By sinking that dreaded bucket in Game 6 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Kawhi Leonard change the Philadelphia 76ers franchise forever.
Now granted, one can argue ad nauseam which recent move had the biggest impact of the Sixers’ franchise moving forward, as the decision to fire Sam Hinkie, trade for Jimmy Butler, or even trade away Markelle Fultz could all be in consideration for the moment Philly’s, well, process of building a long-term title contender from the ground up officially shifted to a win-now philosophy. Still, had that stupid ball not gone through the hoop and the 76ers have had five minutes of overtime to duke it out with the Toronto Raptors for their very lives, we could be looking at a very, very different team when basketball inevitably resumes later this year.
Barring a surprise decision to join the Sixers at some point in the future, it’s safe to say Kawhi Leonard will be public enemy numero uno in the City of Brotherly Love for the foreseeable future.
More from Philadelphia 76ers
- Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons and Shake Milton can save the season
- Philadelphia 76ers: Zhaire Smith’s absence helps Ryan Broekhoff’s future
- Philadelphia 76ers: Why does the NBA hate Tony Wroten?
- Philadelphia 76ers: Ryan Broekhoff could do wonders for Ben Simmons
- Philadelphia 76ers: Signing Al Horford over Malcolm Brogdon was a generational miscalculation
I mean think about it, had the 76ers advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, even if they lost, the entire state of the franchise would have been looked at through a more favorable lense headed into the offseason.
Jimmy Butler probably wouldn’t have stuck around, a cat he pretty much let out of the bag on his ‘cherry bombshell’ interview on the J.J. Redick Podcast, but that’s sort of irrelevant. Butler was always an awkward fit with the brand of basketball the 76ers wanted to play in 2017-18, 2018-19, or the bizarro ball Brett Brown settled on in 2019-20 and would have probably still opted for a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat for some sort of players/picks package when the offseason hit.
What the Sixers would have gained from their up to seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks was a chance to measure their team against arguably the best barometer the East had to offer last season. With multiple opportunities to test the team’s mettle against Giannis Antetokounmpo and company, Elton Brand would have known exactly where his team was deficient and where it was strong going into the offseason and would have potentially been able to put together a more sound strategy to attack the East later that fall.
Oh gosh, did Leonard’s shot inadvertently cause Brand to sign Al Horford? Could the 76ers have instead targeted additional ball handlers and/or shooters to help space out their offense with a doubled sample size against Mike Budenholzer‘s squad?
Kawhi is a gosh darn nightmare.
Factor in the fact that the Sixers very well could have actually beaten the Bucks in a seven games series, advanced to the NBA Finals, and then won a title over a stacked Golden State Warriors team they actually matched up fairly well with, and it’s hard not to look at that shot as a franchise-altering two-pointer.
For better or worse, the team that takes the court later this year will be the Philadelphia 76ers for the foreseeable future. Sure, the team can try to pull off another blockbuster trade and exchange, say, Al Horford and the few remaining assets in their war chest for a better fitting backcourt player, the chances of such a move changing the franchise’s future in a substantive way feels like a longshot. Barring a player like Shake Milton developing into a star – or a coaching change – the Sixers are going to be a 50-52 win team for the foreseeable future in an Eastern Conference that just keeps getting better. Thanks Kahwi, you Terminator-laughing son of a gun.