Ben Simmons’ injury puts Sixers at a crossroads

Global pandemic aside, this was not the season the Philadelphia 76ers expected in 2019-20. On Monday, Ben Simmons reportedly underwent surgery in Philadelphia to remove a loose body from his left knee, all but ending his season. The Sixers are locked into the No. 6 seed in the East with Joel Embiid already dealing with a sore left ankle. Before this season, ESPN pegged the new-look Sixers as more likely to win the 2020 NBA Finals than the Los Angeles Lakers. In early October, Vegas placed their over/under at 54.5 wins, the Sixers’ most bullish rating in decades. Instead, they have the win percentage of a 48-win team and no Simmons to rescue their playoff hopes.Now, the 76ers have some decisions to make. With the title out of reach, should they play Embiid the rest of the way or shut him down? If Embiid plays, should Al Horford replace Simmons’ spot in the lineup or will that push Embiid out of his comfort zone? But the bigger question looming beyond this season is: Why is the Simmons-Embiid era trending in the wrong direction?With the playoffs around the corner, let’s dive into one of the great mysteries in the NBA.Embiid’s dilemma: to play or not to play?This was supposed to be Embiid’s postseason of redemption. After several bounces on the rim at the end of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Embiid and the Sixers’ 2018-19 season ended at the hands of the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors. The Sixers were right there.And Embiid wasn’t even himself. Laboring through a bothersome left knee injury that limited him throughout the season, Embiid shot just 42.8 percent from the floor last postseason and missed a game in the Brooklyn series dealing with the leg issue. A healthy Embiid in the postseason meant the sky was the limit for the Sixers. It didn’t come to fruition in 2019.As a result, last offseason the Sixers front office shook things up and decided to bolster the backcourt to help keep Embiid fresh and healthy. They signed former Celtics big man Al Horford to a four-year, $109- million contract and traded Butler for Josh Richardson. But after last year’s heartbreaking loss to the Raptors, Embiid’s redemption tour hasn’t gone smoothly. On The Old Man & The Three podcast with his former teammate JJ Redick, which was recorded before Simmons’ injury, Embiid expressed that he hadn’t been in the groove this season.”I won’t lie, during this season, I was not myself,” Embiid said. “I was not there. Like, I just wasn’t comfortable. The offense wasn’t the same. The basketball wasn’t the same to me. The way things happened last summer, it was just so frustrating. I was just mad at the whole world and I was just like, eh, whatever.”Despite that discomfort, Embiid still thought the Sixers could take home the Larry O’Brien trophy
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