Joel Embiid, Alone

Nobody feels bad for the 76ers. Why should they.

Context, of course, matters. So much has happened with this franchise since Sam Hinkie took over in 2013. It’s easy to ridicule the 76ers and Trust The Process. They forced the NBA to change lottery rules. And for what…

A popular post went viral last night about how Atlanta made the conference finals with two completely different teams between the time “The Process” began and now—with Philadelphia failing to make it once. It’s embarrassing, of course. Social media is typically never the healthiest atmosphere, a constant berating with heavy doses of negativity, but more so now if you cheer for Philadelphia.

For three consecutive summers, the 76ers made colossal mistakes. In 2017, they drafted Markelle Fultz after trading up to the first pick. In 2018, they drafted Mikal Bridges and immediately traded him to Phoenix for the rights to Zhaire Smith and a future first (which they ultimately traded to the Clippers for Tobias Harris). In 2019, they chose to sign Al Horford and basically chose Ben Simmons over Jimmy Butler. Yet still they’ve had some success.

Hinkie was forced out in 2016 before they even drafted Simmons. Well before those eye-popping mistakes.

Again, nobody feels bad for the 76ers. Why should they.

Philadelphia fans are loud and obnoxious. Last night, watching a former top pick brush Danilo Gallinari aside with a spin move, finding himself next to the basket where short, timid Trae Young stood only to pass the ball to an out of position swingman who hardly ever shoots. Everybody else laughed, gleefully, at Philadelphia. It’ll define his time as a 76er.

Simmons has been polarizing since he’s entered the NBA. One of his biggest issues, and the reason why people won’t feel sorry for him, is his apparent indifference. Sure, he says the right things. All he cares about is winning. Defense matters. Getting his teammates involved is crucial. Simmons has done plenty right. You don’t make third team All-NBA by accident. But his fundamental refusal to improve his scoring is mind numbing and ultimately is why he has played his last game for the 76ers.

Changes would have happened win or lose. Daryl Morey tried to trade Simmons for James Harden this past season. Morey would have traded him for Bradley Beal, too. It’s not like Morey actively shopped the multi-time All-Star, but he could have been had for the right price. This year was always supposed to be a transition year. Now, unless something crazy happens, Simmons won’t be traded for another All-Star, but that doesn’t mean Morey won’t be able to get a good package that’ll instantly help the 76ers. In fact, it’s obvious what Philadelphia needs.

Joel Embiid is that good. Philadelphia prioritized shooting last offseason. It worked. Seth Curry and Danny Green helped tremendously. Morey needs to do the same thing this summer. Shooting and playmaking. The offense needs to be better—more inventive, less predictable. They simply need more players with the ability to create. Everybody knew what Philly wanted to do at the end of Game 7. Two-man game with Embiid and Curry. That’s stupidly easy to defend when it’s the only option.

Tyrese Maxey looks poised to be a difference maker. Matisse Thybulle remains invaluable, especially more so with Simmons on his way out. Curry, too. But that’s it. Everything else is on the table, including Harris (Obviously Maxey, Curry and Thybulle could be moved as part of a package for a super star).

For the longest time, you convince yourself Simmons could be it. There are a ton of people who will use today as “I told you so.” It’s validation. People love to hate Simmons. He’s truthfully an easy person to root against. You see his size and athleticism. You watch in awe his ability to disrupt offenses with his defensive tendencies. He blocked Young’s three-point attempt twice this series. He’s a marvel, at times. But then… you see him shoot. You witness him try to score. And you wonder why he hasn’t improved. Why it feels so unnatural. And it’s doesn’t seem like he cares. He’s the kid growing up with the newest Jordans despite never making the team.

Last year, after the 76ers flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, I wrote how it falls on Embiid and Simmons. Brett Brown had coached his last game. The front office would soon go under reconstruction. Questions circulated about what transactions would best fix that team. Ultimately, Embiid and Simmons gave it one final go. It failed, miserably. But at least now we know.

It’s only Embiid. He’ll sign his super max soon. Morey is what gives me confidence. He’s not going to hope or wish something changes internally. He’ll make major upgrades to the roster this season. It’s one of the biggest off seasons in franchise history. It’s necessary to give them a chance moving forward.

This is their opportunity. They have a super-duper star in Embiid. He has his short comings, yes. His eight turnovers were critical last night. So many times, however, it felt like he was alone out there. Embiid is the focus. The ecosystem needs to be built with him, and only him, in mind.

Now is the time to make things right. Now is the time to finally recover before it becomes unsalvageable.

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