The Sixers are in need of a rivalry and the Celtics are the perfect foe

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The Sixers are in need of a rivalry and the Celtics are the perfect foe

Even though the Eagles won the Super Bowl this past February, an essential element of Philadelphia sports fandom remains being irrationally angry. I still freak out when a ref calls a roughing the passer penalty on Michael Bennett. Gabe Kapler made me constantly throw my Phillies hat in disgust as his team collapsed down the stretch this summer. Philadelphians are untethered and their rage knows no bounds, but it’s a relief when all that anger can be directed in one direction instead of just crying, “Woe is me,” and assuming the world is against us all.  

That’s where having a rival comes in.

A rivalry has always felt like an essential part of fandom to me, but the Sixers have lacked one for decades and there’s been a void in my Sixers-loving heart. To be an Eagles fan is to hate Dallas. To be a Flyers fan is to hate the Penguins. To be a Phillies fan is to despise the Mets. Who were Sixers fans supposed to hate my whole life?

I am a 24-year-old South Philadelphian. There are only faint glimmers in my brain of watching Allen Iverson and the 2001 Sixers in the NBA Finals. I’ve never known a truly good Sixers team, much less one good enough to breed disdain from another fan base. That changed after a disappointing loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Celtics back in May. Now all I want to do is tell Sully from Southie that Dunkin’ Donuts is disgusting while knocking his flat-brimmed Patriots hat off his head.

I adore the “Philadelphia vs. Everybody” mentality, but there’s something especially satisfying about directing all your energy and contempt towards a single fanbase. The Sixers, and their fans in turn, are now aiming at a shamrock-shaped target. There’s larger history at play, both recent and not so recent, when it comes to hating the Celtics.

Bill Russell dueled, and almost always got the best of, Wilt Chamberlain throughout the ‘60s. Andrew Toney ascended to legendary status in Sixers lore as “The Boston Strangler” with a 34-point effort in Game 7 of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals. Julius Erving and Larry Bird choked one another on-court in November 1984, inciting a violent melee that included Kevin McHale and a rookie Charles Barkley.

That’s also before getting to the curious case of Markelle Fultz, who will be perpetually linked with Jayson Tatum.

Trading the pick Boston used on Tatum, who torched the Sixers for 23 points on Opening Night, and a juicy, top-1 protected 2019 Sacramento Kings first rounder makes last summer’s swap look ridiculously bad in its own right. The fact that Fultz still looks overwhelmed and gun-shy despite all the hoopla that came from training with Drew Hanlen all summer only makes matters worse. Tatum is going to make an All-Star team within two years, if not sooner. Fultz isn’t even ready to be in the Sixers’ second half rotation against playoff teams. This is the worst NBA trade of the decade with the potential for it be an all timer.

Tatum makes my blood boil, especially given the grossly premature victory lap Sixers fans, myself included, took after the Sixers acquired Fultz in 2017. We thought we finally got one over on good ol’ Danny Ainge and his “warchest of assets.” Tatum turning into a 6-8 version of young Kobe Bryant wasn’t something any Sixers fan expected.

One of my favorite television shows at the moment is American Horror Story: Apocalypse. The series’ portrayal of hell is a given person’s worst moment being repeated on loop for the rest of eternity. If I go to hell, I will be sitting on my living room couch drinking a room temperature Miller Lite while watching Jayson Tatum crossover Joel Embiid before draining a jumper as Markelle Fultz sits on the bench with a blank stare on his face.

Watching Aron Baynes sink three-pointers in May and again on Opening Night makes me want to take my dog on a one-hour walk, delete Twitter off my phone forever and then ignore all my family and work responsibilities. He’s a 6-10 Australian mammoth of a human being. I hate him with every fiber of my being.

But I also love him. I love that he exists and looks like a knockoff James Bond villain. I love that Joel Embiid derides him for his man bun on Twitter. I love that I will boo and yell, screaming my lungs out the first time he steps on the court at the Wells Fargo Center this season.

After that season-opening loss to Boston, Embiid said that there actually isn’t a rivalry between the Sixers and Celtics because “they always kick our ass.” I’m going to disagree with the big fella. It’s a rivalry because the Sixers are so close to beating the Celtics. The East is theirs for the taking if they want it. They can have the two best players on the court against the Celtics at any given time. It’s a rivalry because my name is literally Shamus Clancy and Brad Stevens’ smug baby face still makes me hate an Irish-themed team. It’s a rivalry because every back-breaking Marcus Smart three-pointer makes me want to grab my Allen Iverson bobblehead and smash it into a hundred pieces.

Every hero needs an adversary. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid need Jayson Tatum and Aron Baynes as much as Batman needs The Joker and The Riddler. Despite Opening Night being such a frustrating loss, a part of me is still okay with it. I’m happy that the stakes are so high with the Sixers for the first time in over a decade. I want to breathe Celtics hatred for the next seven months before watching the Sixers defeat Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals next May. I want to hear 20,000 Celtics fans in the TD Garden scream at Simmons and Embiid as the Sixers slay this green dragon on their quest for an NBA championship. They can then toss their “SHOOT A 3 COWARD” shirts in the harbor.

After being stuck in mediocrity and an afterthought for so long, it’s just refreshing to feel that emotional kick and rage I currently have for the Celtics. I don’t know if the Sixers truly have the depth right now to top Boston in a playoff series, but the day they do will be that much sweeter given the last five years for this franchise and the last five months of getting embarrassed by the Celtics.

To DNP-rest, or not to DNP-rest: That is the question facing Joel Embiid

To DNP-rest, or not to DNP-rest: That is the question facing Joel Embiid

It’s certainly not going out on a limb to say the Sixers’ success depends on the health and fitness level of Joel Embiid.

