Having fallen once again to the Eastern Conference semi-final stage last season, the Joel Embiid version of the Sixers have still not managed to reach the last four of the Playoffs. So the goal for 2023 is very clear: the NBA Finals or nothing.
Not sure there’s an NBA team today – other than maybe the Clippers – with more pressure than the Sixers. Of course there are many ambitious franchises in the Great League. In the East as in the West, we expect a sick competition and it is very complicated a few days before the start of the 2022-23 season to decide calmly on the poster for the next Finals. On the other hand, one thing is sure and certain, the band of Joel Embiid and James Harden is expected at the turn.
It is expected at the turn already because it is built to win there now, not in three or five years. Joel Embiid is at the peak of his prime after two MVP-caliber campaigns, James Harden remains an All-Star at 33 but has shown worrying signs of decline since last season, and veteran PJ Tucker – 37 brooms – has just been recruited for 33 million dollars over three years to precisely help Philly to cross a big milestone in the Playoffs. This nucleus, in which we also find Tobias Harris and his big contract, has a window of opportunity which seems limited in time given the age of certain executives but also the history of injuries of Embiid, even if the spectacular rise of the nugget Tyrese Maxey can potentially extend it by a few seasons. In any case, the boss of basketball operations Daryl Morey did not hesitate to make very strong choices (the James Harden-Ben Simmons transfer, the “big” contract for Tucker, the trade to recover De’Anthony Melton in exchange for a first-round draft pick and Danny Green…) since his arrival at the end of 2020 to build the most competitive team possible around Joel. And on paper, the 2022-23 version of the Sixers can stare any team in the eye within the Eastern Conference.
The 2022-23 Sixers roster: Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, De’Anthony Melton, Georges Niang, Danuel House Jr., Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, Paul Reed, Jaden Springer, Michael Foster Jr. , Julian Champagnie
A roster cut to win right away, but also a team where some will be particularly expected next April.
In the lead, James Harden. Whatever he says, the Bearded man is clearly under pressure after his new fail in the last Playoffs against Miami. His first ring, he is still waiting for it and Ramesse must prove that Morey was right to bet on him and no one else in exchange for Ben Simmons. That’s why he sacrificed 15 million dollars on the coming season (which allowed him to recruit his friend PJ Tucker), that’s why he particularly focused on his preparation this summer in order to become the attacking monster he was before his hamstring injury during the 2021 Playoffs.
Next, Doc Rivers. Recruited by the Sixers to succeed Brett Brown and take Philadelphia further than the conference semi-finals, the former Celtics coach has so far still failed to do better than his predecessor. Worse, there was this fiasco against the Hawks in the 2021 Playoffs, which came on top of the Clippers’ choke the previous year in the bubble when Rivers was on the Los Angeles bench. Just FYI, Doc has never coached in the conference finals since leaving the Big Three Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen Celtics. It would be better for him that the Sixers reach at least the last four this season if he does not want to end up at Pôle Emploi next summer.
And Joel Embiid, of course. Broken everywhere, Jojo gave everything during the last Playoffs, proving to Sixers fans how much the NBA title means to him. That resilience, it fits perfectly in Philly’s DNA, but to gain ultimate respect in the city of brotherly love, you have to to win. Since the start of the Process era, which Embiid obviously symbolizes, the Sixers have still not played a single conference final. And even if Joel has been evolving at the level of MVP for two seasons, it is necessarily also on his shoulders that the weight of premature eliminations in the Playoffs falls. Can he avoid the infirmary and take everyone to the heights?
Credit: Tobias Harris. If Tobi will never justify his very large contract (almost 38 million dollars this season), he will have to be as regular as possible to provide the necessary support to the Sixers behind Embiid, Harden and Maxey. Can his reputation as an overpaid player leave some room for a different perception of him? Only Harris can answer that question positively by helping Philadelphia achieve its big goals.
You have understood it, the 2022-23 Sixers and their leaders do not really have the right to make mistakes this year. After half a season together to take the temperature, we must now win in the Eastern Conference. Joel Embiid must show that he can take Philly to the top, James Harden must prove that he is not yet on the decline, and Doc Rivers must erase the failings of recent years. So, do you believe it?