A fourth second-round playoff exit in five seasons brings another offseason of uncertainty for the Philadelphia 76ers.
They were dispatched by the Miami Heat in six games, seemingly rolling over in the final two contests.
After winning Games 3 and 4 at home to even the series 2-2, the 76ers got crushed by 35 in Game 5.
With their backs against the wall, Philadelphia was lifeless at home in Game 6.
They lost by 9 in a game that was not as close as the final score portrays.
Perhaps the 76ers are not as far off from title contention as it seemed in those final two games.
Superstar Joel Embiid suffered a fractured orbital bone and mild concussion in the last game of the first round against the Toronto Raptors which kept him out for the first two contests against Miami.
Breaking: Joel Embiid suffered a right orbital fracture and mild concussion in Game 6 vs. Toronto, the 76ers announced.
He is out indefinitely. pic.twitter.com/ekwsJKdRlx
— ESPN (@espn) April 30, 2022
And when he did return, he was clearly nowhere near 100% when paired with the torn ligament in his shooting hand he was already dealing with.
James Harden also appeared to still be dealing with the lingering effects of his nagging hamstring injury.
The star shooting guard did not have the burst that made him an all-time great scorer back in Houston.
But there is a better chance the Sixers are still a few moves away from being true contenders.
Most of their bench players were unplayable and the entire team lacked playoff intensity and fire.
Daryl Morey has his work cut out for him this offseason.
3. Use Their 2022 or 2023 First-Round Pick for Immediate Help
The “or” is included in there because the Brooklyn Nets own the right to defer the pick until next season.
This pick was included in the midseason Harden blockbuster.
Brooklyn will need to decide by June 1st on whether they want to keep the pick in 2022 or defer it to 2023.
All signs point to Brooklyn deferring the pick to next year as it is more valuable to them as a trade chip.
Keeping the pick this year could limit the potential trades they could execute with the draft pick as it would need to take place before the June 23rd Draft.
— David Malandra Jr (@DaveMReports) May 18, 2022
If the pick is deferred to next year, the 76ers will have the 23rd overall pick in the draft.
As of right now, the Sixers do not have any picks in the upcoming draft.
The 23rd overall pick would be their only opportunity to add some young talent.
Philadelphia could trade the selection, but it would need to happen after the draft has concluded so as not to violate the Stepien Rule (tl;dr – teams cannot execute trades that leave them without a first-round selection in consecutive future drafts).
Since the 76ers have already traded their 2025 and 2027 firsts away, Brooklyn deferring to 2023 would mean Philly cannot trade their 2024, 2026, or 2028 first-round picks.
Depth, at the wings specifically, was a glaring issue for Philly in the postseason.
The wings currently on the roster were either one-dimensional, not athletic enough, or a combination of the two.
Morey and the Sixers need better two-way, athletic wings to compete come playoff time.
Drafting one if Brooklyn defers or trading their 2023 pick for one if Brooklyn keeps the 2022 pick will be paramount moving forward.
2. 76ers Need to Add Toughness
One word used by almost all Sixers personnel at the end of the season was “toughness”.
The Sixers did not have enough of it.
Whether that be mental or physical, Philadelphia simply could not match Miami’s level of physicality.
A candid Tobias Harris on what the Sixers still need to be a contender: “Mental toughness.”
“That part of it I don’t think we have that … at times, for our group, too many things just affected us as a whole. We drop our heeds too much. Our body language at times is crappy.”
— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) May 13, 2022
They got pushed around and out hustled nearly every game.
It is imperative that this is not the case next year.
True contenders need those tough, gritty players who are willing to fight for 48 minutes.
Guys like that may not always fill up the stat sheet but make winning plays when it matters.
If any of them decline their player option and hit the open market, Morey should get on the line with their agent.
Those players provide valuable two-way impact and will bring heart and hustle night in and night out.
1. Trade Tobias Harris for Depth
This one may not be easy, but nothing will truly be easy this offseason for the 76ers given their lack of cap space and lack of draft capital.
Assuming James Harden is brought back in some capacity and Tyrese Maxey continues his ascension, Tobias Harris will be playing a role that does not fit his skill set.
To his credit, Harris played his role quite well in the playoffs.
He drilled 38.6% of his triples while playing some of the best defense of his career.
But with two years and $77 million left on his deal, Harris is tying up valuable cap space.
And his trade value should not be as low as it was this time last year.
In a barren free-agent market, Harris may hold more value than he otherwise would.
Without attaching some sweetener, he will not be the centerpiece of a star trade.
— NBA Trade Report (@NBATradeReport) May 24, 2022
Instead, Morey should look to turn Harris into two or even three role pieces on smaller contracts.
This could bolster the Sixers bench or provide them with more manageable contracts to trade.
Teams like the Atlanta Hawks or Dallas Mavericks may be interested in a player like Harris.
As long as Embiid is around, the 76ers will be a playoff team.
Morey will need to focus on bettering the depth at the wings and adding toughness to the roster around their MVP-caliber big man.