James Harden is well on his way to igniting another fuse that will result in the detonation of a franchise’s core. After doing so to the Brooklyn Nets, who have gone from a big three consisting of the Beard, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving to Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and Nicolas Claxton (or he-who-must-not-be-named, if one prefers) in a short season and a half, Harden’s displeasure with the Philadelphia 76ers has seemingly leeched its way into Joel Embiid.
Of course, Embiid’s potential exit from the team that took a chance on him coming out of the University of Kansas started long before Harden’s trade demand, but it really does feel like the Beard’s departure will be the catalyst for the reigning MVP’s own request if it ever comes to that. Harden’s antics may have inserted Embiid’s name into the rumor mill once again, but it wasn’t the only fuel to this dumpster fire.
Embiid’s cryptic social media maneuvers — whether it be daunting captions or the removal of information from his online bio — have also rejuvenated the NBA’s slop factory. And of course, a half-decade of playoff shortcomings always adds ammunition to a potential break-up between a franchise star and the organization that has failed to surround him with a championship-caliber supporting cast.
While this off-season’s trade rumors surrounding Embiid have felt more realistic than in years past, the mock deals that have sprouted because of them have been anything but. Like, for example, Bleacher Report’s proposal that had the Sixers sending the MVP to the New York Knicks in exchange for Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley, and four first-round picks. Keep in mind that this was published just 408 days after the Minnesota Timberwolves traded five players, including Walker Kessler, four first-round picks, and a future pick swap to acquire Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz.
There’s a strong chance that Joel Embiid doesn’t get traded at all in the near future, but just in case, it’s less damaging to be prepared for the worst. If the Philadelphia 76ers were forced to trade away the Process, it’s a strong bet that Daryl Morey, or whoever is calling the shots by then, will require more than the Rudy Gobert package for his services.
Here are a few potential trades that would actually make sense for this upcoming season.
Sixers, Pelicans swap superstar big men
A few years ago, a straight swap between Joel Embiid and Zion Williamson wouldn’t have been an unthinkable deal. While Joel Embiid has ascended his way into an MVP, though, Zion has only proven further that he can’t be counted on for a full season’s worth of games, let alone an extended playoff run. With each passing year that he misses a significant chunk of the campaign due to injury, Williamson’s trade value only tanks more and more.
The time for New Orleans to strike for a championship is now. C.J. McCollum isn’t getting any younger or better, and Brandon Ingram is at the peak of his powers. The Pelicans’ cache of future draft picks is also starting to run dry, so turning a couple of them, along with a dominant but unreliable superstar and a promising young wing, into a future Hall-of-Famer is a surefire way to capitalize on their war chest and truly compete for a title.
For the Philadelphia 76ers, they turn one franchise cornerstone into another, one that’s six years younger. Trey Murphy III ironically gives them a prototypical wing that they’ve needed alongside Joel Embiid throughout the entire process. One that carries the perimeter gravity to prevent double-teams against the MVP in the post and can shut down opposing wings on defense. He’s also flashed the shot-creation potential that hints at a future superstar in the making.
While Philly doesn’t gain much in terms of draft capital in this deal, they’re unlikely to find a prospect that will be better than Zion — provided he can finally remain healthy on a new team — with any draft pick that they could acquire from an Embiid trade.
Embiid migrates south with the Atlanta Hawks
While the Atlanta Hawks lack future draft compensation, they have more than enough young talent to swing a deal for a superstar. Between De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, and AJ Griffin, this deal lands the Sixers nearly a complete lineup of high-ceiling prospects to grow alongside Tyrese Maxey and form one of the most promising cores in the NBA.
Bogdan Bogdanovic could also easily be flipped later in the easy for an additional first-round pick if need be. Gaining established young talents like the Hawks that would be theoretically acquired in this deal would much better serve Philadelphia in a rebuild than nabbing a few extra rolls in the crapshoot that is the NBA Draft. Factoring the Sixers’ past with lottery picks makes this a much more favorable direction over trying to load up on as many future selections as possible.
The Hawks may be losing four rotation players in this deal, but they instantly become one of the biggest threats to make it out of the Eastern Conference bracket. Adding Joel Embiid’s interior dominance to a backcourt consisting of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray gives Atlanta one of the most dangerous triumvirates in NBA history. The Hawks would have plenty of depth left over to fill out the rest of the rotation or make further moves to complement their new core.
The Portland Trail Blazers finally go all-in on Damian Lillard with a three-team trade
The Chicago Bulls need to be in this deal in order for the Portland Trail Blazers to unlock their future first-round picks for trade, as they currently own a lottery-protected first-round pick from Portland that’s due in 2024 and carries over should the Blazers miss the playoffs. This has been the case the last two seasons, as the pick was originally traded in 2022. Those protections ultimately led Portland to tank the last two years, resulting in Shaedon Sharpe, the seventh pick in 2022, and Scoot Henderson, the third pick this past draft.
Thanks to that stroke of genius from the dishonorably discharged former Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey, the Portland Trail Blazers finally have the ammunition to make a deal to give Damian Lillard a contending roster. When the Blazers landed the third selection in the 2023 NBA Draft, they decided that Scoot was too good of a prospect to pass up on for any of the deals that they had offered to them at the time.
This angered the aging but dominant Lillard, who has been patiently waiting for a chance to sincerely compete for a championship, leading him to demand a trade to the Miami Heat. If Joel Embiid were to truly ask out, this would give the Blazers and new General Manager Joe Cronin the perfect opportunity to win back the greatest player in Portland history. Landing Joel Embiid would give Portland their best roster since they won it all in 1977, with a dynamic guard-center combo better than any since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were dominating their way to three NBA titles.
As for the 76ers, they’ll have a surplus of offensively gifted guard prospects, but it’s a good problem to have, considering their history with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. Scoot Henderson pairs with Tyrese Maxey, giving Philly the best young backcourt in the league. Anfernee Simons would be a supercharged sixth man and can build his trade value in a bigger market before he’s flipped for a better fit or future draft compensation. This deal also gives middling returns in terms of draft picks, but Henderson is the exact type of prospect that a franchise hopes to be able to grab when they shed a current star in exchange for future selections.
*All trades are processed using the Fanspo Trade Machine.