Almost immediately after the 2017-18 NBA schedule was released, optimism was reigning with the 76ers.
Hey, after four dreadful seasons – with 75 total wins – that’s completely understandable.
But to place the Sixers in the postseason before the season has even started is bizarre. And wrong.
The Eastern Conference isn’t as deep as the West, so taking the next step isn’t impossible. It’s actually quite possible if everything breaks correctly.
Last season, the Sixers won 28 games after compiling 47 victories in the three previous seasons.
There are simply too many questions with the current makeup of the roster to automatically assume they’ll win 43 or 44 games and finish sixth or seventh in the East.
Fan interest is higher than it has been in years. Season tickets are selling quickly. The young core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz have a chance to grow together and help to rebuild this once proud franchise.
Now, the questions:
— Embiid played a total of 31 games last season after missing the previous two with injuries. Can he stay healthy and play at least 55 to 60 games?
— Can Embiid be durable enough to perform in back-to-back situations?
— Can Simmons adjust his game to play in the backcourt as a point guard?
— Will Simmons be able to play at a consistently high level after a year off?
— After an ankle injury in the summer league, will Fultz come back to lead this team as a 19-year-old rookie?
— Can Saric continue to develop with this group?
— Will prized free agent J.J. Redick fit in?
— Is the bench strong enough and deep enough?
— Can this young group remain healthy enough collectively to learn while winning?
There are plenty more questions. This is just a sampling.
The Sixers open the season Oct. 18 against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena. It’s the first of 14 games on national television this season for the Sixers.
The schedule is challenging in every way, especially with two games against the defending champion Golden State Warriors in November. The Sixers won’t be home very much in the early part of the season.
For this team to jump into the playoffs, it will need to learn how to win. The Sixers have suffered through so many losses – a culture of losing – and it won’t be easy to turn things around and understand how to close games out.
Teams like the Warriors played together for years. When they finally got to the playoffs and continued into the Finals, it was years in the making.
The Sixers are just starting.
They could wind up in the playoffs. It’s certainly possible. But probable? No way. Let’s see how the season plays out. Let’s see if some of the above questions get answered. If they do, there could be playoff hoops.
It’s a very big if.