Are the Sixers resigned to their fate?

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Are the Sixers resigned to their fate?

The game had just ended, along with the series and the season. Sixers owners Joshua Harris and Adam Aron were walking through the TD Bank North Garden in Boston when they ran into Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers told them, after seven games, he was glad his guys wouldn’t have to fight their guys any longer. It was a compliment. Harris and Aron nodded in appreciation.

That was last year. It seems like much longer ago.

The Celtics came to Philadelphia on Tuesday. This Boston team and this Sixers team are vague versions of the squads that battled during the playoffs last season. The Celtics were without Rajon Rondo. The Sixers were without a lot of things, including (but not limited to) hope.

The Celtics beat the Sixers, 109-101. It was the Sixers' ninth loss in their last 10 games.

“You’d think we would win that game,” Collins said, reading off numbers from the stat sheet.

The Sixers had seven players score in double figures. Jrue Holiday (18 points, 10 assists) and Thaddeus Young (19 points, 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles. The team posted 64 points in the paint, and Arnett Moultrie gave them a solid effort (19 minutes, 10 points). And they still lost. It has how the season has gone for the Sixers. Nothing works out even when it looks like it should.

Before the game, an out-of-town writer asked Doug Collins if he was worried about the way the season has gone and the way it might continue to deteriorate considering the brutal upcoming schedule. It was a fair question.

The Sixers (23-36) have 23 games remaining -- 15 of those (including 12 of the final 16) are on the road. During the slog, they must play at Atlanta, Miami, the L.A. Clippers, Denver, Utah, Atlanta again, Miami again, Brooklyn and Indiana. It is cause for concern.

Collins paused before answering. He didn’t seem to like the question or the attendant implication.

“Worry,” he replied, “is the greatest thief of joy.”

OK. But considering what’s ahead, the Sixers should be worried. In terms of worry stealing joy, the schedule should act as the Ocean’s Eleven crew -- it should heist all their joy right out from under them.

Collins’ needn’t worry, though. His guys don’t seemed worried, and they don’t appear to lack for joy. In the run-up to the Celtics game, several players were sitting around the locker room laughing about Swaggy P’s "Shaggy P." After the game, a couple of players laughed out loud just as the media entered the locker room. Another reporter watched the scene unfold, then remarked that the Sixers appeared in pretty good spirits for a team that’s only won 23 times.

Maybe the pressure -- to the extent that there was any on this team -- is off the Sixers now. The expectations placed upon them after acquiring Andrew Bynum have been lifted since the center has missed the entire season and recently said he isn’t sure that he’ll play at all this year. Between Bynum’s off-court saga and the team’s on-court struggles, the Sixers are so far from the playoffs that they’d need a high-powered telescope just to get a fuzzy glimpse. At some point, perhaps they looked around and accepted their situation.

After all, even Collins -- who has repeatedly said the Sixers will try to win every game the rest of the way despite the fact that losing would help them load up on precious ping pong balls -- entertained a question about potentially being excluded from the postseason.

“Anytime you miss the playoffs, it should hurt,” Collins allowed. “When anytime the season is over and you go home and you turn on the playoff games and you’re not part of it, that should be very painful. All the guys want to make the playoffs. There’s not a guy in our locker room that doesn’t want to be in the playoffs. Our guys, I feel badly for them, what they’ve had to go through this year with the injuries and everything like that has been very tough. We’ve lost Jrue for some games and Thad the games he missed I think we were 1-9. We lost Swaggy. We lost two starters. We traded away a lot.

"You know, the plans that we had this year for this season, we really haven’t been able to see that. There’s no excuses. Nobody is going to make any excuses for anybody. We just haven’t had a chance to see that. I think our guys have done a nice job fighting through that. They’ve given all they can give.”

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

Sixers look forward to results of Ben Simmons' CT scan Thursday

CAMDEN, N.J. — Thursday is significant for the Sixers beyond the trade deadline. It is also the day of Ben Simmons' CT scan to evaluate how his right foot is healing.

