Another Eastern Conference Semifinals, another series loss for the Philadelphia 76ers. After the game, both their opponent and superstar players let everyone know that Jimmy Butler is not walking through that door.

The Sixers’ loss to the Miami Heat was their fourth in five seasons in this round, as they have now failed to advance to the conference finals since 2001, despite making the playoffs 12 times. The Process has gotten them an MVP candidate, and wherever we slot this version of James Harden (in my opinion, ultimately be determined after a healthy offseason). However, with Joel Embiid’s consistent injuries contributing to his drop in play during the playoffs, some clunky roster fits, and the apparent lack of mental fortitude, The Process is not bearing the fruit it was designed to create.

Effort? What’s That?

In game 6, the Sixers seemed to combine everything that has made them so frustrating over the last five seasons. Joel was settling for shots outside of the paint, highlighted by EIGHT three-point shots in the game. James Harden shot the ball TWO times in the fateful second half. The whole team looked listless on defense as the Miami Heat alternated between blowing the game open and keeping comfortable eight to 10-point leads. Outside of Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton, you got the sense Philly was just playing out the string.

To then have Tobias Harris say the above about the team is damning. Juxtapose that with what their opponent brings every game; unsurprisingly, the Sixers went out with a whimper after tying the series 2-2. It’s one thing to lose; Philly was the underdog for a myriad of valid reasons. But having it look like an effort issue as well, only to be confirmed by a player, is simply unacceptable.

This is something that falls squarely on the head coach as well as the three max players on the roster. Whether they have leadership qualities or not, as the title and money-ordained leaders, they have to bring the effort out of themselves and the team; it’s what they are paid to do. Meanwhile, the one lead player who has for The Process Sixers, Jimmy Butler, was doing just that on the opposite bench and then calling out the franchise after the game.

Joel and Lack of Leadership

This brings us to the biggest dog in the room and on the court. Joel Embiid is clearly a fantastic player with apparent shortcomings. One of those is some pretty horrible luck when it comes to injuries in the playoffs. Playing with a torn thumb ligament, a broken orbital bone, and, possibly, remnants of a concussion is a definite challenge. Joel gutted it out to be on the floor in the final four games of the series, even if, potentially, medically unsound.

However, to play with little effort in game five and then live outside the paint for half of your 24 shots in the decider is not the force he needed to bring. Then we get to his comments post-game, longing for Jimmy Butler and throwing some veiled questions at James Harden. Combining weak effort with potshots at your team after elimination, the latter is not leadership for the second straight year. 

Joel, Jimmy Butler is not walking through that door. This is your team with your imprint; they follow as you lead. Floating through playoff games, getting mentally taken out because of circumstances, and shifting blame rarely, if ever, gets it done on the biggest stages. With their outsized influence on outcomes, the best players in basketball have to take both effort and leadership roles. Even if it’s not fully who they are, this is what comes with the job.

Joel can be commended for playing through injury, but leadership requires more than that.

Juxtaposition of Leaders

Jimmy Butler does this, and the Heat are onto their second Eastern Conference Finals in his three seasons. Joel hasn’t figured it out, and the Sixers will be watching that series from the couch again. It’s not all about leadership, but there is a connection.

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About Author

Ryan Rodriguez

If you want to hear my thoughts, check out my podcast, The Coastal Connection, which I do with some former coaching colleagues available on Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcasts. You can also check out my personal blog, The Thoughts of r2, if you want to read me on more topics than just NBA.

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