The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2021-2022 NBA season with a tough hurdle to clear. Ever since the Sixers dropped Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, three-time All-Star Ben Simmons has wanted to leave Philly.
At the start of last offseason, Simmons asked for a trade. Since the Sixers couldn’t find one worth doing, Simmons stayed on board. However, he was not actually on board. As he began to show up for practices and morning shootouts, Simmons had no intention of playing for the 76ers again.
Throughout the first half of the season, Simmons’ absence was nothing but a distraction for the Sixers. Eventually, Philly’s front office knocked out Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and picks for James Harden and Paul Millsap in hopes they could find better playoff results.
Unfortunately, the Sixers found themselves in the same position. After beating the Toronto Raptors in six games in the first round of the playoffs, the Sixers struggled against the Miami Heat in the second round.
While they tied the series at 2-2 after losing the first two games, the Sixers struggled on the road in Game 5 and suffered a 35-point loss. They had the opportunity to go home and force a Game 7, but a nine-point loss at South Philly ended their second-round playoff run for the third time in four seasons.
Considering the Sixers were aiming for a championship swap after Simmons-Harden, they fell short of their 2022 goals. ended negatively.
“We’ve had a lot of distractions this year,” Rivers said 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’d be where we’d be record high. So I like to think we’ve done a hell of a job to get us there. And then we get James, and we want see if we had enough time to put it in. And clearly, we didn’t.
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Doc Rivers and the Sixers haven’t had any moral victories at all in the 2021-22 season, but the head coach pointed out a few of his players who he thinks should be celebrated, given everything they’ve been through throughout the year.
“I think we should celebrate Joel,” Rivers said. “Jokic is a worthy MVP, but so is Joel, and Giannis too. Joel has been through a lot this year, having had to carry the load for most of the year, and he did it.
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, Embiid’s MVP-caliber season will not be forgotten in Philadelphia.
“I think we should celebrate Tyrese,” Rivers continued. “He grew up before our eyes. Without Simmons around on game night, the Sixers threw sophomore guard Tyrese Maxey into the fire. As a first-time starter in his second season, Maxey looked like one of the most improved players in the NBA as he became a true rising star.
“There are a lot of good things we can take away from the year,” concluded Rivers. “The bad thing is we’re not going to be the winner. You know, there’s only going to be one, by the way. And we’re just not going to be. Going forward, Rivers thinks that 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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