"I feel like tomorrow at some point we're all going to be able to lay out a more genuine plan for him," Brett Brown said. "I feel like we're going to be good to go with some greater news and a more advanced detail of his plans after this scan."

Once all parties involved assess the results, the team will provide an update, which may not be Thursday. Simmons has been sidelined all season after suffering a Jones fracture during the final scrimmage of training camp. 

On Wednesday he went through his individual workout plan, which included five-on-none scripting with teammates.

"He's still getting a feel for all of us," Nerlens Noel said. "He's learning to throw it up to me, bounce pass to whoever. It's learning certain tendencies that'll make you start to feel more a part of the team."

The Sixers have not placed a timetable on Simmons' return. The first overall pick has not been cleared for full contact five-on-five practice, the next step in his recovery. Prior to the All-Star break, Brown said he expects Simmons will play at some point this season. He stands by that projection with 26 games remaining. 

"I personally would like to see him play this season. I don't backpedal from that," Brown said. "I think my comments are really very much influenced by his reciprocal desire to play this year, which we all respect. Everybody's got clandestine conspiracy theories on why he might not want to play. I know in my heart and speaking to him, he wants to get on a court and play basketball again.

"I hope he can do that too. If for some reason he can't, we'll deal with it. But I think it would help him to play NBA basketball and get his competitive juices going again if the doctors point us in that direction."

Simmons' teammates are ready to welcome him into the mix when he is given the green light. Their limited glimpses into his talent have them eager for his debut.

"Unlimited potential," Noel said. "I think with Ben, the thing that makes him so special is his IQ for the game, a sixth sense on the court. Him being able to find little things that not very many 6-10 guys can find. I think that's going to propel his game and make him a special player in this league." 

Added Joel Embiid: "I'm excited ... I thought he was our best player in training camp."

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

Trade deadline looming, Sixers cherish what could be final day together

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers looked around the court on Wednesday and knew it could be their last practice all together.

The NBA trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Thursday. The Sixers are scheduled to practice that day, but who is there for it remains to be seen.

“Honestly, I’m scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Joel Embiid said. “Hopefully I’m here and hopefully my teammates are here. We’ve been playing great basketball when we are healthy and we all play. Hopefully we keep the same group and you never know what can happen.”

The Sixers have stayed tight knit through losing, ups and downs and trade talks. In their ideal world, they would remain teammates for the rest of the season. In the basketball world, there is a strong possibility at least one of them will be moved.

“You’ve learned that you’re not confident on anything,” Brett Brown said when asked about having the same players after the deadline. “There’s nothing that would point to either my 16 years of experience in the league or my three previous trade situations here in Philadelphia that would make me say anything otherwise. We’ve maintained a very high level of transparency with my team. We talk freely. It doesn’t feel as dramatic perhaps as it might have in other years.”

Jahlil Okafor has been the focal point of trade discussions. The Sixers were close to a deal for him last week, to the point where they sat him out two games and did not send him to Charlotte. Okafor will keep his phone close as the deadline approaches.

“I did the best I can to just focus in with the guys [at practice], going over the plays and working on defense,” Okafor said. “But it was definitely on my mind that I could be out of here tomorrow.”

Okafor said he would not have hard feelings if a deal did not happen after being on the trading block. At the same time, he just wants to know what his NBA future holds.

“If the Sixers decide to keep me, I’ll be happy," he said. "I have amazing teammates that I love being with every day and I’ll go back to my everyday routine. If that’s here or somewhere else, I’m just ready for 3 o’clock to happen so I can continue with my career and start doing what I love to do, and that’s play basketball.”

The Sixers' trade talks, to this point, have centered around the bigs because of a logjam in the frontcourt. At the start of the season Nerlens Noel said the team had to make a change. Noel said he was not worried about the deadline and noted the Sixers' first practice after the All-Star break was upbeat, not anxious.

“It’s been such a long season with so many things that were said, so now at this point it’s whatever happens happens,” Noel said.

So who will stay and who will go? With the Sixers' roster in question, Embiid summed up the trade deadline in Embiid fashion.

“It’s business,” Embiid said. “Anything can happen. So you’ve got to trust the process, I guess.”