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2022 Orlando Magic Playoff Lessons: Philadelphia 76ers think big

The macroscopic, outside view of the Philadelphia 76ers right now is one of extreme promise.

The team has an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid coming off his best individual season. Their window is open.

And so the Sixers spent their season understanding Embiid could carry the team only so far and doing what Daryl Morey does — hunting for a big fish to pair with him and elevate the team.

No one could fault Morey for lacking imagination. No one could fault him for not going for it.

The Sixers’ window is wide open thanks to Embiid’s talent and MVP level of play. The only thing that may have kept them from giving the Miami Heat a bigger challenge in the second round was his hand injury suffered in the first round of the playoffs. He is a player who swings games and even series by his presence.

He has opened the Sixers to a championship window. And now it’s the Sixers’ job to keep it open.

The Philadelphia 76ers have a true superstar. Their championship window is open. And the lesson they can impart to the Orlando Magic is to go for it without apology when that window is open.

There is no being skittish when you are that close to a championship. It requires a team to go for it.

The Sixers spent this season doing that. Their window was open and they thought big, a necessary lesson for every team in their situation even if it ultimately ends up short.

The Philadelphia 76ers found that in trading disaffected star Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets for disaffected star James Harden. The Sixers know their window is open and they must do everything they can to keep it open and surround Embiid with the help he needs.

It is always the most important and dangerous part of a franchise. Once a team has its star and that star elevates to an MVP level, then life becomes only about winning championships. Everything else is irrelevant.

And, depending on the star, there is always the tricky balance of appeasing the star and staying in the title hunt to keep him satisfied and not relying too much on said star to alienate him. It is easy to fall off the edge — just ask the 2010 and 2011 Orlando Magic.

There is no doubt Joel Embiid had an MVP-caliber season — even with Nikola Jokic winning the award — and carried a massive burden last season.

Embiid averaged a league-high 30.6 points per game and 11.7 rebounds per game. The Sixers had a +7.9 net rating with Embiid on the floor. They had a -3.6 net rating with him off the floor and finished at +2.8 overall.

That just shows the extreme power that Embiid had. Like Jokic, who seemingly had little help with all the injury issues the Denver Nuggets faced this past year, the Philadelphia 76ers struggled with Embiid off the floor. Everything revolved around him.

And like Jokic, Embiid was able to carry a lot of that burden.

Of course, the Sixers only ended up the 5-seed. Despite the promising growth from young point guard Tyrese Maxey and the scoring acumen of Tobias Harris, a lot of things just didn’t work.

That is not to say that Simmons would have solved a lot of problems. There were plenty of reasons why the relationship between the Sixers and Simmons broke down both on and off the court. But better players still help hold things together.

And many of the Sixers’ side players just failed to live up to expectations at key moments (especially with Embiid in and out of the lineup for parts of the season).

And that is why the team had to go after Harden. And even with Harden still getting himself ramped up and acquainted with the team, it proved to be a good partnership.

Harden averaged 21.0 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 10.5 assists per game in the regular season after moving to Philadelphia. The Sixers had a +9.5 net rating with Harden on the floor.

He proved to be a solid second star for the team. And now it is just about growing with him in their first full season together. They have to overcome some of the struggles that characterized the end of the season even as the Sixers showed their title potential.

Grabbing Harden became a necessity. A necessity worth a very high price — Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two future first-round picks.

When a team’s window is open, it is open. And that team has to do everything it can to win now. No one should ever question the Sixers’ willingness to go for it. Ultimately they know what matters.

The Sixers are knocking on the doorstep but needed that little push, perhaps making up for some ironic draft missteps with the injured Markelle Fultz and trading up to get him over Jayson Tatum.

The Magic probably know firsthand the perils of going for it this way and how thinking small when the window is open.

Orlando fell short in the 2009 Finals and understood the team had some major free agent decisions. It is still debated whether the team made the right call — and perhaps it was not because of the path it took the team down. But with the decision made not to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu, Orlando dove headfirst into a complete reformation project.

It wasn’t just the trade that brought Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to Orlando. The team dipped into the luxury tax for the first time in the team’s history. They re-signed JJ Redick and Marcin Gortat in addition to adding Brandon Bass. It was a splurge nobody expected.

It is still an argument whether the 2010 team is better than the 2009 team. But the Magic kept their window open.

The Magic churned through their roster until they hit a dead end.

That dead end was the fateful trade sending Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat to the Phoenix Suns for Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu. And finally the swap of Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas.

That was the deal that officially closed their window.

In the process, Orlando may have missed opportunities to acquire or bid for Chris Paul (rumored to be a target throughout the summer of 2010), Carmelo Anthony (traded two months after the Magic’s franchise-changing trade) and Deron Williams. They thought small in December 2010 instead of pushing the team forward.

It was a scary trade done out of desperation and it shut down the Magic’s championship. It was the runway Dwight Howard needed to leave and that is how teams lose their stars.

The Sixers are a team that is aggressive because they know their championship window is wide open with Embiid now. And they pulled off a move that should position them for a title.

Then again, the Rockets’ window was open plenty and Harden couldn’t get them through it. And the Nets’ super team could not work with James Harden either (although one 3-pointer from Kevin Durant might have changed that).

When that window is open, teams have to go for it no matter the cost. And hope it all works out.

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