When Joel Embiid was drafted out of Kansas by the Philadelphia 76ers with the third overall pick during the 2014 NBA Draft, it was supposed to be a watershed moment in the history of the franchise. This was going to be proof that The Great Tank and all the losing was worth the pain and aggravation. This was the player that was going to make the Sixers matter again.
Of course, few mentioned that the fact that Embiid was only there for the Sixers to pick because of a broken navicular bone in his right foot that had required surgery days before the draft had scared off both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. Embiid was going to miss the entire 2014-15 season rehabbing the foot in a situation very similar to what Nerlens Noel had gone through the previous year.
Regardless of all that, the analysts and Philadelphia’s media talking heads all continued to rave about how high a ceiling Embiid had and how he had the potential to eventually become one of the greatest centers to ever play the game of basketball. They made it very clear they thought drafting Embiid despite the foot injury (and a stress fracture in his back that happened while at Kansas) was worth the gamble.
And everything seemed to be going according to plan, until June 14 when a routine CT scan showed that Embiid’s surgically repaired foot wasn’t healing as fast as it should. Panic swept through Sixers Nation as the team put a halt to all of Embiid’s basketball-related activities. Rumors swirled that the reason for the slower than normal healing was due to Embiid’s lousy diet and poor work ethic.
As a result, Embiid’s much hyped debut in the NBA summer league this year never happened and questions still swirl around the 21-year-old and his future. At this point even a second surgery is a very real possibility that would leave Embiid on the bench for yet another year. Sixers GM Sam Hinkie was asked about the situation in Utah as the team played in their Utah summer league finale and only said this:
“We’re still meeting with a lot of specialists and doctors to try and determine what’s best for Joel. “He’s somebody we have very high hopes for, but we’re trying to get his health just right. It’s about the only thing that matters at the end of the day — the health of your best players — and it’s something that’s really important to us, so we’re taking our time.”
Meanwhile, Noel returned from his season riding the bench and proved to everyone exactly why many felt he could have been the first overall pick in 2013. He averaged 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks during the 2014-15 season and played well enough that some thought he should have won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Then there is the Sixers’ 2015 draft pick Jahlil Okafor. Just like Embiid, the Sixers took him with the No. 3 pick despite already having Noel on the roster. Unlike Embiid, however, Okafor isn’t hurt, doesn’t need to rehab anything and has just completed his first summer league in Utah averaging 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds. Yes, he did have some trouble with his foul shooting and turnovers, but hey, at least he played, which is more than can be said about Embiid.
Ever since the Sixers went with Okafor last month, fans have wondered how the three big men would be able to work together and function as a unit. Conventional wisdom says that at some point one will be traded and more than likely it will be Noel who ends up packing his bags as he heads out-of-town.
And that would be a huge mistake.
In Noel you have a player who already has two seasons under his belt learning head coach Brett Brown‘s system. He has bought into what the Sixers are doing and how they are rebuilding and has shown that he is a team player. After the Michael Carter-Williams trade at the deadline Noel became a leader in the locker room and on the court, doing whatever was asked of him by Brown and the staff.
And you are going to trade Noel away just on the promise of what Embiid could become? Really?
Let’s be honest here. There is a very good chance that Embiid could become the great basketball player everyone seems to think he is capable of becoming. But there is also a fairly good chance Embiid might never play a single game as a pro. And even if he does eventually get on the hardwood, odds are that he will never come close to playing an entire 82 game season.
Joel Embiid is damaged goods, plain and simple. If the Sixers do decide to trade one of their three big men at some point, moving Embiid would make the most sense. Both for the future of the team and for the stability of the roster.
The sooner the Sixers and their fans realize this, the sooner we can all start enjoying watching Noel and Okafor take the organization to the next level without distraction.
Sorry JoJo, but it may be time for you to go.