The heartbreaking visual of Raptors F Kawhi Leonard’s improbable buzzer-beater may still be fresh in the minds of Philadelphians. The moment was yet another heartbreaking moment in a sports city that doesn’t seem to be able to catch a break. For the Philadelphia 76ers, however, this is ancient history as the team gets ready to run it back for the 2019-20 NBA season. With the season set to begin with a home standoff against the rival Boston Celtics on October 23rd, let’s take a look at what the Sixers have done this offseason and what effect that has had on their season outlook.
Free Agency Departures
The NBA is a players league, and player movement is an inevitable part of the game. This element of the game led to a few beloved Sixers from last year’s team finding greener pastures elsewhere. G JJ Redick, who had been a staple in the starting lineup the past two years, went on to sign with the New Orleans Pelicans, where he will compete for playing time with youngster Lonzo Ball. C Boban Marjanovic, a fan favorite since coming over in a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers a season ago, will now be playing for the Dallas Mavericks.
The most notable loss this offseason, however, was the departure of All-Star F Jimmy Butler. After giving up young talent to acquire him early in the 2018 season, it seemed as though Butler and the Sixers would agree to a long-term extension. However, the outspoken star decided to pursue an opportunity where he could be the team’s focal point, a role he could not achieve playing alongside C Joel Embiid and G Ben Simmons. He eventually decided to take his talents to South Beach, with the Sixers working out a sign-and-trade to send him to the Miami Heat. While Philly got a talented young playmaker in G/F Josh Richardson in return, it will be hard to replace Butler’s presence on the court.
Key Offseason Additions
While there were several significant departures this past offseason, the Sixers acquired plenty of talent to make up for the losses. One of the biggest moves included re-signing F Tobias Harris to a max deal, ensuring that one of the teams’ best late additions from last season stays in Philly during their championship window. The other notable acquisition was C/F Al Horford, formerly of the Celtics. Horford has been one of the best defenders in the league the last few years, and the combination of him and Embiid make for a threatening frontcourt that will dare opposing teams to try and score from outside the paint.
In the 2019 NBA Draft, the Sixers selected F Matisse Thybulle out of Washington and G Marial Shayok from Iowa State. While Shayok is projected to spend time in the G-League as a second-round developmental player, first-rounder Thybulle has shown well in the preseason and is expected to contribute right away. Thybulle’s presence, combined with that of Embiid, Harris, Horford, and recently re-signed F Mike Scott, would further strengthen what looks to be a dominant force in the paint.
So, Is This The Year?
After what seems like an endless cycle of rebuilding and two competitive seasons cut short, the Sixers look like legitimate contenders to win their first NBA Championship since 1983. They currently own the fourth-best odds to win the NBA Finals, behind both Los Angeles teams and the Milwaukee Bucks. This projection has the Sixers listed as the second-best team in the East behind the Bucks.
While this looks good for the Sixers’ chances, expectations should still be tempered. The Bucks have added talent around reigning-MVP F Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers collectively feature three of the league’s five best players in F LeBron James, C Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard. A trip to the Finals seems likely, but winning the championships will be a tough task.
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