Cleaning Out Our Closet: Which Sixers Offseason Reset Has Required the Most Fan Memory Repression?
Sixers fans have an endlessly renewable ability to spend summers doing mental house cleaning in preparation for the following season.
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On the latest Ricky, Spike articulated something I've wanted to talk about for a while but didn't quite have the proper grasp on (or language for) yet: Sixers fans and our endlessly renewable ability to spend summers doing mental house cleaning in preparation for the following season.
"Every year, we sort of clean up the room in the room in the house that we need to clean up before visitors come over by taking all the junk that’s in the room and putting it in the closet and closing it, and going, ‘Yeah, all the junk’s gone!’" Spike expressed. "And we go in sort of emotionally ready to dive in again." He finished by concluding: "This year, I think — I feel like we’ve put the most in the closet.”
I definitely agree with the main part: A truly Boban-sized part of any Sixers fan's yearly offseason ritual involves burying the most traumatic parts of the previous season -- the stuff that not only caused us to lose that year, but which might suggest that we'll never really win again -- so deep in the recesses of their subconscious that you'd need an All-Star crew from Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Ocean's Eleven to properly excavate it. The last part though? I'm not sure: obviously there's a lot of stuff from this past season we need to shove into storage and blank on immediately to properly shift back to This Is Our Year Mode, but hasn't that been the case, like, forever? Is this really the most we've ever had to remember to forget?
Here are the five post-playoff summers of the post-Hinkie era, ranked from the least closet-stuffing we've had to do to the most.
5. Summer 2018
What we told ourselves: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were already way ahead of schedule in getting us 16 wins to end the season and a second-round playoff appearance, we had all the cap space in the world and plenty of assets left to achieve our "star-hunting" goals, everyone would be better with another year together, and a full offseason to clear his head and get his shot right would do wonders for Markelle Fultz in his second season.
What we had to ignore: Embiid wasn't totally ready to lead a playoff team, Simmons was a non-factor on offense against the Celtics, Fultz was an absolute disaster in his rookie season, our two best guys weren't totally compatible and we didn't have a real third option on the roster, and the Celtics looked to already be way ahead of us in every meaningful way.
There really was a lot more shit that offseason than we should've had to contend with for a team who'd been deep in the lottery for four straight seasons and all of a sudden found themselves vaulted into the East's three seed: Fultz in particular, and the way we contorted ourselves to deem him untradeable when less than a year later we'd jettison him for a conditional late first-rounder, made it an especially tough hang. (Yes I know that first turned into Tyrese Maxey; for the purposes of this exercise that's pretty besides the point.) Still, the team was so young and Embiid and Simmons were so damn good in their first year together that, Spike's infamous Celtics rant aside, it was hard to not feel pretty positive going into the next season -- even with Burnergate on the back burner.
4. Summer 2019
What we told ourselves: We were just one Embiid digestive cycle and/or a half-decent backup center and/or one Kawhi magnet miracle away from beating the eventual champs, we scored a major coup in yoinking Al Horford from the Celtics, we were heading into the 2019-20 season with a super-sized, super-tough roster that absolutely nobody would want to play in the playoffs.
What we had to ignore: We lost the only great perimeter player Embiid had ever played with and replaced him with Josh Richardson, we paid Horf $100 million when he played the same position as Joel an already looked kinda washed for the C's in the prior playoffs, we gave Tobias Harris all the money in the world when he was barely even a factor against the Raptors, we generally built a team that didn't really make sense.
This one looks much worse in retrospect than it felt at the time, when we were coming off what still stands as our most full-hearted postseason showing of the post-Hinkie era and very much seemed like a team on the precipice of greatness. The moves to let Butler walk and bring on Horf and J-Rich in his stead -- while maxing out Tobias -- have obviously aged very poorly, but at the time we were all a little gunshy about Butler's injury history, regular-season slowing and hardly ideal fit alongside Simmons, who still seemed very much like a major and unmoveable part of the team's longest-term future. We weren't just optimistic heading into the 2019-'20 season, we were cocky little shits about it. We look like idiots for it now, of course, but I don't think that was about us being in denial as much as it was about us (and Elton Brand/Brett Brown/Team Collaboration) just being straight-up wrong. Dunno if it's better, but it is different.
