Roster turnover has been a consistent factor for the Philadelphia 76ers over the last several seasons. Since the beginning of their 2017-18 campaign, the Sixers have retooled several times and made a plethora of major moves. In fact, the only key cogs still in place from two seasons ago are Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
While all of Philadelphia’s changes have been in the name of improvement, that improvement hasn’t necessarily been realized on the court, as the franchise doesn’t appear to be any closer to a title than it was when it lost to the Celtics in five games in the 2018 conference semifinals. The 76ers are certainly not closer to a championship than they were last season when they were led by Jimmy Butler — along with Embiid and Simmons — and were a couple of unfriendly bounces on a Kawhi Leonard shot away from a potential conference finals appearance. If anything, after getting swept by the Celtics in the first round this season, the argument could be made that the Sixers have actually moved in the wrong direction.
Embiid and Simmons have received a bulk of the criticism for Philadelphia’s failure to progress in the playoffs, but Brooklyn Nets superstar forward Kevin Durant sees things a bit differently. Durant, who knows a thing or two about competing deep into the postseason, feels the constant roster turnover has stunted the team’s growth and in turn put Embiid and Simmons in a “tough” spot.
“It’s hard to become a great team when you’re getting new teammates every year,” Durant said during a recent appearance on former Sixer sharpshooter JJ Redick’s “The Old Man and the Three” podcast , via Yahoo. “It’s tough, especially young players like them, they’re expected [to shine] … and in Philly, they’ve got so many expectations on them, it’s tough.”
In this case, Durant is completely correct as the consistent turnover has definitely negatively impacted the Sixers, Embiid and Simmons specifically. Though it can’t be measured statistically by Philadelphia’s analytics-driven front office, chemistry is key when building a championship-caliber team, and the Sixers haven’t had an opportunity to develop any.
The team built some solid chemistry during the 2017-18 season when the starting five was comprised of Embiid, Simmons, Redick, Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Following five straight seasons of landing in the lottery, that team — which was made up largely of young, Philadelphia-bred players — won 52 games in the regular season and made it to the second round. They had a top-five offense and defense in the league that season, and their performance elevated expectations for the franchise moving forward. The team never really got an opportunity to build on the success that they established that season however.
The following fall, the team shook things up in a major way, as the Sixers moved Covington and Saric to Minnesota in order to bring in Jimmy Butler on an expiring contract. A couple of months later, another major move was made as Philadelphia’s front office brought in Tobias Harris from the Clippers. Harris was also on an expiring contract at the time. For those keeping count, that’s three different starting lineups that the Sixers were forced to employ during the 2018-19 season alone. Despite the changes and a lack of familiarity between the players, the Sixers were able to jell under head coach Brett Brown and they pushed the eventual-champion Toronto Raptors to seven games in the conference semifinals. Though they fell short, that Sixers certainly appeared poised to continue to compete for titles into the future.
But, did the Sixers keep that core together? Nope. They allowed both Butler and Redick to walk in free agency, and then vastly overpaid for Harris and Al Horford. So, the Sixers entered the ’19-20 season with yet another starting lineup — one that featured Embiid and Simmons as the only holdovers from ’17-18. Now, after an extremely underwhelming campaign, the Sixers are staring down more potential roster turnover as they likely don’t want to trot out the same squad that led to them getting swept by the Celtics. Horford, specifically, is on the trade block after failing to fit well alongside Embiid and Simmons, who will now also have to learn a new system under a new coach.
The Sixers, as currently constructed, are what it looks like when a front office throws together a team based solely on talent, with no consideration of fit nor chemistry. Brown was the fall guy following the season, and he wasn’t blameless in the Sixers’ shortcomings, but he never had an opportunity to develop chemistry in the team over the course of consecutive seasons. In fact, given that he was forced to develop new rotations and game plans every few months, he did an objectively good job.
And sure, Embiid and Simmons can continue to improve individually — and they have — but the Sixers won’t reach their full potential as a team until those two are able to develop some genuine familiarity with the guys they’re playing with. Up to this point, this franchise has been handicapped by its own over-tinkering.