This has been a big week for the 76ers.
In fact it has been the most significant in years, in terms of the Sixers’ becoming recognized as a franchise that other teams must pay attention to.
There is a big difference between a terrible team that has some good young players and a team on the rise whose players are putting the league on notice.
The NBA can’t ignore the Sixers anymore, and the league proved it with the following accolades:
- Joel Embiid was named a starter for the All-Star Game — the Sixers’ first all-star starter since Allen Iverson in 2011.
- Embiid was named Eastern Conference player of the week for games played between Jan. 15 and 21.
- The Sixers hold three of the 10 roster spots for the World Team in the NBA’s Rising Stars game, with Embiid joined by Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.
The Sixers have had players on the Rising Stars teams before, including Saric, Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Michael Carter-Williams, Robert Covington (injury replacement for Carter-Williams), and Nerlens Noel over the last four years. But, those selections came when nothing was expected from the Sixers.
“I think it’s just a very sort of non-negotiable example for our city that we have players that people recognize,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said Wednesday night after the NBA’s announcement of the Rising Stars team. “The pain that we’ve endured is actually producing some fruits.”
Brown is right. The Sixers’ players, coaches, owners, and fans have trudged through the last few years with only hope to live off, but now the fortunes are turning.
The Rising Stars rosters were voted on by the NBA’s assistant coaches, and Simmons said that the recognition the Sixers received shows that they are a team that is continuing to grow.
“We have good young players and a great team that are growing together and getting better together,” Simmons said. “It’s really exciting.”
After the release of the Rising Stars selections, the Sixers took another step in the right direction with a statement game. It wasn’t a win over one of the East’s top contenders, it was a 115-101 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
The statement wasn’t that the Sixers are the team to beat, it was that they are the team to watch.
The Sixers rebounded from a disastrous collapse in Memphis on Monday and proved that they can learn from their mistakes. And while they still have plenty of room to grow, it’s clear that they are willing to put in the necessary work. So climbing the ladder in the East isn’t impossible, but it’s a goal that can be reached in the not-too-distant future.
“We know who we are, we like the foundation, and we intend on building it through development and acquiring more down the road,” Brown said. “But initially [the accolades are] a good statement for our program.”
Embiid and Saric said that they were upset that Simmons was not named as a reserve for the main All-Star Game, but Simmons’ reaction was more telling and fit perfectly with where the Sixers are. Instead of showing frustration, the leading rookie-of-the-year candidate focused on the future.
“Things happen and they happen for a reason,” Simmons said. “I wish I did make it [on the all-star team], but there’s going to be, hopefully, plenty of more years.”