When he’s on the floor, he’s one of, if not the best center in the NBA. The issue for the Sixers is when he’s not on the floor — which happens more often than they’d like. The series against the Raptors was the most prime example. Embiid was a plus-89 in a series the team lost in seven games. Greg Monroe was a minus-9 in two (2!) minutes in Game 7. Yuck.

By now we all know about Embiid’s injury history. His knee tendinitis and illnesses dominated the headlines during the Sixers’ postseason run. The tendinitis could be attributed to Embiid playing 54 of the first 58 games of the season. Some have made the connection of Embiid's illnesses to a poor diet. Whatever the case, both mired Embiid's effectiveness.

There is good news: Embiid knows things need to get better. He knows he needs to be in better physical shape. He knows the Sixers will only have a long playoff run if he’s the best and healthiest version of himself. 

He also knows how he can accomplish that.

Looking at the way Toronto managed Kawhi [Leonard] all season … when you start thinking about back-to-backs and stuff like that, having a good team around you helps,” Embiid said during exit interviews. “Most of the time I kind of feel bad because I feel like I let everybody down by not playing or sitting out. If you see that and you know guys are going to take over and get the win — we have the talent to do so. I guess it’s an easy decision for me. I think as long as we got it all covered and we have an opportunity to win games without me, I’m open to it. … Just gotta keep working on my body. It’s only going to get better.

He has been looking rather svelte in his Instagram posts and shouldn’t have to feel bad about sitting out with the talent that’s been brought in.

Elton Brand was aggressive in signing veteran Al Horford. Horford will play with Embiid in the starting lineup at the four, but will also be the team’s primary backup center. There may not be a better backup five in the entire league. Horford’s abilities on both ends of the floor will soften the blow of having Embiid on the bench.

And let’s not forget about Kyle O’Quinn. The veteran big is solid defensively and would’ve served as a better option than any backup big Brett Brown went to against the Raptors. He’s a strong insurance policy as the team’s third-string center.

It also helps that the schedule makers were kind to the Sixers — and it doesn’t seem like it was an accident. The Sixers have no nationally televised games on the second half of back-to-backs, something our NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh pointed out as a guest on the Sixers Talk podcast last week. Clearly, those networks don't want to get burned if Embiid decides to rest.

Haberstroh actually wrote a piece about the very topic of the DNP-rest epidemic, discussing a company called Fansure. Fansure should appeal to Sixers fans as “an analytical start-up company that helps protect fans by offering reimbursement plans for tickets to games in which star player(s) sit out due to either rest or a last-minute injury.” (Then maybe angry fans will be less likely to be in reporter’s mentions … probably not.)

It’s also fair to wonder if medical personnel decisions will have any effect on all this with Embiid.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Philadelphia 76ers handle Embiid’s rest regimen," Haberstroh writes. "The team signed big man Al Horford to start next to him and potentially start at center in Embiid’s place if he needs a night off. Those decisions will come down to Embiid and new members of the medical staff after the team parted ways with two major voices — vice president of athlete care Dr. Danny Medina and director of performance research and development Dr. David Martin.

It’s tough to know the significance of Medina and Martin no longer being with the Sixers. The team has already begun filling in roles in the athlete care department. They’ve hired Lorena Torres-Ronda, formerly of the Spurs, as performance director. Expect more new names to be announced this week, per a team source.

While breathing new life into the athlete care department could help, it ultimately comes down to Embiid. 

Is he ready to listen to the advice of those around him and do what’s best for himself and the team? Will he feel comfortable letting his teammates try to win in back-to-back situations without him?

Guess we’ll find out starting Nov. 13, the second game of a back-to-back in Orlando.

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Sixers' Josh Richardson has a unique defensive challenge ahead

Sixers' Josh Richardson has a unique defensive challenge ahead

There are plenty of new things in store for Josh Richardson as one of the newest members of the 76ers, but there is one in particular that’s going to take some getting used to.

At 6-foot-6, 200 pounds, Richardson will be the smallest guy in the Sixers' starting lineup this upcoming season.

“I have never been that, ever in my life,” Richardson said with a laugh at the Sixers Summer Shore Tour in Wildwood, New Jersey. “It will be interesting looking up to my teammates, talking in huddles and stuff.”

On a serious note, Richardson is looking forward to the challenge on defense. Richardson guarded point guards quite a bit during his four years with the Miami Heat and has confidence he’ll be able to guard smaller guards.

“I know that I’ll be the shortest starter here and I don’t mind guarding all of the guys that like to get in the paint and use their speed a lot,” Richardson said.

One thing is for certain: Richardson is ready for the season to get started, especially after the NBA schedule release.

“I’m just excited," Richardson said. "I saw we open with Boston and I know there’s a little rivalry history there, so it’s going to be fun to be a part of that.”

And as for his former team?

“I always have Miami circled to go back there and compete against my brothers down there," Richardson said, "but I’m just ready, excited to compete every game.”

Richardson has kept in touch with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Mike Scott throughout the offseason. He met Shake Milton for the first time, working out at the Sixers' training facility on Saturday morning.

The former Tennessee Volunteer has been getting his own work in this summer.

“Health, I think health is a big part, just being able to be out there for as many games as I can is going to be huge, and being able to make shots,” Richardson said of his offseason goals. “I think being a shot maker is going to be big for us.”

Looking back at the trade, despite there being a shock factor in the moments following, he couldn’t be more eager for this new opportunity. Richardson said his excitement occurred "almost instantly."

“After I started looking at the pictures of our lineup, it turned into straight excitement, like as soon as it happened,” Richardson said. “As long as we all gel, as long as we all have the same goal in mind, I think we’ll have a strong season.”

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