John Wall

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

“Run it back.”

After striking out on the big fish in free agency, the Sixers essentially appear to be going this route for next season.

They have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal to bring back JJ Redick and a trade for Denver Nuggets swingman Wilson Chandler to help offset the departures of bench standouts Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. A little juggling to add a reserve center, and you will be looking at your 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers (barring a blockbuster deal for Kawhi Leonard, in which case all bets are off).

And there’s no reason to believe that won’t be enough to take another leap next season. Think about it, from a personal standpoint the Sixers had Joel Embiid be named a starter in the All-Star Game and finish as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. Despite all of the noise, Ben Simmons snagged Rookie of the Year in a landslide. Plus, the team had Robert Covington (first) and Embiid (second) each be named to All-NBA defensive teams.

All of those individual accolades helped propel the team to a 52-win campaign (24 more than the previous season), a playoff berth for the first time in six seasons and a first-round series victory.

With that level of production under their belt, there is no reason to believe the Sixers won’t continue climbing up the Eastern Conference ranks.

Just don’t think it will be easy.

Even with LeBron James’ exodus to the West, the Sixers’ path to the NBA Finals won’t all of the sudden become a cakewalk. Some other squads will have a say about that, starting at the top.

Toronto may have ditched its head coach, but the Raptors appear to be sticking with the core that won a franchise-record 59 games last season. That group beat the Sixers in three of the four regular-season meetings by an average of 18.3 points.

Of course, the Boston Celtics had the Sixers’ number all season long. Between the preseason, regular season and playoffs, the C’s won nine of the 11 matchups by an average of 9.2 points. Plus, you’ve likely heard they’ll be getting a couple All-Stars back in the lineup come next season in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Even the teams a step below have reason for hope. The Indiana Pacers have faith in their own young core led by Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo. The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the game’s best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and boosted their bench by swiping Ilyasova from the Sixers and drafting Villanova standout Donte DiVincenzo. The Washington Wizards (John Wall, Bradley Beal) and Detroit Pistons (Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond) have prolific tandems that could cause trouble for anyone.

It’s all wide open in the East now that the King’s throne has shifted to Hollywood. And the Sixers have to feel as good as any team about being able to secure the crown, but it definitely won’t be an easy task.

More on the Sixers

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”

Will Kevin Love's injury open All-Star spot for Ben Simmons?

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USA Today Images

Will Kevin Love's injury open All-Star spot for Ben Simmons?

With Kevin Love expected to miss six to eight weeks after breaking his hand Tuesday, another All-Star roster spot is open.

Could it go to Ben Simmons? We'll likely find out from commissioner Adam Silver later today.

Simmons is one of a handful of worthy candidates to replace Love. Andre Drummond is no longer on that list after replacing the injured John Wall.

Simmons' main competition for that final All-Star roster spot appears to be Heat point guard Goran Dragic and Hornets PG Kemba Walker.

Lou Williams is another consideration, but it's more likely that Love's roster spot is filled by someone from the Eastern Conference.

So let's compare the numbers of Simmons, Dragic and Walker.

Simmons: 16.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, 52% FG, 56% FT, zero made threes

Dragic: 17.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 44% FG, 76% FT, 1.5 made threes per game

Walker: 22.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 42% FG, 84% FT, 2.6 made threes per game

Simmons has the edge in rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage.

Another advantage he may have over the other two is that, positionally, he'd make more sense as a replacement for Love. (In that regard, Kristaps Porzingis is also a consideration, averaging 23.3 points and 6.7 rebounds for the 23-28 Knicks.)

Of course, stats aren't the only consideration. Team records also matter.

Miami is 29-21, fourth in the East and without an All-Star representative. That plays into Dragic's favor. 

The Sixers are 24-23, eighth in the East and with an All-Star starter in Joel Embiid.

The Hornets are 20-29, 11th in the East and five games out of the playoffs.

Another name we saw surface Tuesday when Wall's injury came out was Jaylen Brown. Though it's confusing why Brown would even be considered. He's averaging 14.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals, shooting 46 percent from the field, 38 percent from three and 59 percent from the line.

Solid numbers, but not All-Star worthy, even when you account for his defense and his team's record.

Drummond himself threw some shade at Brown on Instagram while simultaneously praising Simmons.