August 27, 2020

Bust the Process: The Philadelphia 76ers Need to Trade Joel Embiid

The Sixers have a big problem. 

No, it’s not that they have two stars who can’t play together. No, it’s not that Philadelphia has no cap room. It’s not that they have completely untradeable contracts. And it’s not even that they suffer from a lack of leadership and don’t currently have a head coach. 

Their problem started long before they were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the young and talented Boston Celtics

The 76ers problem is they never fully trusted the process. 

The Process, for the uninitiated, is to completely commit to rebuilding while acquiring valuable long-term assets and selling short-term ones. Some of you might know it as tanking. The architect behind this strategy was general manager Sam Hinkie, who was forced out just three years into his, ahem, process. 

And because of their move to get rid of the controversial mastermind behind the unusual rebuilding effort, the Sixers will have to take drastic measures. And their only logical move is to trade the man who not only symbolizes The Process, but who also embraces it as his nickname: Joel Embiid

Poor Process

How did the process get so screwed up? 

Despite other teams tanking throughout the history of the NBA, nobody was willing to admit their strategy to purposely lose games — except Hinkie and the Sixers. And that, of course, got on a lot of people’s radars. It was an affront to the game, the NBA purists said. 

But the Sixers haven’t won an NBA title since 1983, and after the end of the mediocre Andre Iguodala era, the Sixers realized that the NBA is a star-driven league and they had a distinct lack of elite talent. So they completely bought into Hinkie’s strategy of blowing it up. Or at least, Hinkie thought they did. 

In 2016, three years after taking over as general manager, Hinkie departed after dropping a 7,000 word (!) resignation letter — we’d hate to see what he wrote when his girlfriend after she broke up with him. Hinkie’s replacement, Bryan Colangelo, started the end of the process and the current general manager Elton Brand put the finishing touches on it. 

A calamity of errors followed — including failing to deal Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor at peak value, trading up with the Celtics to take Markelle Fultz over Jayson Tatum, going all-in and trading valuable assets for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris and signing the aging Al Horford to a $109 million dollar contract.  

Those moves have backed the Sixers into a corner. They are currently $8 million over the luxury tax for the 2020-21 season and they don’t have many other assets to work with. 

But why not stick with the team they have? 

Why It Can’t Work 

While The Process put the Sixers in the best position to succeed, you still need some luck. And the Sixers must’ve pissed off the Basketball Gods by deliberately tanking because they were pretty unlucky. 

Despite the Sixers being one of the worst teams in the league during Hinkie’s reign, Philadelphia won the lottery only once, which resulted in Ben Simmons. The Sixers also selected Michael Carter Williams, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor in the lottery. That’s not great.

But it did result in finding two superstars in Embiid and Simmons. The only problem is, their games don’t complement each other. Their styles clash in a way that, as we’ve seen, is unsustainable. 

Embiid is an old-school post-up center who eats in the paint, but with Simmons, he’s had to adapt to a more perimeter-centric approach. And while he can hit the occasional three-pointer, Embiid is a lot more effective when he’s dominating close to the basket. 

Embiid has to play on the perimeter because Simmmons can’t consistently make a shot outside of the paint. While Simmons is the perfect passer for a big man such as Embiid, his severe lack of shooting ruins the spacing that Embiid needs to succeed. 

Simmons, on the other hand, would flourish without a big, lumbering center who is clogging the paint. Ideally, the Sixers build their roster around Simmons, similar to how rosters have been constructed around LeBron James. Simmons can be the initiator of the offense, and with four other three-point shooters on the court, he’d be able to drive-and-kick at will. Along with his defense, Simmons would be able to realize his immense potential. 

Sadly, after playing three-plus years together, the hope that Simmmons would develop a reliable jump shot and that he and Embiid can work together has resulted in nothing more than a dream.

The Case for Trading Embiid over Simmons 

You’re reading this and probably asking yourself, “why trade Embiid, the heart of the team, and not Simmons or one of the other players on the 76ers?” We’re glad you asked. 

As I previously wrote, Simmons and Embiid’s games just don’t mesh enough for them to work together. Simmons might have more value on the trade market, sure, but this might be the last time the Sixers can deal Embiid and get full value. 

Not to mention, Embiid is a much more frustrating player than Simmons is, and Simmons can’t even shoot!

Embiid has the potential to be an unstoppable force on the inside, but he refuses to get — and stay — in shape to reach the peak of his powers. 

Simmons, however, has proven to take his job more seriously. He’s an elite defender who gives 100% when he’s on the floor. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Embiid. 

This situation is similar to the Lakers' back when they were deciding between trading Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq was arguably the better player, but it’s good process to pick the younger player at a position that doesn’t take as big of a toll on a player’s body. 

What about the other handsomely paid role players? Harris, who still has more than $147 million left on his contract, and Horford ($81 million), have two of the worst — and most untradeable — contracts in the league. The only way they’re shipping them out of town is if they’re getting a terrible contract in return. 

The only solution to the Sixers’ issue is to try and salvage the team by getting as much as they can for Embiid. But what could the Sixers get in return for Embiid if they decide to deal him this offseason? 

Possible Trades 

To find the best possible deal, we went down the endless rabbit hole that's known as ESPN's NBA Trade Machine. 

We've compiled five trades that would be pretty interesting if the Sixers could pull them off. 

Trade No. 1: Joel Embiid to the Portland Trail Blazers for C.J. McCollum, Gary Trent Jr. and a 2020 2nd 

Photo: ESPN

Trade No. 2: Embiid to the Washington Wizards for Bradley Beal and Isaac Bonga

Photo: ESPN

Trade No. 3: Embiid, Zhaire Smith to the Indiana Pacers for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and a 2021 1st

Photo: ESPN

Trade No. 4: Embiid to the Brooklyn Nets for Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen, Lance Thomas and a 2022 1st

Photo: ESPN

Trade No. 5: Embiid to the Golden State Warriors for Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, 2020 2nd overall pick and the rights to Minnesota’s 2021 pick 

Photo: ESPN

Sadly, the Sixers probably won’t trade Simmons or Embiid. They’ll convince themselves that a new coach — and potentially a new general manager — can salvage the failed process and get the two superstars to play together efficiently. And that’s just a bad process. 

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration