There are few players who have embodied an era in Philadelphia sports like Joel Embiid. The man who has been dubbed “The Process,” has been through the ups and downs of Sixers basketball since being drafted in 2014. Coming into this season the cloud of Ben Simmons’s drama put the Sixers in an extremely unique situation. Now 30 games deep into 2021, it is clear the Sixers are an incomplete roster that produces incomplete results. If Joel Embiid was not on this roster they would likely be in the process of a near-complete rebuild. However, with the MVP candidate on their side and in the prime of his career, the Sixers must step up to the plate and capitalize.
The Early Days
Following the rosters built around Allen Iverson, which were highlighted by the 2001 season NBA Finals run, the Sixers were in a difficult spot as a franchise. Caught in what is referred to as “basketball purgatory,” the Sixers were a borderline playoff team who were not good enough to be a championship threat but not bad enough to be given a top draft pick.
Between the 2005-2013 seasons, the Sixers had an overall record of 334-388. During this time there were five different head coaches who held the reign, and the Sixers made the playoffs 5 out of 9 years, failing to ever make it past the Conference Semifinals. This led to the decision to put the organizational direction in the hands of Sam Hinkie who led the team on a complete rebuild.
After triggering the rebuild by trading Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a future first-round pick, the Sixers entered one of the most egregious rebuilds in the history of the NBA. Controversially winning just 75 games over the course of the next four years with an average winning percentage of just 22.9%, the Sixers collected assets and built for the future.
Following their first year of tanking, the Sixers landed Joel Embiid with the third overall pick. Embiid had gained some serious buzz as the prospective number one overall pick throughout his season in college, but a fracture of his navicular bone in his right foot during the predraft process allowed his fall to the third slot. The effects of this injury kept Embiid off the floor for the entire first two seasons
The Rise of Joel Embiid
The Sixers had a depressing record of 28-136 during the two years that Embiid was off the floor. Hinkie and the rest of the organization wisely took a conservative approach to Embiid’s recovery and allowed him to improve on the areas of his game which he was rather raw in coming out of college. The growing concerns if Embiid would ever be able to play and if he would be worth the wait was put to rest as soon as he made his debut during the 2016-17 season.
Since this time, Joel Embiid has ascended to a level even higher than most would have imagined. The Kansas product has career averages of 24.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. Embiid is a four-time all-star, three-time All-NBA team selection, and three-time member of the all-defensive team. He has added layers to his game every year he has been a professional and was a few games played away from winning the NBA MVP last season.
Where to Go from Here?
Aside from the on-court success, Joel Embiid has also represented the Sixers organization and showed a loyalty that is rare in today’s day and age. Even amid a major organizational crossroads, Embiid continued to show his commitment to the Sixers by signing a four-year supermax extension and continued to echo his desire to remain in Philadelphia.
While the loyalty and commitment have been impressive, the Sixers must be careful how much this is tested. Embiid is 27-year-old and firmly in the prime of his career. Capitalizing on this is timeframe is essential to the Sixers making the championship aspirations which has made the Simmons drama particularly untimely. This is especially worrisome considering the injury history of the franchise centerpiece and the harsh reality that the window to win will quickly be shut if Joel Embiid lands the wrong way and suffers a serious injury.
The handling of the Ben Simmons situation has been one of the most complex issues in recent sports history. While Morey is right to be patient and search for the best available deal, it also must be kept in mind that the timeline to win ticks along with Joel Embiid. The roster the Sixers currently have put together is not good enough to compete at the level they hope to. Outside of Joel Embiid and arguably the potential of Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers lack the top-end potential to be legitimate title contenders.
Flipping Ben Simmons and the rest of the franchise’s assets for a proper supporting cast is likely Morey’s last chance at building a contender around Joel Embiid. Prioritizing finding guys that compliment Embiid must be the driving force behind looking at each potential deal. This is a difficult task with the February 10th trade deadline coming closer and closer. If there is any guy that can make it happen it is Daryl Morey, and the Sixers should absolutely do right by Joel Embiid and do everything possible to build a proper team around him.
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