.8 assists in six games against that Knicks defense, and doing so at the age of 23, we've seen what Maxey can do when given the reins to an offense in the playoffs. The Embiid-Maxey combination is as good a one-two punch as exists in the NBA. 

That's the good news. The bad news is that time is running out for the Sixers and president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to surround them, and specifically Embiid, with the proper players. In fact, this off-season just might be the franchise's last chance.

The Sixers will enter the summer with around $60 million in cap space, which will not be the case in future years after Maxey, who's a restricted free agent, extends with the Sixers this summer for the max. They'll also have the ability to trade five first round picks. 

Who will they get? The better question is: Who can they get? The top potential free agents are LeBron James, Paul George, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. It'd be stunning if Anunoby and Siakam didn't re-sign with their current teams, and LeBron's not going to Philly.

George is the team's top target, and the fact that he has yet to sign an extension with the LA Clippers despite Kawhi Leonard having already done so, has certainly raised eyebrows across the NBA. He'd be a perfect fit alongside Maxey and Embiid, even if he's at an age (34) where there could be some pain on the backside of that deal. Most league executives expect him to eventually re-sign with the Clippers (he's a California native; it's also hard to imagine Clippers owner Steve Ballmer letting him walk) but if the Sixers were to reel him they'd become instant title contenders. 

The Sixers are also betting that other stars break free and that, once that happens, they're the contender best-positioned to pounce. And they might be right. Things in Phoenix appear to be rocky. Maybe the Cavs decide it's time to break up their backcourt. Maybe the Pelicans elect to move on from Brandon Ingram. In the NBA, betting on chaos is usually a bet that pays off. 

If all that fails, Morey can just use the cap space and trade assets to add a bunch of two-way players and bolster the depth around his star duo. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a player option that he'll likely decline—he'd be a perfect fit next to Maxey and Embiid. DeMar DeRozan would be interesting. There are certainly other players who could be reeled in via trades. Add a couple guys like that, bring back free agents like Nic Batum and DeAnthony Melton and suddenly you have the best team of Embiid's career. 

The Sixers entered the season with title hopes. They fell short once again, but this time around things feel different. 

"We've got some work to do, especially this summer," Nurse said. "I certainly like where we're going."

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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Joel Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers
National Basketball Association

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