MILWAUKEE — The 76ers are in winning mode now.
Never mind that they will only have 24 games to develop the Joel Embiid and James Harden duo. Disregard the fact that the Sixers no longer have a reliable backstop or consistent shooter.
But don’t distort it.
The blockbuster move just before the Feb. 10 trade deadline was made to win an NBA title this season. Not next season when Harden and Embiid would have had more time to bond as the dominant duo and the Sixers could add more complementary pieces.
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“I’m still thinking right now,” Rivers said of Thursday’s shootout. “I’ve been in this league for too long. And I always come back to [the Celtics’ 2008 NBA championship team.] Kevin [Garnett] and I talk about it all the time. I remember the first year [2007-08] during training camp [with the Celtics] we had a meeting and they were like, ‘Man, we have to agree. This may not be the year. But by next year, we could…’ I said, ‘Next year? You are laughing at me ? Next year, one of you may be injured.
“I know it’s short. I know it’s going to be hard to get into it. But that said, the time has always come.
Rivers coached the Celtics from 2004 to 2013. On June 28, 2007, Boston acquired Ray Allen in a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks. Then a month later, the Celtics acquired Garnett in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Allen, Garnett and Paul Pierce combined to form a Big Three that led the Celtics to the 2008 championship.
Being in position to win a title this season is why the Sixers took their time to trade Ben Simmons. They were adamant about the expectation of acquiring the right A-list player that would propel them into a contender in exchange for the three-time All-Star. So they moved out just before the deadline after Harden wanted to leave Brooklyn.
The Sixers received future Hall of Famer Paul Millsap in exchange for their top shooter (Curry), backup center (Drummond) and disgruntled All-Star point guard (Simmons).
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They beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 123-120, Thursday night at the Fiserv Forum in their final game before the NBA All-Star break. Harden, who is rehabilitating a left hamstring strain, will make his debut after the break.
The Sixers are 35-23 and sit third in the Eastern Conference standings, 2 ½ games behind the first Miami Heat. The Sixers are 8-4 against the other six best teams in the conference – Heat (1-1), Chicago Bulls (3-0), Cleveland Cavaliers (1-0), Bucks (1-1) and Boston Celtics (2-2). Still, they have the 12th toughest schedule in the league, according to Tankathon.
Rivers will tell you that the time has come.
“Because you can’t predict [the future]”, he said. “I always talk to Kevin. Think about it the next year: he got injured. He was never the same. What if we had thought about a year? won.”