By Joseph Santoliquito


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s mid-May and the four-doink loss still seems very present in the Delaware Valley. Sure, everyone expected the Sixers to go further in the NBA playoffs than they did last year.

But this year, they have become far more relevant than the team has been since the Allen Iverson years almost 20 years ago.

Fans are complaining about Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and whether or not the Sixers should have retained Brett Brown. Calls have been occupying the sports talk airwaves about re-signing Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris. The wattage on this franchise has grown and appears to be growing.

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There was true anger and frustration throughout the area when Kawhi Leonard hit the first buzzer-beater Game-7 shot in NBA history. The team was crushed. Embiid shed tears leaving the court.

It all adds up to this: People care about Philadelphia basketball again — and that means this team made a significant step on and off the court.

Off the court, the success is tangible.

On it, many lamented the Game 7 playoff loss to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals. As opposed to last year, when Simmons and Embiid were making their playoff debuts, this team made it to a Game 7.

Last year, the Boston Celtics ran over them in five games.

This year, the Raptors needed an once-in-a-lifetime shot to take four bounces before it finally fell through the rim to end the Sixers’ season. The Sixers gave what arguably was a superior team, though it can’t be argued had the superior bench, a major struggle.

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Though it came in the same round, this conference semifinal series was a fight.

This is a team that has grown. Simmons and Embiid will, hopefully, learn from it.

They now have a point of reference to work with.

They see what it takes to go further in the playoffs.

Embiid knows he has to follow a more disciplined dietary regiment during the season. Simmons knows he has to improve his jump shot.

There is one caveat entering the Sixers’ 2019-20 season: Brett Brown will be on a shorter leash.

Joseph Santoliquito