Even before star point guard Ben Simmons went down with a back injury during the Philadelphia 76ers’ blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night, the team was in shambles.
Philly entered that game with a horrendous 9-19 road record, proving that it can not rely on what has been an increasingly frustrated fan base to pull out of the rut that has been the 2019-20 season.
News on Tuesday that Simmons suffered nerve impingement to his lower back would normally seem like good news. That’s until ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported a bit later that “there’s little expectation he’ll be ready to return to the lineup soon.”
What we’re seeing: Some might think this should give embattled Sixers head coach Brett Brown a pass for the remainder of the season. No matter how the next couple weeks play out, he should remain on the bench for the remainder of the season. No so fast.
- Sixers general manager Elton Brand has already gone on record refusing to commit to Brown for the rest of the season. While it would be rare for a team in playoff positioning to fire its head coach, there’s a lot more to this.
- Simmons’ injury coupled with the drama surrounding fellow All-Star Joel Embiid has Philadelphia on the brink. For his part, Brown has not necessarily been able to hold this thing together.
- As I noted previously, the Sixers do have an experienced assistant in Jim O’Brien who actually coached the team to the playoffs during a short stint back in 2004-05.
The writing is on the wall: By virtue of Brand’s comments from earlier in February, it’s clear that the Sixers are not committed to Brown long term. For good reason.
- In addition to their 9-20 road record, these Sixers have struggled against some mediocre competition this season. It’s really alarming to look at.
- The Sixers have lost games to the Wizards, Suns, Magic (twice), Nets and Hawks.
- Showing themselves to be inconsistent, Philadelphia is also 8-6 against the top-three seeds in each conference. That’s problematic in that it shows these Sixers find a way to lay duds on a consistent basis against lesser competition.
Brown is not the long-term answer: By not even committing to Brown for the remainder of the season, the Sixers have shown their hand.
- There’s a good chance Philadelphia will ride out the remainder of the season with Brown manning the bench. A change this late in the campaign doesn’t make a lot of sense.
- But why prolong the inevitable? Let’s say Simmons’ injury costs him a vast majority of the final two months, these Sixers are going to go nowhere fast.
- With only seven games remaining against current playoff teams, further struggles over the next couple weeks could doom Brown.
It’s not about Simmons’ injury: Issues in Philadelphia extend far beyond Simmons’ latest injury. To think otherwise is ignorant.
- A 9-20 road record. The 22nd-ranked scoring offense. An inability to hit from the outside. These are all issues that have plagued Philly this season. Simmons was not helping in that regard.
- A lot of this is on how Brand built the roster. Free-agent signing Al Horford has proven to be a bust. An unwillingness to use draft picks to acquire proven players. These are two big issues.
- However, it’s readily apparent that Brand is not going to be his own fall guy. If that’s the case, Brown’s tenure in the City of Brotherly Love will not end in brotherly fashion.
The Bottom line
Despite Simmons’ injury, Philadelphia is in a decent spot. It has a weak remaining schedule and an opportunity to earn home-court advantage in the first round.
But with every opportunity comes a risk. These Sixers have not proven themselves capable of living up to lofty expectations. Brown is among those to blame the most.
Should this team struggle in Simmons’ absence over the short term, it would not be a shock of Brown is shown the door.
In short, Simmons’ injury does not give the head coach a hall pass here.