The Philadelphia 76ers have been the talk among all major media outlets over the last few weeks. Considering they were supposed to be Finals contenders, gunning for the No. 1 seed this year, the Sixers have been viewed as a disappointment so far this year.
Fifty-five games into the season, the Sixers are sitting in fifth-place within the Eastern Conference. Barring a major implosion, the Sixers will make the playoffs. And if they can get their road act together, they can very much be considered contenders.
However, the team has struggled to prove they can click all at once. First, the primary concern about this Sixers this year was health. As multiple players ended up missing chunks of time throughout the first half of the season, the starting lineup and key bench players didn't have a ton of time to work together at first.
Injuries haven't gone away entirely at this point as there's still time left in the season, but the topic of health hasn't been brought up as much regarding the Sixers. Instead, the new narrative surrounding Philly is that they are struggling because of internal concerns.
Sixers' veteran big man Al Horford admitted that "some stuff" was going on inside the locker room. He wouldn't specify, but shortly after it came out that Josh Richardson decided to call a players-only meeting so he could "galvanize the troops."
That situation didn't sound like much, but FS1's Chris Broussard decided to take it up a notch. According to the Fox Sports analyst, there was tension in the locker room between the Sixers' two young stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Broussard speculated they are jealous of each other, and that went hand-in-hand with the narratives that stated Simmons and Embiid cannot work together, and soon, one will have to get traded.
Embiid is well-aware of these comments. And recently, he mocked them and shrugged it off as he shot down the speculation regarding his on and off-court relationship with his fellow teammate, Ben Simmons, during an interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols.
"I was actually right," Embiid claimed. "A few years ago, I predicted it. I'm sure if you go into the archives and stuff, you can see I predicted the media, with my social media and Ben, [the media] were going to try and drive us apart. At the end of the day, we know what we gotta do. I love playing with [Ben Simmons]. He's a special talent. I think we can accomplish something special."
Before the All-Star break, Simmons and Embiid proved they could coexist on the court together as they combined for 52 points in a big win over the Clippers. That game was arguably their best performance on the court together this season.
Then, the two All-Star's spent this past weekend in Chicago, proving they are able to coexist off the court as well. While they didn't seem to have a close friendship based on what everybody has seen over the last couple of seasons or so, Embiid and Simmons are actively trying to shoot down the narrative as they gear up for the remainder of the NBA season. Soon, we'll see if their recent efforts make a difference for the Sixers.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter: @JGrasso_