MANILA, Philippines – It was the shot heard around the world.
The Philadelphia 76ers stood in wait, then in shock, as Kawhi Leonard’s now legendary buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals pushed the Toronto Raptors one step closer to the championship they eventually won.
A few lucky ball bounces forced the 76ers to go back to the drawing board and retool their roster for another championship run.
Fast forward to the present, and they look even more lost than they were the prior year.
Of course, the Sixers’ main weapons are still the young All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the result of their years-long tanking for draft picks called “The Process.”
As their key veteran cogs Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick left for free agency, Philadelphia hurried to replace them with free agent big man Al Horford and combo guard Josh Richardson, whom they got back from the Miami Heat in the Butler sign-and-trade.
From the get-go, fans and analysts questioned Horford’s massive four-year, $109 million contract and fit alongside Embiid and Simmons, both of whom already have problems in spacing the floor with perimeter shooting.
The strange signing already made its mark with the Sixers, as they currently hold a 39-26 record heading to the July 31 season restart at Disney World Orlando. Last year, they already had 47 wins by the time they got their 26th loss.
Embiid and Horford are clearly awkward around each other, as Horford’s shooting percentage this season stands at 44% on 10.9 attempts, a full 10% drop on 10.6 attempts from his last year with the Boston Celtics.
Meanwhile, Embiid saw his scoring average hurl down to just 23.4 points this season on a 47% shooting clip from 27.4 points on 48% shooting the year prior.
Only Simmons and Tobias Harris benefited from this roster change, as both saw small increases in their field goal percentages and scoring averages, among other categories.
Time will tell if the Sixers’ good bench mob of emerging scorer Shake Milton, veteran guard Alec Burks, high-flyer Glenn Robinson III and defensive prodigy Matisse Thybulle can help offset the problems of the starting unit.
But it may be too late for a supposed title contender still figuring things out this late into the season.
Remaining games: Pacers, Spurs, Wizards, Magic, Blazers, Suns, Raptors, Rockets
As luck would have it, the Sixers, who already clinched a playoff berth as the new format was finalized, get the luxury of figuring things out with their light eight-game seeding schedule.
With such a small sample of games, this eight-game stretch is the Sixers’ only chance to prove doubters wrong and finish the regular season strong with such a ragtag group.
However, the playoff push against more cohesive teams is an entirely different animal to slay yet again.
This year, the Sixers will have another tough peak to climb, and the clock just keeps on ticking.