Toward the end of the 2014-15 season, when the Sixers were doing a lot of losing and all the talk was about the draft and picking a player for need vs best available, I wrote about how the Sixers didn’t need Jahlil Okafor.
My premise (such as it was) was that since the Sixers already had Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, there was no point in drafting yet another big man and that they should instead do everything possible to grab point guard D’Angelo Russell out of Ohio State. In this one case, drafting for need was the way to go even if some felt that Okafor was the better talent and would be the superior player.
Of course, I wrote all that before it was discovered that Embiid would need a second surgery on his right foot to fix the broken navicular bone that sidelined him all last year. Embiid finally had the procedure on Tuesday and it will once again place him firmly on the bench for the entire 2015-16 NBA season.
Because of that, and the fact the Los Angeles Lakers shocked everyone by taking Russell with the second overall pick on draft night, the Sixers took Okafor with the third pick. Some fans were disappointed, some elated, but all had the same question:
What are the Sixers going to do with three big men?
It turns out that with Embiid missing the upcoming season, that question doesn’t need to be answered any time soon. But when coach Brett Brown and GM Sam Hinkie do come up with an answer, Embiid might not like what they have to say.
Unlike previous Sixers’ first-round picks, Okafor will suit up and play this season and be able to make an immediate impact. He will have an entire season to work with Noel, learn the offense and work on his defense. Okafor is already talking about winning Rookie of the Year, so it would seem that he plans to leave an impression.
Meanwhile, Embiid will be watching from the bench. Again.
The general thought was that if the Sixers did decide to trade one of their big men, it was going to be Noel, which many felt would be a foolish thing for the team to do. Noel will be going into his third season with the Sixers and has become a key part of this franchise. That will only be reinforced if he and Okafor have the kind of season many are expecting them to have. Add in the returning Robert Covington, the newly acquired Nik Stauskas and a point guard to be named later and you have a Sixers team that could feasibly win 25-plus games this year.
Would you really want to mess with all of that by bringing in Embiid in the 2016-17 season?
The simple fact is that if Okafor is as good as everyone says he is and Noel and Covington continue to progress and improve, the Sixers aren’t going to need Embiid. Instead of being the centerpiece of the rebuild, as many though he would be, Embiid will become another asset to be traded away. He will join Michael Carter-Williams, K.J. McDaniels and others as a player who might have been part of the Sixers long-term plan only to find out that they’re not.
The truth is that while Embiid could still have a great NBA career, the odds are not in his favor. It is already obvious that he is going to have an issue with injuries and that the Sixers will be very lucky to ever get a complete 82 game season out of him.
Unfortunately, Embiid is damaged goods.
Embiid staying with the Sixers is always a possibility, but the more likely scenario is that Hinkie will trade him as soon as he is healthy. With Okafor on the roster, the simple fact is that the Sixers just don’t need him as much as they used to.