Barring a trade for Kawhi Leonard or another veteran star, the Sixers' heavy lifting would appear to be done. That's an underwhelming realization, coming as it does on the heels of their using a salary cap exception to sign Serbian big man Nemanja Bjelica to a one-year deal worth $4.45 million. An offseason that began with them publicly declaring their goal of landing a superstar ended with the gang more or less back together. What you saw at the end of 2017-18 is largely what you will see at the start of 2018-19: J.J. Redick next to Ben Simmons in the backcourt, Amir Johnson backing up Joel Embiid, the only significant improvements likely to come the old-fashioned way, with Simmons and Markelle Fultz needing to take huge steps in their developments for the Sixers to close the gap on the Celtics.
In no way does that render the season dead on arrival. In fact, in Simmons and Fultz, we could easily look back and realize that the Sixers landed two of the NBA's most impactful offseason additions without actually adding anybody. You could include Embiid in this category as well, given the potential for his back-to-the-basket game and overall conditioning and body control to develop at an exponential rate. But Embiid does not have nearly the room to grow that his young castmates do, thanks to the supersized voids in their games that existed during their rookie seasons.
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If Simmons and Fultz both return from summer break with the ability to knock down shots from outside the paint, they have the potential to transform the Sixers in a way that only a handful of acquisitions could have. That might not be enough to challenge a healthy Celtics team, given the extent of their struggles against a rotation that did not even have Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving. But you also can't rule it out, particularly when you go back and watch the way Boston packed the paint and dared Simmons to do something other than drive to the hoop.
The thing we all need to keep in mind is that this is not a normal team. In winning 52 games with three of their top four scoring options in their first or second season in the league, the Sixers' success in 2017-18 was virtually unprecedented. They landed the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and won a first-round series while spending much of the season making it up as they went along. And they did it without an ounce of contribution from the player who they selected at No. 1 overall.
Granted, the challenges facing Simmons and Fultz are unique as well. No matter what kind of improvement they show across the other facets of the game, there will remain a hard cap on both of their potentials' if they do not add to their skill sets an ability to score from outside the foul line. Adding such a dimension is not the kind of thing that lies on the normal early career improvement curve. Both players' jump shots are in the midst of getting some significant remedial work, with Fultz most visibly working with independent shooting coach Drew Hanlen out in Los Angeles. While Fultz's biggest challenge is regaining the muscle memory and confidence that once existed in his shot, Simmons issues are mostly mechanical, from the narrow, offset setup of his lower half to the elbow that sticks out like a chicken wing and wreaks havoc on both the rotation of his ball and the repeatability of his stroke.
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The next three months constitute a pivotal moment in the trajectory of the Sixers' rise, one that will play out almost entirely behind closed doors. We can busy ourselves with our first extended looks at Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Jonah Bolden as they compete on the Sixers' summer league team. But when this roster reports to Camden for training camp in September, the question that will matter most is, "How do Simmons and Fultz look?"
After watching Paul George re-sign in Oklahoma City and failing to convince LeBron James to seriously consider bringing his talents to Philadelphia, the Sixers had little choice but to turn their focus to signing complementary pieces to short-term contracts. There's an argument to be made that they are marginally better now than they were at the end last year, particularly with the addition of Wilson Chandler, who is a better defender than Marco Belinelli and should give the second unit a scorer capable of creating his own shot. Bjelica shot 41 percent from three-point range last season, albeit without a lot of the subtleties that Ersan Ilyasova brought to the court.