Philadelphia 76ers: Do it for The Homie, Phoenix Suns

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Ah Thursday, July 8th, 2021, a totally normal day in the City of Brotherly Love where there is no real news of note involving the Philadelphia 76ers or any of their current/former players… right?

So, on such a day where no one opted to go full-on CM Punk on the John Clark podcast and send a sizeable segment of the fanbase into an outrage that ironically proves said hypothetical player’s point, is there anything in the Sixers’ oeuvre that could help to ease the burden of a summer without basketball?

Well, just because the Sixers have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there aren’t still former players whose championship dreams are still alive and kicking, even if they technically aren’t able to take the court any longer due to a Game 1 ACL injury.

That’s right, while a former Sixer will earn a ring later this month no matter what, as Jrue Holiday is the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Phoenix Suns really need to pull this one out and get “The Homie” Dario Saric a ring.

Ex-Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric can complete his own process.

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Dario Saric’s path to the NBA has been anything but traditional.

The 12th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Saric was initially selected by the Orlando Magic but in name only. All along, Orlando targeted Elfrid Payton, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound floor general out of Louisiana at Lafayette, as their point guard of the future, and when Sam Hinkie masterfully capitalized on that interest and selected Payton 10th overall, then-Magic GM Rob Hennigan paid up handsomely to get his guy; exchanging the rights to Saric, a 2015 second-round pick (Willy Hernangomez) and a 2018 first-round pick (Landry Shamet) for a guard who averaged 11.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 281 games over his tenure in the Magic Kingdom.

Despite a solid showing in Europe, Saric didn’t make it stateside until 2016, after serving out the final two years of his contract with the Anadolu Efes in the Turkish Super League/EuroLeague. Though questions about his eventual arrival did grow tiring for the duration of his Efes run – remember, this was the tenure that spurned on the name “The Rights to Ricky Sanchez” – Saric quickly proved Hinkie’s evaluation right as a rookie, averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds as the Sixers’ fifth starter/sixth man. Though his efficiency numbers weren’t spectacular and the Sixers were never quite able to unlock the point forward potential he showcased in Europe, Saric still looked like one of the most promising players on that particular squad and actually finished out the season Top-3 in Rookie of the Year voting behind Malcolm Brogdon and his teammate Joel Embiid.

From there, Saric took a step forward in 2017-18 as a near-every game starter, averaging a career-high 14.6 points while draining a career-high 39.3 percent of his 5.1 3 point shots per game, and even became the team’s third-leading scorer on their Cinderella playoff run, but that wasn’t enough to guarantee Ši Ši a spot in Philly’s future long-term. After only 13 appearances in 2018-19, Saric was shipped out to Minnesota alongside his forward partner Robert Covington (plus Jerryd Bayless) for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Saric played out the season in Minnesota, was traded to the Phoenix Suns alongside the pick used to select Cameron Johnson for Jarrett Culver – a wonderful trade by any metric – and has since signed a lucrative contract extension worth $27 million over the next three years.

If that was the end of the story, then it wouldn’t really be much of a story. Pre-Process fans could root for Jrue Holiday while those of us who mucked it out through 10 win seasons could root for Saric and no one would be the wiser but in Game 1 of the Finals, that dynamic changed. Saric left the game with a leg injury and it was later reported that he’d suffered a torn ACL injury that will not only keep him out of the rest of the series but also puts his 2021-22 season very much in jeopardy.

If you were looking for a compelling story to fully check into the Finals, you now have one.

Now to be fair, it’s not like Saric was a particularly crucial part of the Suns’ playoff rotation. He averaged the fewest points of his NBA career during the 2020-21 regular season and never recorded more than 16:15 in any of the Suns’ first 17 playoff games. Still, as Sixers fans saw when Danny Green went down in Game 3 versus Atlanta, losing a valuable roleplayer can either galvanize the troops or present an insurmountable challenge that can’t be overcome.

If the Suns can continue to perform like they did in the post-Saric segment of their Game 1 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, it shouldn’t be too hard to fall into the former category.

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Would it be surreal to see Dario Saric win a ring before Joel Embiid? Most definitely, the whole reason the Philadelphia 76ers traded away “The Homie” in the first place was to go all-in on winning a championship, but as things presently stand, that’s an impossibility. If Philly’s current corps can’t pull out the W, why not root for one of our own, a Process player who took the hard way to the NBA and may not see the court again for a very, very long time.