Last season, the Sixers looked to get a breath of fresh air following the Brett Brown era. After parting ways with Brown after seven seasons, the Sixers landed veteran head coach Doc Rivers and brought in Daryl Morey as the President of Basketball Operations. After making a few key moves, the Sixers were viewed as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
During the regular season, the 76ers were on the best path possible. Through a shortened 72-game season, the Sixers notched the No. 1 seed in the East and drew the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs.
Five games in, the Sixers knocked the Wizards out, then went on to face the Atlanta Hawks. The Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons era of Sixers basketball never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. Despite being the top team and facing the fifth-seeded Hawks, the Sixers fell short of advancing after dropping Game 7.
Now, there's turmoil. Three-time All-Star Ben Simmons wants to break up. The Sixers can't find a deal worth making at this time. Philly wants the star guard back in the mix so they can salvage the situation or drive up his trade value, but Simmons claims he isn't mentally ready to take the floor yet.
So, through the first few games of the 2021-2022 NBA season, the 76ers have been without Ben Simmons. Therefore, they've been starting Tyrese Maxey. Without Shake Milton in the mix due to an ankle injury, the 76ers have relied on Furkan Korkmaz to take over ball-handling duties. Where do the Sixers rank according to The Athletic's Zach Harper with three games in the bag? Not quite contender status.
"The circus around the 76ers isn’t going away any time soon. Joel Embiid has gone from calling out Ben Simmons in front of reporters to asking the Philadelphia crowd to support him when it comes to him possibly returning to the court for the team. Daryl Morey went on the radio, said they’re not just getting role players in exchange for Simmons, and then implied he’s willing to do this for four years. Meanwhile, on the court, the Sixers played two bad teams and one good one. They lost to the good one and they trounced the bad ones. I really don’t see how Simmons can actually return to play for them, and maybe he needs to try to angle for only road games if he does. Sixers on the court will be trumped by Sixers off the court until we get a resolution to this situation. So… for anywhere from a day to four years from now, I guess?"
Coming in at tenth, the Sixers are playoff-ready but not real championship contenders, according to the list. Although the Ben Simmons saga hasn't wholly derailed the Sixers and forced players to lose focus on game night, his absence makes the Sixers a weaker team.
And as the situation comes with more questions than answers, it's unclear how long this will drag out and what will happen when some sort of conclusion is met. For the time being, the Sixers will have to live without Simmons on the court. They'll win some games without him -- but the Sixers will need to find a conclusion sooner than later because it will be tough to be championship competitors if the All-Star point guard isn't bought in by the time the postseason rolls around.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.