Back in 1975, less than a year after the Milwaukee Bucks had been in the NBA Finals, New York radio reporter Marv Albert (then working for WABC) broke the news publicly that star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted a trade. Abdul-Jabbar, Albert reported, wanted to return home to New York City, which meant a spot with the Knicks. He was willing, too, to go to Los Angeles and play for the Lakers, having starred at UCLA under John Wooden.
The Knicks were devoid of young players, and tried to pilfer Abdul-Jabbar off the Bucks for a package based on cash, 30-year-old guard Earl Monroe and center John Gianelli. The Bucks did not want cash, though, they wanted players. And the team was put off by the arrogance of Knicks president Mike Burke.
“They think we’re country hicks. Burke shows up in a $1,000 suit and tries to take us to the cleaners,” Bucks president Bill Alverson said.
Abdul-Jabbar was traded to the Lakers, history shows, but this was among the first instances in which there is a presumption that NBA stars belong in New York. It has rarely worked out that way. But now we have bubbling references to the possibility of Sixers star Joel Embiid being a future trade target of the Knicks, and the Abdul-Jabbar situation immediately comes to mind.
As one modern NBA executive told Heavy Sports: “It is a nice story, Embiid to the Knicks. But there’s no way it happens.”
Sixers Frustrated, Not Desperate
Embiid is not seeking a trade from the Sixers, of course, but the level of organizational frustration stemming from yet another failed attempt at exiting the conference semifinals is high—for five of the past six years, the Sixers have won 50 games (or were on pace to do so), and have lost in the second round.
Already, the Sixers have fired coach Doc Rivers, and a roster shake-up could be coming, starting with the free agency of guard James Harden, who could be moved in a sign-and-trade deal. Forward Tobias Harris, who was solid in the playoffs (15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds), could be on the move, too, as he enters the final year of a max contract that will pay him almost $40 million next year.
But Embiid? To the Knicks?
“I’d say that is a pipe dream, but I am not sure what pipe that would come out of,” the exec said, with a laugh. “The Knicks have picks, that is their asset. Philly is not looking to give up the MVP of the league for draft picks. That’s not their mode right now. They’re not desperate. Think again.”
Said another team’s GM: “The Knicks want to add, they want a star, but they’re not going to be unrealistic. Embiid is unrealistic for them. They could give up, what, R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson and maybe Julius Randle? Philly won’t do that, not this year or next year.
“Daryl Morey wants star players, that has always been his M.O. Give him a couple of stars at the top of the roster and he is one of the best at finding ways to fill out the rest of the roster—guys like Carl Landry and Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell. He is not going to trade Embiid for parts or for upside. He can find those on his own. Forget it. The Sixers probably won’t trade Joel Embiid as long as Daryl Morey is there.”
Not Many Sensible Targets in an Embiid Trade
So what would it take to get Embiid on the trade market at all? Not many names match up.
“It would have to be a star, a proven star,” the GM said. “They want one player back, an even swap. There are not many who fit that with Embiid. Kawhi (Leonard) might be the only guy who really fits, a guy they (the Clippers) might be willing to move off of and who would be in the same category as Embiid, a guy (Morey) would even consider. I am not even sure Paul George would fit, it would have to be Kawhi, that is just my guess. That’s how strong they are on Joel.”
And getting Embiid to New York?
“The Knicks would have to trade for (Victor) Wembanyama,” the exec said, laughing again. “Get Pop (Gregg Popovich of the Spurs) to give you Wembanyama, then turn around and trade Wembanyama for Embiid. There you go. That’ll get it done.”