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The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2021-2022 NBA season with a difficult obstacle to overcome. Ever since the Sixers dropped their Game 7 matchup against the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the three-time All-Star Ben Simmons wanted out of Philly.

At the beginning of the last offseason, Simmons requested a trade. Since the Sixers couldn’t find one worth making, Simmons stayed on board. However, he wasn’t actually on board. While he started showing up to practices and morning shootarounds, Simmons had no intention of playing for the 76ers again.

Throughout the first half of the season, Simmons’ absence was nothing more than a distraction for the Sixers. Eventually, Philly’s front office flipped Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and picks for James Harden and Paul Millsap in hopes that they could find better results in the postseason.

Unfortunately, the Sixers found themselves in the same position. After taking down the Toronto Raptors in six games during the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers struggled against the Miami Heat in the second round.

While they evened the series at 2-2 after dropping the first two games, the Sixers struggled on the road in Game 5 and took on a 35-point loss. They had an opportunity to return home and force a Game 7, but a nine-point loss in South Philly ended their postseason run in the second round for the third time in four seasons.

Considering the Sixers were gunning for a championship post-Simmons-Harden trade, they came up short of their goals in 2022. But looking back on how the season unfolded, Doc Rivers can see the positives in a season that ended negatively.

“We had a lot of distractions this year,” said Rivers after Game 6. “You know, we really did. And I think when I look back on the season, you know, not having our second-best player for most of the year, no one thought we would be where we would record-wise. So, I like to think that we did a hell of a job getting us getting us there. And then we get James, and we want to see if we had enough time to put it together. And clearly, we did not.” 

Doc Rivers and the Sixers haven’t collected moral victories at all during the 2021-2022 season, but the head coach did point to a couple of his players that he believes should be celebrated, considering all they’ve been through throughout the year.

“I think we should celebrate Joel,” said Rivers. “Jokic is a worthy MVP, but so is Joel, and so is Giannis. Joel went through a lot this year, having to shoulder the load for most of the year, and he did that.”

Without another All-Star playing alongside him, Embiid put the Sixers on his back and kept them relevant in the Eastern Conference. While he won’t have an MVP trophy to show for it, Embiid’s MVP-caliber season won’t be forgotten in Philadelphia.

“I think we should celebrate Tyrese,” Rivers continued. “He grew up in front of our eyes.” Without Simmons around on game night, the Sixers threw the second-year guard Tyrese Maxey into the fire. As a first-time starter in his second season, Maxey looked like one of the NBA’s most improved players as he flourished into a true rising star.

“There's a lot of good things that we can take out of the year,” Rivers finished. “The bad thing is we're not going to be the winner. You know, there's only gonna be one of those, by the way. And we're just not going to be it.” Moving forward, Rivers believes the Sixers should have a positive feeling about the future, despite the team’s shortcomings in 2022. 

Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.

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