As Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors got to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy Thursday night, Sixers fans couldn’t help but wonder what could’ve been.
But the shoulda, coulda, woulda mentality doesn't help anyone. Forget the four bounces. Forget the thought that perhaps the Sixers matched up better against the Bucks. Forget that the Warriors were depleted.
What’s done is done. But watching what Toronto did on its way to a title was the biggest argument for the Sixers to #RunItBack.
It’s going to be tight, but they can — and should — bring Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris back. This iteration of the Sixers took the NBA champs to seven games. They actually had them on the ropes in Game 4 with a chance to go up 3-1 before Leonard put the team on his back.
When GM Elton Brand made the move to acquire Butler back in November, he said he was hoping it wouldn’t be a rental. Brand said the same thing when he traded for Harris before the trade deadline. Making moves for two players on the last year of their deals was super risky, but the indication all along from the Sixers is that they wanted to keep the core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Butler and Harris intact. The result of the Finals should only strengthen that desire.
Imagine this team having an offseason together. Picture a healthier Embiid and an improved Simmons returning to the practice facility for training camp. Perhaps Harris takes another leap after having his finest NBA season. Maybe Butler, knowing he’ll be finishing out his career in Philadelphia, will feel rejuvenated alongside teammates he grew to enjoy being around.
The front office will have to get creative in the way it assembles the rest of the roster. JJ Redick has become such a big part of what the Sixers do and really had a bounce-back playoff run. The team will have to use one of their exceptions to bring back Redick for another season (the amount of those exceptions is not yet determined). James Ennis and Mike Scott would be welcomed back, though Ennis may have played himself into a better contract elsewhere. The Sixers will also need contributions from young, cheap players like Zhaire Smith and one or two of the team's five draft picks. As we saw in these playoffs, backup center should be a priority, so Brand will have work to do there as well.
If the Sixers do bring back the same starting five, they'll almost undoubtedly find themselves paying the luxury tax. That's something managing partner Josh Harris has said on multiple occasions would not be an issue with the ownership group. As long as Butler and Harris want to be back, there's no reason the Sixers shouldn't be able to get it done.
The Eastern Conference landscape is as volatile as ever. The Raptors are the defending champs, but will Leonard return or bolt for the West Coast? The Bucks have plenty of housekeeping to worry about with free agents Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez and restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon. The Celtics are a total enigma with Kyrie Irving likely leaving and the team reportedly trying to make an all-in move on Anthony Davis. The Nets and the Knicks have the cap space to land a pair of superstars, but a lot can happen between now and the start of free agency.
What we know is the Sixers gave the NBA champions all they could handle. That’s more than any of the Raptors’ opponents can say.
The Sixers owe the players and the fans the opportunity to see this thing through and #RunItBack.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.