MILWAUKEE — The 76ers are in win-now mode.
Never mind that they will only have 24 games to grow the Joel Embiid and James Harden pairing. Disregard that the Sixers no longer have a dependable backup center or consistent catch-and-shoot shooter.
But don’t get it twisted.
The blockbuster move right before the Feb. 10 trade deadline was made to win an NBA title this season. Not next season when Harden and Embiid would have had more time to bond as a dominant duo and the Sixers could add more complementary pieces.
“I always think right now,” Rivers said during Thursday’s shootaround. “I’ve been in this league too long. And I always go back to [the Celtics’ 2008 NBA championship team.] Kevin [Garnett] and I talk about it all the time. I remember the first year [2007-08] during training camp [with the Celtics] we had a meeting and they were saying, ‘Man, we have to get it together. This might not be the year. But by next year, we might…’ I said, ‘Next year? Are you guys kidding me? Next year one of you can get hurt.’
“I know it’s short. I know it’s going to be hard to get it together. But having said that, the time is always now.”
Rivers coached the Celtics from 2004 to 2013. On June 28, 2007, Boston acquired Ray Allen in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. Then a month later, the Celtics acquired Garnett in a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Allen, Garnett, and Paul Pierce combined to form a Big Three that led the Celtics to the 2008 championship.
To be in position to win a title this season is the reason why the Sixers took their time to trade Ben Simmons. They were adamant about waiting to acquire the right A-list player that would propel them into a contender in exchange for the three-time All-Star. So they made their move right before the deadline after Harden wanted out of Brooklyn.
The Sixers received the future Hall of Famer along with Paul Millsap in exchange for their best shooter (Curry), backup center (Drummond), and disgruntled All-Star point guard (Simmons).
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They defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, 123-120, Thursday night at Fiserv Forum in their last game before the NBA All-Star break. Harden, who is rehabilitating left hamstring strain, will make his debut after the break.
The Sixers are 35-23 and in third place in the Eastern Conference standings, 2 ½ games behind the first-place Miami Heat. The Sixers are 8-4 against the conference’s other top six teams - Heat (1-1), Chicago Bulls (3-0), Cleveland Cavaliers (1-0), Bucks, (1-1), and Boston Celtics (2-2). Yet, they have the league’s 12th toughest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.
Rivers will tell you the time is now.
“Because you can’t predict [the future],” he said. “I always talk to Kevin. Think about it the following year: he got hurt. He was never the same. So what if we would have thought one year? We would have never won it.”