Sixers are Salvageable, But Can’t Waste Embiid’s Prime
Joel Embiid finished this season — and will start next season — at 27 years old. He also produced his best season and was second in MVP voting.
Embiid rededicated himself to the team, hiring a world-class dietitian, focusing on his body, and taking another step forward in learning to handle double teams. This after years of people doubting his devotion, wondering if he’d ever be healthy and mature enough to put together the type of season he did.
While the Sixers are in a good place having Embiid, Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons under contract — along with some very intriguing young players — they also don’t have the time they once had. Embiid’s window to win is now, and the organization can’t afford to waste his prime.
There’s no use in sugarcoating the way this season ended. Daryl Morey referred to it as a “grave disappointment” at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday, which isn’t overstating it. A big part of the blame falls on Simmons’ shoulders.
While Simmons did an outstanding job on the dangerous Trae Young defensively, Simmons was non-existent — and at times even hurt the team — offensively. Embiid even referenced Simmons’ non-dunk late in the fourth quarter as the moment that killed the Sixers’ momentum. Embiid also mentioned that the Hack-a-Ben strategy threw the team off its rhythm offensively.
Embiid and Simmons have come a long way in their relationship, but there is clearly some level of frustration after what is still a pretty shocking series loss to the Hawks. The solution likely isn’t as simple as trade Simmons and move on. There are a couple different ways to look at it.
Simmons is still just 24 years old and under contract for four more years. He’s made three All-Star teams, was an All-NBA selection last season and finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting this season. A rebuilding team could eye this as an opportunity to snag a young star that still has plenty of room to grow.
On the other hand, Simmons’ contract is a max one, which could potentially cap strap a team. While we can recognize what makes Simmons special, the playoffs have revealed his massive flaws on the offensive end, which culminated in ugly fashion against Atlanta.
Morey has to walk a tightrope this offseason. While it’s been suggested by lots of angry fans — who chanted for it after the Game 7 loss — Morey won’t trade Simmons just to trade Simmons. He’ll want to get value and a player(s) that fits alongside Embiid.
It's also fair to criticize Harris. After an excellent regular season and start to the postseason, Harris came up small over the last three games, averaging just 17.3 points while shooting 34.5 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from three. Simmons' and Harris' struggles — and the extra attention Embiid received — highlight the Sixers' need for a perimeter shot creator.
If there is a palatable trade that nets the Sixers a perimeter playmaker, Morey will have to explore it. If Bulls GM Marc Eversley wants to reunite with Simmons in Chicago, perhaps Zach LaVine could be of interest. It’s fair to wonder what the plan is for the Pacers and their reported new head coach Rick Carlisle. Could Indiana look to move on from Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren, putting Simmons in a lineup next to do-it-all big Domantas Sabonis and score-first guard Caris LeVert?
As much as many in the fan base won’t like to hear it, Morey’s best move could be to hang on to Simmons going into next season. Simmons’ value has never been lower. What does it hurt to see if you can remind teams of the things that make Simmons special? Surely that’s better than trading him off the last time the other 29 GMs saw him.
What seems clear is that Morey can’t have the patience Simmons has been afforded in the past. Simmons either needs to vastly improve and come to camp with a new mindset like Embiid did this year or the Sixers need to move on and find a player that fits better with Embiid’s timeline.
What once seemed like a window that would be open for a decade is beginning to close.
It’s not now or never for the Sixers, but with Embiid entering his prime, it’s getting there.