If Joel Embiid loves the Sixers, then he should set them free

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Sixers, Embiid
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) watches from the bench as the 76ers fall behind the Boston Celtics during the second half of Game 7 in the NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, Sunday, May 14, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a free fall as they’re, once again, dealing with a Joel Embiid injury that will keep him away from the team for at least the remainder of the regular season schedule. Embiid had surgery on Tuesday morning to repair the tear in his left meniscus and will be evaluated in approximately four weeks. For Sixers fans, this is an all too familiar situation as Embiid has yet to compete an entire NBA season without injury.

This season’s injury, reported to have happened from Jonathan Kuminga falling on the knee during a scramble for a loose ball, is disheartening. To Embiid, the team, its fans, and the league, especially so because Embiid was having the best season of his career and was the favorite to win his second straight NBA MVP award. With the newly enacted 65 game rule, Embiid is done and won’t be in consideration for the award.

With the loss of Embiid, the Sixer’s chances of reaching the NBA Finals or even getting past the second round of the playoffs have been destroyed, and if you look at the team’s record without Embiid, making the playoffs at all will be hard to do. The Sixers are 4-11 and look every bit of a lottery team without Embiid. They’re 26-8 on the season when he’s playing, and they look like the cream of the crop of the Eastern Conference. This season is another lost cause for the team following the latest injury to Embiid.

So what now?

The Sixers have been a mainstay at the top of the Eastern Conference standings for most of the season, up until a week ago when they started this slide and have lost six of their last seven games. Embiid continues to miss time along with a host of other players like De’Anthony Melton, Robert Covington, Tobias Harris, Nico Batum, and Kelly Oubre Jr., who’ve all missed time this season.

So where do the Sixers go now?

Philadelphia 76ers’ Daryl Morey listens to a question during a news conference at the NBA basketball team’s training facility, Wednesday, May 17, 2023, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

They can’t rely on newly named All-Star guard Tyrese Maxey to carry an injured and inadequate team into the playoffs. This team was built around Embiid and his otherworldly talents with depth, shooting, and defense. That’s all gone. There’s no saving the season, and all of the positives that the team and its fans have seen are gone with it.

The season is over.

Trade away anyone that you can in order to get some sort of depth or draft stock that can be used to build for the future. Tobias Harris? Gone. Covington, Melton, Marcus Morris Sr., Nico Batum, Daniel House, and Kelly Oubre Jr., they’re all gone too. Ship them off for whatever you can get for them. Try to keep the younger players who have shown some promise, like Terquavion Smith, Jaden Springer, and Ricky Council IV. Everyone else must go.

So what happens with Embiid?

Joel Embiid is arguably the best Sixers player of the past 20 years and is close to being the greatest Sixers that has ever worn the uniform. The problem is that he can’t stay on the court. Embiid’s injury history is well documented, almost as much as his failure to lead the team through the playoffs.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Tobias Harris (12) celebrates with Tyrese Maxey (0) after scoring against the Utah Jazz during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

When you look at Embiid’s statistics, it’s hard to imagine life without him. Talk to anyone that follows the Sixers and they’ll tell you how stupid it would be to even think of moving on from Embiid. He’s the most dominant center and scorer in the league right now and is doing historical things when he’s on the court.

But there’s the problem. Embiid has to be on the court in order to be successful and in order for his team to be successful. Over the course of his career, he’s averaged more than 20 missed games per season. Most people tend to overlook that Embiid missed the first two whole seasons of his career after foot surgery and had to correct that when the healing didn’t go as planned. Since he’s been drafted, he’s missed, on average, more than 37 games per season heading into this year.

For the Sixers, they should look to move Embiid as soon as he’s proven that he’s healthy and performing at a high level again. They should shut him down for the remainder of the year and not even worry about this season. When he’s recovered and ready for next season, at full strength and in good shape, they move him and take back the insane haul that a player of his caliber would get in return.

While you may think that no one in the NBA is going to give up a lot for someone who’s injured as much as Embiid has been, you have to realize that everyone in the NBA is dealing with potential. There’s nothing guaranteed in the league. Hell, if Rudy Gobert got four picks and a few players, imagine what the Sixers could get for Embiid.

Keeping Tyrese Maxey and acquiring more talent to build a team around him is the best way for the Sixers to go. Instead of building a team around one player and hoping that it will work when it hasn’t in the past, then you need to build an actual team. Having a player as talented as Maxey already gives you an elite young talent to start with. Then the Sixers will be able to use the salary cap space that they gain by trading Embiid and build the team.

While teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets have two stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, who are talented as well as big players, other teams like the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and Los Angeles Lakers all had stars, but none has the quality of big man on the court the Embiid represents. Embiid simply provides the Sixers with the most dominant player in the league.

Then why would the Sixers consider trading him?

Simply put, Embiid can’t be trusted to be there when the team needs him the most, and that’s in the playoffs. While Embiid has improved, even this season, he’s no longer being asked to accommodate any sort of “secondary” star as he has with James Harden, Ben Simmons, or even Jimmy Butler. The team was built for Embiid and around his abilities, and the fact that it’s an environment where Tyrese Maxey thrives has just happened to be a bonus for them. It’s Embiid’s team.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

It’s just not a good team when he’s not available. The Sixers won’t win an NBA title with Joel Embiid, and as heartbreaking as that sounds, based on his track record, he won’t be around to participate in their eventual playoff eliminations. While you could argue that he’s so dominant that he represents the best chance for the Sixers to win a title, there’s an equal and opposite argument that the Sixers are doomed to the middle of the league because Embiid can’t stay healthy for one full season.

If the Sixers would like to truly compete and have confidence throughout the season that they’ll be able to advance through the playoffs and have a legitimate shot at a title, then they would be wise to move Embiid and take all of the assets and financial freedom that a move like that would grant them. They could build a talented and deep roster that would allow for the movement of pieces if there was to be an injury, but they wouldn’t be relegated to the draft lottery if one player went down, as is the case with Embiid getting hurt.

It’s one of the saddest parts of watching a player that you love play for a team that you love and knowing that there’s no chance that you’ll ever see them reach the ultimate team goal in the league. In the end, as you’ll hear most NBA players attest to, the game is about the team winning, and if Embiid truly loves the Sixers, then he knows that he has to go in order for them to be great.

Given all of this, I would love for the basketball gods to give Embiid one whole season from opening night until the final game of the NBA Championship, where he was healthy and able to play. If that were the case, there’s not a doubt in my mind that the Sixers and Embiid would be holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the year.