The Philadelphia 76ers can contend for the foreseeable future.
NBA teams don’t stay good for that long. Even rebuilds that seem spectacular often crash and burn.
In 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder were the best young team in the NBA. They had just lost to the Heat in the Finals, but every fan thought a core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka would yield a championship sooner rather than later. This offseason, the final member left, and OKC has begun its next rebuild. A feasible title window in the NBA is often shorter than fans realize, but the Philadelphia 76ers might just have the longest right now.
A Sixers title hinges on a ton of things, but the most important is Joel Embiid’s health (knock on wood, please). As long as Embiid is healthy, the supporting cast is strong enough that the Sixers can seriously compete for a title.
Embiid averaged almost 34 minutes per game last year — more than Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kyrie Irving and more. Brett Brown didn’t value Embiid’s body enough last year, but he couldn’t. The Sixers didn’t have an adequate replacement to spot Embiid’s minutes. This year, that changes with the addition of Al Horford and Kyle O’Quinn. Embiid shouldn’t play more than 30 minutes per game in the regular season, and should be healthier come playoff time.
The Sixers were one shot away from reaching the Conference Finals, and maybe the Finals. However, of all the other Eastern Conference competitors, they are the contender that most clearly got better. The Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon. Their title hopes depend largely on Giannis getting better. The Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard. The Celtics lost Kyrie. The Sixers added Al Horford and Josh Richardson, and have multiple all-stars who haven’t yet reached their prime. No other team in the NBA can say that.
The Sixers can clearly compete for a title next year. What separates them from other top competitors is the fact that they can be even better two years from now. In 2021, Ben Simmons will be 25. Joel Embiid will be 27. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden and Klay Thompson will be on the wrong side of 30. LeBron James and Stephen Curry are already there.
The Lakers are clearly in win-now mode. They traded practically half their team to get Anthony Davis while Lebron miraculously staves off father time. If management thought LeBron had five more good years, they would have kept their young core and waited a year for Davis to come in free agency.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are on two-year contracts (with player options in the third year) with the Clippers. They might be gone after two seasons. Even if they’re not, they’ve had some pretty extensive injury history. Paul George has had two shoulder surgeries since the season ended. Kawhi Leonard played the last few games of the Finals almost on one leg. They’re not built to win in 2021.
A championship in the NBA is hard to come by. No team is a sure thing, and fans saw that firsthand this past year. The Sixers might not win a title this year. But they have the longest feasible window at the moment.
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