After Ben Simmons' extension, the Sixers are in a familiar place the Celtics were a year ago

After Ben Simmons' extension, the Sixers are in a familiar place the Celtics were a year ago

BOSTON -- So Philly went out and got Al Horford this summer, bolstering its title aspirations for the present. And now the Sixers have reportedly just cut another fat check -  a five-year, $170 million dollar one - to Ben Simmons which on the surface strengthens their core for a basketball eternity like, you know, the next three or four years. 

In looking at their core of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and now Simmons all signed to deals that’ll last through the 2023 season, there’s no question they’ll be in the conversation as the team to beat in the East. 

And as you start to look at their success being fueled in large part by their young core, you look over at Boston’s youth movement and … the optimism isn’t nearly as bright. 

Jayson Tatum remains the one member of the Celtics’ youth group who has shown flashes of having all-star makeup. You love what Jaylen Brown does most nights, and how he has shown progress as a player every year he has been in the NBA. 

But an All-Star in the making? 

Probably not. 

And we won’t even get into Robert Williams III whose promise ranges from being a starter to not playing at all. 

The rookies they drafted are all nice players.

But high impact players in the NBA?

Not really.

It all adds up to a Celtics team that when you talk about youthful talent, is not on the same level as the Sixers whose young core of Embiid, Harris and Simmons are all either All-Stars or in the case of Harris, a player with All-Star caliber talent. 

Boston’s hopes of remaining in the conversation for years to come in the East will hinge on more than just the development of its young players. Even more invaluable will be Danny Ainge’s ability to wheel and deal his way to building another title contender via trades and free agency. 

The addition of Kemba Walker who signed a four-year, $141 million deal certainly helps. The same could be said for Gordon Hayward bouncing back and playing more like last-year-in-Utah Gordon Hayward versus up-and-down, on-the-mend Gordon Hayward we saw last season. 

The reality is this. 

The Sixers have built a team that is poised to compete both in the present and future, but Celtics fans know all too well how quickly that can all come crashing down in a hurry. 

First Gordon Hayward got hurt, followed by the team’s up and down start. Kyrie Irving struggled to be the kind of leader this team needed, only to leave this summer for Brooklyn and soon after, so did Al Horford for Philly. 

I give the Sixers credit for doing all the things a franchise needs to do to best position themselves for long-term success. 

But even with Simmons locked into a long-term deal, how long will it be before rumors start to be floated that Simmons is making goo-goo eyes at playing with the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James and Anthony Davis? 

The fact that Simmons has signed a long-term deal means nothing; not in this NBA era when players with years - plural not singular - left on their contracts all but force a trade to the team of their choice if they don’t like the team they’re on as much. 

There are a series of other plausible factors that could torpedo the efforts Philly has made to insulate itself from the teams coming at them both now and in the future, similar to what the Celtics just experienced. 

And that’s why while the rest of the East should definitely be on guard for the Sixers building themselves into a potent squad, by no means should their core group be deemed an insurmountable unit that’s impervious to change. 

They have a good team, one that on paper is clearly better than Boston is right now in terms of their overall unit and their youthful core. 

But things change in a hurry in the NBA, where teams built upon talented youth are suddenly torn down by too many egos and not enough shine to go around. 

We’ll see if the Sixers become the latest to succumb to that, or if their young core of Embiid, Harris and Simmons will lead them into an era where that youth comes of age in time to win a title. 

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NBA Power Rankings: Trade winds are starting to pick up

NBA Power Rankings: Trade winds are starting to pick up

Though we often think about NBA trade rumors closer towards the February trade deadline, there a handful of teams that might be open to moving players they signed this past summer, moves that can be executed after December 15. 

Teams look to strike for a variety of reasons, whether it’s to add a talent that they think can take to another stratosphere in terms of their play, to clear salary cap space going forward, or to add what may be the missing piece for a run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy. 

Much of the talk surrounding the Boston Celtics and what they need to do to get better revolves around the center position. Multiple league sources have indicated the Celtics are open to the idea if a team wants to talk, but they are not aggressively looking to made a trade … yet. 

“You just never really know with Danny,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “A ‘no’ on a deal today, could become a ‘hey, let’s do it’ tomorrow depending on if circumstances play out that make doing a deal a logical, sensible move to make."

And as deals get talked about and eventually completed, it also will impact where teams stack up in our weekly power rankings.

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Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which tips off Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Marcus Smart out, Al Horford questionable for Celtics-76ers showdown

Marcus Smart out, Al Horford questionable for Celtics-76ers showdown

The Boston Celtics will be without one of their most important players Thursday night when they host the rival Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden.

Smart, who's dealing with a left eye infection, was officially ruled out by the C's early Thursday afternoon. The veteran guard has missed the last two games, including Wednesday night's road loss to the Indiana Pacers.

The encouraging injury news for Boston is that Gordon Hayward is probable. He got whacked in the face during the fourth quarter of Wednesday's game and didn't return.

Second-year center Robert Williams' absence also will be felt. The 76ers have a big frontcourt with plenty of size and length, headlined by star center Joel Embiid and power forward Al Horford. The Celtics don't have a ton of depth at center, and with Williams out, expect Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis to play the majority of the minutes against Embiid.

Speaking of Horford, he's questionable to play in his first game back in Boston since he left the Celtics to sign with the 76ers in July as a free agent.

Thursday's game is the second meeting of the season between these rivals. The Sixers beat the Celtics in Philadelphia on opening night. Boston is 10-0 at home.

Jaylen Brown says Horford's return 'should be celebrated'>>>

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