Well, it’s early May and the Sixers have yet to lose a playoff game. If you are just waking up from a two-month nap, congratulations. Now, here’s a mask. You might want to take a seat . . .
Tuesday will mark 50 days since we’ve heard anything official from the Sixers as it pertains to happenings on the court. But with the sun finally out and the golf courses finally open and the state of Pennsylvania finally releasing a plan for restarting the economy, it might be time to start thinking about where things will stand whenever the NBA returns to the court. Whether that ends up being June or September or December, one thing we know is that our entire framework for evaluation will have changed.
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While the standings might look the same as they did back on March 11, the ongoing hiatus is likely to have had a dramatic impact on the two biggest questions that loomed over the Sixers organization before the NBA went dark. And whenever we get a chance to hear from Elton Brand, there are two big questions that will be worth plenty of consideration.
As always, the most important subject will involve the head coach. Specifically, how big of an impact will the disrupted season have on the Sixers’ decision-making process regarding Brett Brown’s future? It’s a fascinating question on a lot of levels, and the most fascinating level isn’t the most obvious one.
Yes, this year’s postseason was supposed to serve as a referendum on Brown’s future as head coach. And, yes, even if the NBA returns from its current hiatus, it seems unlikely to take a form conducive to such an evaluation. But the biggest reason to wonder whether ownership might punt on its biggest looming decision has more to do with logistics than anything else. Given the likelihood that the next NBA offseason takes place in an environment that is radically different from most years, will it really make sense for a team like the Sixers to introduce the added variable of a coaching change to the unprecedented upheaval that the players are already experiencing?
Even if such a move does make sense, it’s fair to wonder whether ownership can afford it. At the moment, NBA owners are facing a potentially crippling loss of ticket revenue, given the unlikelihood of playing out the rest of its regular season and playoffs in front of its usual crowds. Sixers managing partner Josh Harris made headlines when he became one of the first pro sports owners to announce pay cuts for his full-time employees after the leagues suspended their seasons. While he quickly backtracked on that decision in the face of withering criticism, there is going to be plenty of financial reckoning society-wide over the next few years. Attracting a top-flight coach is an expensive proposition. Plus, Brown’s contract runs through 2021-22, which would leave the Sixers facing the possibility of paying two head coaches for up to two years, depending on Brown’s next job and, presumably, the offset language in his deal.
Regardless of whether the Sixers have enough information to arrive at a verdict on Brown’s performance this season, there is plenty of reason to doubt whether a coaching change will even be possible. That might not sit well with those who saw the Sixers’ uneven performance during the first five months of the schedule as an indictment of the head coach. But the world today is a much different place than it was when we first formulated our assumptions about the 2019-20 season.
Another thing that has almost certainly changed over the last couple of months is the health of the two players to whom the fate of the foreseeable future is tied. First and foremost is Ben Simmons. The last we heard anything official about the Sixers’ star point guard, he was in the early stages of working his way to return from a back injury and due to be re-evaluated in three weeks. That was on March 11, when Simmons spoke to reporters roughly 5 hours before the NBA suspended its season. The end of that three-week period would have been more than a month ago.
Perhaps no news is good news. If surgery was a realistic option, it would have made sense for the Sixers and Simmons to take advantage of the looming layoff and seriously consider a more aggressive treatment schedule. At this point, though, conjecture is all that we have. Simmons gave little away in his only public comments since landing on the injury report with what the team described as a nerve impingement. While he did not sound like a player who anticipated missing the rest of the season, he also declined several opportunities to put that question to bed.
“I’m doing well; rehab’s been great," Simmons said. "I’m progressing, staying in there and doing what I can to come back 100 percent. I’m not here to sit out and wait. When I’m healthy, I’ll be playing.”
When you consider Simmons’ back injury and the fact that Joel Embiid was still recovering from hand surgery when the NBA shut down, there’s an argument to be made that no team in the NBA had as much to gain from the layoff as the Sixers. Of course, that won’t be much of a consolation if the season never resumes.