The Philadelphia 76ers’ Christmas Day blowout of the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks is looking more like an exception than the rule for a locker room still trying to find the right chemical balance.
Over the past week, multiple Sixers have taken both blatant and veiled shots at each other and their coach, Brett Brown, who has spent recent days attempting to quell concerns about a potential mutiny.
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That trend continued on Thursday with Joel Embiid taking what appears to be a pretty pointed dig at Ben Simmons.
“We just got to look at ourselves and see what we can do individually,” Embiid told reporters.
“We’ve got to help each other even if it means being outside of your comfort zone for the greater [good] to help the team win.
“Meaning that, if you’ve got to space and shoot it, you’ve got to do it. We need everybody to buy into that and we’ll be fine, we’re going to be fine.”
Lot of talk at the practice facility today about accountability and so forth. Mostly good stuff.— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) January 2, 2020
Here's Joel Embiid on the offensive struggles — doesn't seem that hard to read between the lines: pic.twitter.com/KXHRckuJFH
Simmons questions team’s effort
Following Saturday’s overtime loss to the Miami Heat, Simmons questioned the team’s effort in a game the Sixers let slip away in the final minutes.
“We were right there. It starts in the first quarter. We’ve got to carry the same energy all the way through. We can’t wait for the last minute to pick it up,”he said.
That seemed harmless, until Monday’s practice, when newly signed $109 million man Al Horford told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey that Brown was not maximising his skills on the offensive end:
“I’m out [there] for the team and doing what I can to help us. But offensively, I’m very limited with the things that I can do. So I can’t control that stuff,” Horford said.
“So all I have to do is make sure I’m there for the team, trying to do everything I can to help us win.
“Ultimately, we have to rely on [Brown] to make the decisions, to put us in position to go out there and play and keep competing.”
There have long been questions about the logistical fit for Simmons and Embiid, a point guard who refuses to shoot from distance and a centre who refuses not to, but the Sixers entered this season with championship aspirations after coming within a handful of bounces of the Eastern Conference finals.
Problem is, they lost JJ Redick, who provided much of the spacing the Sixers so desperately needed, and Butler, who served as their closer in the playoffs.
In their place are Horford and Josh Richardson, two high-level players who theoretically should play starring reserve roles on a title contender. Only, those roles are significantly diminished on a team that already feeds Simmons, Embiid and Tobias Harris.
Still, the Sixers own a 23-13 record and sit a game out of hosting a home playoff series. They are 5-2 against the four best teams in the East, and yet something does not feel quite right in Philadelphia.
This is an ominous line from Brown: “It happens sometimes when you lose, these kinds of cracks emerge, and sometimes they’re overblown and sometimes they’re accurate, a bit of pre-mortem stuff.”
We have yet to reach the midway point, and the Sixers coach is already coming to terms with his team’s mortality.
Barring a massive roster shakeup that sends out one of Philadelphia’s high-priced starters, a solution to this chemistry problem will have to come from within, and a failure to fulfill expectations could cost Brown his job. As he said in September, “There’s an expiration date on us all.”