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Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

Embiid is the reigning MVP, but can the 76ers win with him?

Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant
Joel Embiid Scores 52 Points in Home Win vs. the Celtics

When a team drafts a player with a top 3 draft pick, they are envisioning a future all-star, an MVP candidate, and the future of their franchise. But as we see in retrospect every year, only so many pan out. The Philadelphia 76ers know this as much as anyone. In 2013, after a streak of mediocre seasons, newly-hired GM Sam Hinkie would begin the 76ers equally infamous and revolutionary ‘Trust the Process’ rebuild. From 2014 to 2017, Philadelphia racked up four top-3 draft picks. Three of them: Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz would backfire and go down as some of the biggest busts of the 2010s. The pictured franchise players would be traded away from Philadelphia within a few seasons. Part of it was bad scouting, part of it was just bad luck. That’s the unpredictability of the NBA Draft lottery and that’s what makes it so much more valuable when teams do strike gold.

After a rough start to his career with a meniscus tear that sidelined him for the first three years of his career, 2014 third-overall pick Joel Embiid would rapidly blossom into one of the league’s best players. As he earned all-star appearances, improved his stats, and propelled the 76ers to the top of the Eastern Conference, it became clear that Embiid was the crown jewel of their franchise. Flash-forward to today and he is coming off of his first MVP with an incredible 33 and 10 stat line. He is not only one of the league’s premier superstars but one of the most skilled centers we’ve ever seen. 

So as the 76ers fall short year after year despite strong regular seasons, they have naturally pointed their finger at everyone but him. They have fired coaches. They have replaced his supporting cast. The result has been the same: disappointing seasons. After blowing a 3-2 lead against the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers are coming off their fifth second-round loss in the last six years. At what point is Embiid the problem?

Of those five second-round exits, four went down to a Game 6 or Game 7. His averages in what are essentially the four most important games of his career? 21.75 PPG on 35.8% from the field. Playoff hiccups in rising stars are nothing out of the ordinary. Over the past few years, we’ve all seen the young Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum freeze up in big games. But Embiid is 29 years old now. He has as much experience as he needs and has shown no postseason improvement. His issues may be chronic. This past postseason after the biggest regular season of his career, Embiid averaged 23.7 PPG compared to his regular season 33.1 PPG, the largest playoff PPG dropoff of any MVP in NBA history. Not only did he regress in scoring, but efficiency as well, dropping from 54.8% from the field to a rough 43.1%. Until Embiid improves, nothing will change, and he may be a lost cause.

If Embiid couldn’t get it done with Ben Simmons or James Harden on his side, he certainly won’t this upcoming season. The 76ers roster is approaching its worst condition in years. In the beginning of the summer, star PG James Harden requested a trade despite accepting the one-year player option on his contract. The arrangement Harden and  76ers GM Daryl Morey reached was that he would be promptly traded away, preferably to the Clippers. But with Harden’s decreasing skill, his risky off-the-court antics, and a one-year rental contract, Morey couldn’t find a good deal. Two months passed, and the trade talks quieted down until the dilemma erupted once again recently. On an Adidas press tour in China, Harden publicly denounced Moreyt as a “liar” and firmly stated he would “never be a part of an organization he is a part of”. Following up on Harden’s public statements, NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski reported that “Harden’s goal is to make the Sixers so uncomfortable, that they just decide they cannot bring him back to training camp”. Despite a $100,000 fine for his comments, Harden can keep going. He is forcing himself out, and the 76ers will only get a fraction of his value back.

As Harden leaves behind a hole of star power, third-option guard Tyrese Maxey is next in succession. The 2022 late-first-round pick is coming off his best season to date putting up an impressive 20.3 PPG on 48.1% from the field. Maxey is on track to be one of the best guards in the league in a few years but he is not a championship-caliber section option yet. Plus, Maxey’s playmaking leaves much to be desired.

The more logical option would be to trade Maxey to a selling team like the Bulls or the Trailblazers in return for an established star like Damian Lillard or Zach Lavine. Earlier this summer, however, NBA insider Brian Windhorst reported that Maxey was not available at any cost, hyperbolizing that they would not trade Maxey for Giannis, “25-year-old LeBron”, or “prime Michael Jordan”. But, by the time Maxey reaches his prime, Embiid will be out of his. Their timelines don’t line up. The 76ers are trying to clutch onto both Embiid and Maxey but they are going in opposite directions.

Embiid’s trade value is as high as it will ever be, but there’s a certain sacredness to him. Embiid is the last remnant of the “Trust the Process” rebuild. When Embiid goes, it’s officially rendered a decade-long failed experiment without even a Conference Finals appearance to show for it. For that reason, Philadelphia is inclined to try again and again with Embiid for as long as they can, but their championship window is closing. Maybe it’s time for the 76ers to cut their losses and look toward the future.

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About the Contributor
Sam Dababneh
Sam Dababneh, Review Editor & Asst. Sports Editor
Sam Dababneh is a Sophmore at Niles North High school. This is his second year on North Star News.

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