I’ve gained an appreciation for Joel Embiid ever since last year’s playoffs. I respected that he fought through a knee injury to try to push the Sixers on through the playoffs, and that he’s battled through pains and Covid-19 this season to push the Sixers to the fifth seed, even as Ben Simmons sucks up a roster spot without contributing anything to the team.
Embiid’s most recent game, where he tied his career-high with 50 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks in just 27 minutes (!) of action, was just another example of how special a player he is.
The Cameroonian center continues to improve each year, and was already in the MVP conversation last year. This time around, he’s still performing at an all-world level, even without Simmons.
As we quickly approach the trade deadline, you’ve got to start wondering if Daryl Morey is playing too dangerous a game with attempting to exact maximum value for Simmons. The Australian clearly never wishes to play in Philadelphia again, and by this point his teammates also probably want nothing to do with him.
So many rumors are floating around, including one about Morey hoping for a sign-and-trade for James Harden at the conclusion of this season, but there’s no guarantee that it could happen. Simmons, while an elite defender and floor general, has created such a contentious situation that it’s hard to believe a title contender would be willing to gamble on him. The Nets, in particular, already have plenty of problems with Kyrie Irving, and don’t need further distractions.
The biggest issue right now is time. Embiid turns 28 on March 16, and while he’s proven that he’s willing to gut it out through injuries and other issues, it’s hard to guarantee that he will be able to stay healthy and compete an an MVP level all the way through the end of his contract, which expires after the 2026-27 season.
Embiid started his career injured, missing the first two full seasons that he was a Sixer, and has had lingering injury problems for a while. He is undoubtedly one of the best players in the game when he’s able to take the floor, but history has shown that things don’t stay great for centers who have a penchant for getting hurt. Embiid has never played a full 82-game season in his career, and he probably never will because of load management strategies.
Hanging onto Simmons’ albatross of a contract is such a huge gamble, especially since the Sixers are also saddled with Tobias Harris’ bloated deal. To maximise Embiid’s prime years, something needs to be done, and soon.
Whether or not that actually happens is up to Morey, but his go big or go home approach with Simmons (and if rumors are true he’s also trying to offload Harris at the same time), could backfire spectacularly.
I really hope that they find some way to offload Simmons, at the very least. Embiid is a special player to watch, and he deserves help.