If there was anything to be taken from the incredible effort given by star Joel Embiid to secure a Sixers overtime win over the Hornets on Monday night, it’s that the time has come for him to interject himself into the organization’s muddled Ben Simmons situation, the most intractable in the NBA in recent memory.
Embiid was brilliant, and scored 43 points with 15 rebounds and seven assists to beat Charlotte, making 15 of his 20 shots in the bargain.
With guard Tyrese Maxey out, the Sixers got 21 points from Tobias Harris and 16 from Shake Milton. No other Sixer hit double-figure scoring. That’s the issue. The Sixers ask Embiid, whose career has been marked by fragility, to carry that kind of load in a December game against Charlotte is an indication that something needs to happen with the Simmons stalemate. Embiid needs help.
He needs to ask for it. He needs to demand it, even.
“We can talk about all the trade packages and all of that, or what it might take for (Daryl) Morey to pull the trigger, who wants to play with who, all of it, but I think what people miss is that Jo is the one who can end the thing,” one Eastern Conference general manager (who’s not trying to trade for Simmons) said. “He can go in and say, ‘Enough is enough, you’re wasting one of my prime years.’ And the Sixers, you can’t argue against that. Embiid is your franchise. He’s being wasted this year. If he says, ‘Trade (Simmons), get some help now,’ that’s the one thing Morey can’t debate.”
The Sixers Are Wasting a Prime Year of Embiid’s Career
The stance taken by Morey and the Sixers over the past three-plus months that it has been known that Simmons wants out of Philadelphia is that Simmons is an elite star player and will only be traded for an elite star player in return. Not getting a star for Simmons, from the team’s perspective, ruins the chance at winning a championship going forward.
But if that takes this entire season and into the summer, then Embiid will be left to carry the roster, likely to 45-47 wins and a first-round playoff exit, maybe an appearance in the second round. It is torpedoing this year in the name of possibly getting something better down the line.
With the East looking shaky—the Nets do not have Kyrie Irving and the Bucks, though playing better lately, have been no juggernaut—the Sixers can compete for a championship this year. But not without a Simmons deal, sooner rather than later.
That point was made by veteran NBA reporter Mike Lee of The Athletic on Twitter Monday night.
He wrote: “If the 76ers let this season ride out without trading Ben Simmons for someone who can help Joel Embiid win right now, it should be considered organizational malpractice. PHI has to do all that it can to avoid letting some stalemate result in them squandering these dominant years.”
Embiid Could Push the Sixers to Make a Move
If Embiid were 23 and in prime health, the position taken by Morey and the Sixers would make more sense. But he is 27, and will be 28 a month after the trade deadline. He missed his first two NBA seasons with a foot injury and has, in six subsequent years, played in 274 out of 412 games, which means he has missed a third of Philadelphia’s games.
It is very unlikely that Embiid will be an effective player at, say, age 34 and maybe not even at age 32. He has a small window of prime years, and this is one of them.
Another executive, in the Western Conference, said that reality should color the Sixers’ view of the Simmons deadlock.
“They are preaching patience on it and that makes sense, I think anyone can see Daryl’s viewpoint on this,” he said. “But you’re preaching patience and you are sitting on a time bomb with Embiid’s health. Hip, foot, knees, there’s a lot to worry about with him and you don’t know—he doesn’t know—how long he is going to be this good. I think at some point Embiid will say, ‘You want to make a point, fine, but don’t do it on my time.’”
And maybe that is how the Simmons thing needs to unravel. Embiid will have to step in and tell his front office he needs help and they’d better get the best help they can get in return for Simmons, but they better do it now.
There are two months until the trade deadline, and certainly, Embiid and the Sixers can hold out that long. But not much longer than that.