Philadelphia 76ers

Fact or Fiction: Pressing storylines facing the Philadelphia 76ers going into the 2021-22 season

The Philadelphia 76ers finished atop of the Eastern Conference last season, but another shortcoming in the playoffs leaves a number of lingering questions surrounding the franchise's future.

To digest these pressing topics, members of our NBA.com Staff played a game of Fact or Fiction to break down what is to come for the 76ers heading into the 2021-22 NBA season.

The 76ers are still in the top tier of the Eastern Conference

Kyle Irving ( @KyleIrv_ ): Fiction. I still believe the 76ers are among the top teams in the East, but in my opinion, they are no longer in that top tier group with the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. Although Philly is returning much of the same team that finished in first place a season ago, it's hard to ignore the turmoil surrounding the roster heading into the new season. That alone can be enough to derail the team's success, but I also felt like the 76ers overachieved a bit last season anyway, just because of the MVP-calibre season Joel Embiid had. The combination of Embiid's health and the lingering Ben Simmons situation has me eerie on Philadelphia's start to the season.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Fiction. Even with all of the unknowns surrounding Simmons, I seem to be more confident in the 76ers than most - Embiid is still one of the 10-best players in the league and they should be dynamite defensively again - but they're still a tier behind the Bucks and Nets in my mind. Milwaukee and Brooklyn are that good, and the 76ers have more to prove after the way the last few seasons ended.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Fiction. After an unceremonious end to the 2020-21 campaign, it's hard to view the 76ers in a similar light as the Bucks and Nets. I'm not even sure how much more confident I am in Philadelphia over the Miami Heat. I realize that Philly is coming off of a year in which it was first in the East, but I can't put the Sixers in the conference's top tier because I don't see a timeline in which they can eliminate a title contender in a best-of-seven.

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Fiction. Got to agree with Kyle, Scott and Gil here. Just like them, I still believe the 76ers are one of the top teams in the league but they are certainly a tier behind the top, which only includes the Bucks and Nets. Even if we were to omit Simmons from the team's outlook for this season, they still have an all-around, talented and deep roster around their MVP candidate in Joel Embiid. Additionally, Daryl Morey is an executive that can be relied on to keep tinkering with the squad to make it a legitimate title contender.

Joel Embiid will be a finalist for MVP again this season

Irving: Fact. Of course, this is pending his health after playing in the playoffs on a partially torn meniscus, but if the 76ers are going to remain a threat in the East, it's going to be because Embiid maintains an MVP level of play. Last season, Embiid was a monster, averaging a career-high of 28.5 points to go with 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. He was getting it done on both sides of the ball for the 76ers, anchoring one of the league's best defences. Even though he only appeared in 51 of 72 available games, he was so dominant when he was on the floor that he still finished second in MVP voting. I don't see why this season wouldn't be the same.

Rafferty: Fiction. Again, Embiid is a top 10 player who impacts the game at an incredibly high level on both ends of the court, but I think it's going to be difficult for him to be a finalist for MVP again if we're expecting some regression from the 76ers. Right now, I'm more confident in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry being finalists over Embiid. As Kyle said, health is also always a concern with Embiid.

McGregor: Fact. With everyone, health is a big part, but this holds especially true for Embiid, who will enter the season on a repaired meniscus. That being said, Embiid is 27, meaning these are his prime years, and he'll need to perform similarly to how he did last year to keep Philadelphia among the top four teams in the East. If there's anything I've learned from watching - and following - Embiid over the years, it's that he likes to prove the masses wrong. Another MVP-level season would help him and his team do just that.

Matange: Fiction. I'm with Scott on this one. Despite Embiid's dominance while on the floor, can he maintain that elite level of play over the course of an 82-game season? This could be one of the reasons why he lost the 2020-21 MVP race since Nikola Jokic played every one of the 72 games. There's no debating his talent or dominance but given how injury-prone he has been over the years, I doubt he will be able to maintain an MVP level all through the season.

Ben Simmons will still be on the 76ers following the trade deadline

Irving: Fact. This one comes with a disclaimer: I believe if the 76ers start the season with Simmons on the roster, it is likely that they finish the season with him on the roster. I still think they should try and trade him before the season starts to enter the new year with a clean slate, but it doesn't appear as though the market is booming for the three-time All-Star. Maybe there will be a contender or fringe contender that raises their offer during the season, but it's always tougher to move max contract players during the year than it is in the offseason. How Simmons plays to start the year will also be a major factor in how this plays out as well.

Rafferty: Fiction. This is a toss-up for me, but I feel like there will be more teams interested in Simmons as the season gets underway. One, he'll remind everyone what he's capable of following a rough end to Philadelphia's second-round loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Two, there could be a team or two that gets off to a slower start than expected and thinks Simmons could be the key to turning them around. There's also the Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal factor. I'm not convinced either of them will request a trade anytime soon, but it's a possibility, I suppose. In which case, the 76ers would likely go all-in to try and get whichever one is available.

McGregor: Fact. With Daryl Morey and the Sixers having lofty demands for Simmons - and rightly so - I don't think there's a team out there that will meet them this year. It'll take some time for the bitterness of the offseason turmoil to wear off, but I can see Simmons playing well enough this season to push memories of 2021 further away, making a deal a little more justifiable next offseason.

Matange: Fact. Morey, going by his history, is not an executive to worry or care about locker room dynamics and builds his team purely on talent. So, if the 76ers - as reports suggest - force Ben Simmons to show up and play or else face fines, and the team is doing well, I doubt Morey will make a change. On the flip side, if Simmons' presence is not helping the team, then Morey is not one to hesitate on making a move.

The 76ers supporting cast improved from last season

Irving: Fact. This has more to do with the improvement of the players that were already on their roster than the players they brought in. Matisse Thybulle earned a Second Team All-Defensive Team nod last season and he's only going to get better from year to year. Tyrese Maxey showed promising flashes throughout his rookie campaign but playing time wasn't always there for him, and I believe he'll take a leap forward this year with more consistent playing time. I'm not sure their offseason signings of Andre Drummond and Georges Niang move the needle that much, but they're both definitely positive additions to the team's depth.

Rafferty: Fact, although I'm a little higher on the addition of Drummond than Kyle is. He's far from a perfect player, but having Drummond come off the bench behind Embiid is quite a luxury for this team. He should be much more effective against second units and he'll have opportunities to prove himself on nights where Embiid is sitting out.

McGregor: Fact. I align more with Kyle in that the Drummond and Niang signings don't necessarily have me over the moon, but they are upgrades. Just as much as I think the Sixers' existing young talent will improve, I also like the addition of No. 28 overall pick Jaden Springer, another strong perimeter defender. As we learned last year with Maxey, Doc Rivers isn't afraid to use rookies in important moments. Springer's a good one.

Matange: Fact. Hard to argue with the statements made here. Philadelphia's moves in the 2021 offseason don't help jump tiers to the top-most in the league but the players acquired can certainly be upgrades from last year.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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