3. Summer 2022
What we're telling ourselves: Embiid has proven himself a perennial MVP candidate and a top playoff force when healthy, Tyrese Maxey has taken the premature leap to near-stardom in just his second year, our supporting cast is maybe stronger than it's ever been, and James Harden should be a better and more effective floor general with an extra season's familiarity and an extra off-season's hamstring rest.
What we have to ignore: Embiid has also proven himself never totally healthy -- at least not for a whole postseason -- while Maxey is still too young to be a real second option on a contender, our revamped supporting cast might not actually make all that much difference once we get to the playoffs, and Harden was hugely disappointing last season and will likely never be the guy we saw in Houston ever again.
Third feels about right for this. The Harden part of this is obviously the crux of it, and the way we're pretzeling currently to make it seem like Harden's much crappier than expected play yesteryear was a fluke, an optical illusion, or just plain never happened what are you even talking about def threatens to push this summer into the top two. But it has been a legitimately good free agency period for Philly, Embiid is impossibly awesome and seems to have the right priorities in mind for next season, and we still haven't even figured out how much Maxey hype is too much for him to actually hope to match. The Harden denial is real, and may prove catastrophic if he's just never better than the guy we saw last season again, but it's still a little too easy to be optimistic about the Sixers on the whole for this summer to rate much higher than this.
2. Summer 2021
What we told ourselves: We would trade Ben Simmons any day, and we had the exact right guy in the front office to get max value for him without capitulating to public pressure to make a subpar trade straight away. In the meantime, we had Embiid playing at an MVP level and still improving, we had an exciting young prospect in Maxey ready to step into a bigger role, and we had a roster that was just ready to be made over.
What we had to ignore: SImmons might not have had the trade value we believed or hoped, we had no real second option on offense behind Embiid and no way to protect him from having to play way too big a role on both sides of the ball all regular season -- and oh right, we'd just lost a can't-lose series at home against a not-that-great team in thoroughly humiliating fashion.
I can't even really talk about this summer all that knowledgeably, because I spent close to the whole thing blocking the Sixers -- bad and good -- out of my mind altogether. The Hawks series ruined my ability to be objective about the Sixers' long-term outlook, I was just too overwhelmed with short-term hurt. And as long as Simmons remained on the roster, there was no way to totally move on, either. There was still decent reason for big-picture optimism, but there was so much that needed to be blocked out for you to even get a glimpse of it that it barely even mattered. For all our current problems with James Harden, the fact that we got him for Ben Simmons remains a light that we would have gladly braved the rest of the tunnel to get to if we knew it was coming at the time.
1. Summer 2020
What we told ourselves: Our newly hired coach Doc Rivers and newlyer hired GM Daryl Morey would right the ship and save the day, Joel would rediscover his near-MVP form without such a lane-clogging and depressing roster around him, Seth Curry and Danny Green would provide more shooting than we'd ever had around Embiid, and maybe we could make a run at Chris Paul or Mike Conley on the trade market as a final piece if everything broke right for us.
What we had to ignore: It was already over.
OK, turns out it maybe wasn't really over -- Embiid's elevated play and the emergence of Maxey have ensured the team's ongoing relevance, even if they still haven't made it past the second round. But that 2019-'20 season did seem to be something close to the nail in the coffin at the time, after Simmons got hurt, the rest of the team got swept in the first round by friggin' Boston, and it seemed like we'd gotten answers about the true caliber and character of everyone on the roster and that none of it was good enough.
The 2021 postseason loss was more painful but really still not quite as discouraging; the fact that we were even in position to blow a second-round series in such spectacular fashion would've seemed well beyond what we were capable of at the end of the 2020 playoff run. Even when I don't like or agree with the discussions we're having about the Sixers and some of their particulars this offseason, I'm not tempted to go "lol wait why are we even bothering to talk about this in the first place." When that happens, that's when you know the closet is getting so full, you either have to do some legitimate cleaning or just stop caring about the house being visitable in the first place.