Joel Embiid is firmly in the prime of his career. The superstar center finally won NBA MVP this past season after consecutive second place finishes. He will turn 30 years old in March. There’s only one thing missing on Embiid’s resume at this point: an NBA championship.
Embiid’s lack of success in the NBA Playoffs is hard to ignore. He’s never even reached the conference finals since the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him in 2014. The Sixers have attempted so many different plans to build a championship team around Embiid, from pairing him with Ben Simmons, trading up to the No. 1 pick for Markelle Fultz, signing Al Horford, trading for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, and completing a massive trade for James Harden. None of it has worked.
Embiid is starting to feel the pressure after he watched his primary rival, Nikola Jokic, win his first NBA championship with the Denver Nuggets this past season. With Harden’s future hanging in the balance after a trade request this summer that he’s reportedly not backing down from, Embiid’s future has become a point of speculation. He added more fuel to fire with his comments during a public appearance this weekend.
Was not expecting Joel Embiid to say “or anywhere else” when talking about championships… He’s close to his breaking point here in Philly. pic.twitter.com/0MqXX1rnrT
— AJ Torres (@ajtorres1230) July 17, 2023
Here’s the full quote from Embiid:
“I just want to win a championship. Whatever it takes. I don’t know where that’s going to be. Whether it’s Philly or anywhere else. I just want to have a chance to accomplish that. I want to see what it feels like to win my first one, then you can think about the next one. It’s not easy, but it takes more than one, two, three guys. You got to have good people around you.”
And just like that, the Sixers are on the clock.
There’s an enormous amount of pressure on Sixers top executive Daryl Morey right now. His trade for Harden didn’t get the team past the second round of the playoffs — and now Harden wants out after failing to get the long-term contract extension he wanted. Can Morey swing a Harden trade that pushes the Sixers to the next level? It’s not going to be easy, given how much Harden’s play has slipped since his own MVP days.
NBA superstars rarely reach free agency anymore. Instead, they ask for trades while under contract. It’s happening with Damian Lillard right now. It also happened with Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, and Harden himself. If the Sixers flame out again, it’s totally plausible that Embiid could be the next superstar to ask for a trade.
It’s only fair to note that Embiid hasn’t been the best version of himself in the playoffs yet. It feels like the star center suffers an injury in the postseason every year, and then sees his numbers drop across the board. How much longer can Embiid avoid the “playoff choker” reputation that follows Harden?
If Embiid does eventually request a trade from the Sixers, he’s likely to give them a list of preferred destinations, just like Dame is doing with the Blazers right now. Here’s a scenario I’m imagining right now: the Miami Heat swing a trade for Lillard and still come up short in the playoffs, then Embiid requests a trade to Miami, setting the table for a Bam Adebayo for Embiid swap.
If you think this is out of bounds, you haven’t been paying attention to the NBA for the last few decades. Embiid put the Sixers on watch. Everything is on the table if the team comes up short again.