Four bounces could define Philadelphia 76ers moving forward

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers 2018-19 season came to an end Sunday night and many questions now linger on where the franchise will go moving forward.

Four bounces. Four bounces are what is going define the 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers season.

It won’t be the late-game shot clock violations, or the lack of rebounds, but a shot from Kawhi Leonard that seemingly took an eternity to fall in the basket.

The entire city of Philadelphia and Toronto held its collective breaths as Leonard released as the buzzer sounded with the game knotted up 90-90.

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One bounce, overtime. A second bounce, oh no. Then a third and fourth bounce, Sixers fans could not believe their eyes.

All series long, Leonard had torched the Sixers. Every time it seemed the Sixers had Toronto on the ropes, Leonard would remind everyone why he is a top-five player in the league and put the Raptors on his back, something he did all series long.

Leonard even offered a glimpse of him being human and gave Sixers fans a glimpse of hope. A missed free throw towards the end of Game 7 led to a Jimmy Butler layup and it appeared overtime was on the horizon, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

As Joe Carter did 26 years ago in that very same city, Leonard had his walk-off, one that broke the hearts of Philadelphia fans again. The Sixers clawed their way back in, but at the end of the day, it was just not meant to be.

The big question is where do the Sixers go from here and how will that shot define the team moving forward? Elton Brand went all-in this season, acquiring both Butler and Tobias Harris. That gave the Sixers championship aspirations. Aspirations they came much short of.

With that in mind, is it fair to chalk up this season as a failure? Was anything short of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy a failure? It remains hard to envision any team besides the Golden State Warriors winning the championship, but was it still fair to look at this Sixers team as NBA Finals or bust?

Considering the Sixers went all-in on this season, that is a fair question to ask.

Did they underperform considering the talent? Should they have waited a year when taking into account that Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson might leave the Warriors, as well as the likelihood of Kyrie Irving and Leonard heading out west this offseason?

Philadelphia quite possibly could have waited a year, but the organization saw a window opening up and wanted to take advantage this year. Trading for two stars on expiring contracts is always risky, and when the team falls short of its aspirations, it’s fair to wonder if they made the right decision in hindsight.

If the Sixers hit a few shots late, grabbed a few more defensive rebounds, or if Leonard’s shot doesn’t defy physics and bounces out, then quite possibly the Sixers are one step closer to the NBA Finals.

The question now is how can the Sixers continue to go forward and not move backward. Most of the players not named Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons will be unrestricted free agents this summer, meaning the organization will have a lot of difficult decisions to make.

After trading so much for Butler and Harris, the last thing the Sixers want is to lose those guys for nothing. With the all-in season falling short, the Sixers must hope that those two saw enough in this team to stick around and make another run next season.

A core of Embiid, Simmons, Butler, and Harris along with a whole season of experience together, could turn out to be lethal in the Eastern Conference. That group only played 10 games together prior to the postseason, and the inexperience showed when it mattered the most.

It is fair to wonder if a whole season together could propel the Sixers into greater heights. No one will truly know unless Butler and Harris decide to stay in Philadelphia moving forward. Sixers fans can only hope as the questions linger until free agency begins on July 1.

That’s the impact the Leonard shot will have. Those four bounces could seriously define the Sixers franchise moving forward. If the shot does not go in and the Sixers advance, then their free agency decision could have been easier, but now players like Butler will wonder if they truly want to stay in Philly.

Those four staying together, the hopeful emergence of Zhaire Smith, and the addition of some better bench pieces (hopefully a legit backup center and backup point guard) could really set the Sixers up for Eastern Conference dominance for years to come.

Or it could all backfire and Butler and Harris could walk and the Sixers will be forced to scrap what they can of a supporting cast together to surround Embiid and Simmons. Those two are really good, but it is hard to believe they can do it all by themselves.

Sixers fans sat through years of losing and finally got to taste success the past two years with back-to-back 50+ win seasons. Now, it’s time for the Sixers to take the next step towards contention, or risk going backward, which no one wants to see happen.

That is why this offseason will be the most important one in recent memory for the Sixers. They finally have a chance at some stability with a general manager in place. No burner accounts, no questioning of motives, so the time is now to take that next step.

There will be no bigger part of the “process” then the next few months. A good draft and strong free agency could make the Sixers title contenders. Or it could all be for naught and the Sixers will be in a similar position in a year from now.

When May of 2020 rolls around, will the Sixers be in the midst of another deep playoff run or stuck running in mud asking the same questions as today? Next postseason’s success will be determined starting today, and for the Sixers, there is no excuse for failure anymore.

The Sixers can go in two directions moving forward, and the direction the franchise eventually goes in will all be traced back to four bounces on a shot that probably shouldn’t have gone in, but did anyway.

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Philadelphia’s offseason has plenty of questions in need of answering, but at least when compared to this time last year, at least the team seems to be in better position, right?