We are built for the playoffs.
That was the Sixers’ mantra as they sputtered through an underwhelming season that saw them eventually become the East’s sixth seed. Elton Brand and Brett Brown repeated this message to a point where it was burned in every media member’s brain.
Are you guys worried about Al Horford’s fit? We are built for the playoffs. Can Tobias Harris create enough offense? We are built for the playoffs. Do you think it was the right move to construct a giant roster that doesn’t create shots or make threes? We are built for the playoffs.
It’s only been two games, but does this look like a team that’s built for the playoffs? Ben Simmons being out is a tough blow, but even with Simmons, this team is not built for the modern NBA postseason or to best complement its All-Star duo.
Horford and Harris were the prizes of this offseason. Harris is the Sixers’ highest-paid player this season while Horford is second. Through two games, they’ve combined for 38 points on 15 of 40 from the field. Both players were expected to help space the floor for Joel Embiid. Neither player has hit a three in the series, going 0 for 6 from deep.
The difficult reality the Sixers have to face is that neither player fits next to their two young All-Stars. Two years ago against the Celtics, the Sixers struggled because they didn’t have shot creators and Brad Stevens targeted their weaker defenders. What’s changed since then? Well, the Sixers still don’t have shot creators and are likely going to be a luxury tax team with no clear path to improving their roster. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ two young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have shown marked improvement surrounded by players that complement their skills.
Think about why Boston is giving the Sixers so much trouble and you’ve got your answer. Both Brown and Tatum can create their own offense and make outside shots at an elite clip. Add a guy like Kemba Walker to that mix and it’s a pick your poison situation on defense. Harris and Horford aren’t those types of players. Nobody in the Sixers’ starting five is. Alec Burks, who inexplicably didn’t check into Game 2 until there was 8:41 left in the second after the team had squandered a great start, is the only player on the roster who fits that bill.
Let’s say the Sixers move on from their head coach. Let’s say they even go as far as to remove the GM. The next regime is walking into a salary cap dumpster fire. A new coach won’t suddenly make Horford fit next to Embiid and Simmons or make Harris an elite shot creator. A new GM is going to have to get awfully crafty to get out of either Harris or Horford’s contract. It could mean surrendering good, young players like Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton or being forced to give up the Oklahoma City pick, which will be 21st overall.
The Sixers are now facing a 2-0 series deficit. They’re also facing an unprecedented offseason, likely sooner than they hoped.
The biggest issue facing the Sixers is their roster construction, plain and simple. Maybe instead of being “built for the playoffs,” the focus should be on being built to best complement the skills of Embiid and Simmons. Building properly around two young stars seems to be working for the Celtics.