Trading Joel Embiid would be the Sixers’ worst mistake since trading for Andrew Bynum

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Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid celebrates after their win against the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Joel Embiid is a shining beacon of hope in Philadelphia, reverberating beyond the darkness of any injury and making the Sixers perennially a true contender. He is a truly dominant force throughout the regular season, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Shaquille O’Neal.

With him officially sidelined with a meniscus injury for at least a month, fans and pundits alike have pondered whether or not to trade the currently reigning MVP and two-time scoring champion because of his injury concerns.

However, there are still those of us who firmly believe that trading a consensus Top five player in the league would be foolish and would set the Sixers farther back, with no guarantee of the Sixers ever reaching the NBA Championship.

The Greatness of Joel Embiid

The Sixers and their fanbase have been starved a true superstar since Allen Iverson left, until Joel Embiid ascended to that plane just a few seasons ago. Since then, Embiid has had to endure constant roster turnover, coaching changes, a general manager with burner accounts, and two number-one overall picks who didn’t pan out as expected. Despite that, the Sixers big man has remained loyal to Philadelphia through all of it.

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, right, celebrates with Tyrese Maxey after an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Not only was the man loyal, but he has completely flourished over the last 4 seasons, averaging 31.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game since the 2020-2021 season. In that same span, he also leads the league in games with 30+ points (135 games), 40+ points (40 games), and 50+ points (8 games), beating out guys like Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

This season, Embiid sits with just Wilt Chamberlain as the only other player to average more points than minutes played (minimum of 1,000 minutes). He has 1,201 points compared to 1,157 minutes played.

The Likelihood of Contention without Embiid

Obviously, the Sixers are worse without Joel Embiid than they are with him this year. The Sixers sit at 4-11 without him. This is to be expected when a team is built around a clear-cut number-one option. The argument for trading Embiid often cites how the return for Embiid could jumpstart the Sixers’ rebuild to get them back into contention quickly. However, this is almost never the truth.

Utah Jazz forward Simone Fontecchio, right, defends against Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Think about when the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics before the 2007 season. Garnett got a championship, and the Timberwolves are just now looking like a real threat in the Western Conference over a decade later.

The Timberwolves have had 4 different number-one overall picks in that timespan with Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Edwards. They’ve won exactly 4 playoff games and have not won a single playoff series. The draft is not a sure thing, and the likelihood of drafting someone better than Joel Embiid is slim to none.

Countless teams have given up on their stars, and still never recovered. Embiid would certainly garner a bigger return than Kevin Garnett got. After all, Garnett only netted a couple of first-round picks along side some players.

However, that doesn’t mean that the Sixers would have better luck. The New Orleans Pelicans traded All NBA center Anthony Davis five years ago and haven’t won a playoff series yet despite drafting Duke phenom Zion Williamson. Their return consisted of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and draft picks. Draft picks do not equal contention in the NBA. Superstars still rule this league.

Where do we go from here?

If you need even more proof of how hard it is to draft generational superstars, look no further than the Process Era Sixers. Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz are the highest-picked players the Sixers have received, yet none panned out for Philadelphia.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) celebrates with De’Anthony Melton (8) after the team’s win over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2023, in New York. The 76ers won 102-97. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Joel Embiid, despite his injuries, is the only one who has brought us truly closer to contention every single year. With everything Sixers fans have been through with Embiid, this isn’t the time to turn on him. This is the time to be thankful for just how incredible he is and hope for a speedy recovery.

The Sixers are contenders with him on the floor, and should he continue to play at this dominant level, the Sixers should continue to build around him. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and a superstar under contract is worth everything in this league.