It’s amazing what a little bad news can do. As Jeff has pointed out a few times on the show, it’s been a while since I’ve written a piece for the site. You can chalk part of that up to a busy schedule, but another part of it is that there hasn’t been a story in a while that’s compelled me to sit down and write something. One thing I’ve been excited about for quite some time is the potential that I see in the Sixers’ rebuild. Forget about what could be down the road; look at what’s happening now. Has there ever been such a complete dismantling and rebuilding of a roster? Have you ever seen an organization so transparently say “we have no problem being awful for a few years while we build something?” You’ll probably never see a rebuild like this again. Some might be OK with the comfort of barely making the playoffs, as long as they’re not a laughingstock. Not me, I have no desire to watch a team just tread water. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward, so rip it all down and start over. Give me something to dream on. That’s what I feel like the Sixers have been doing.
In order to build something that will last, you need a foundation and a centerpiece. Between Brett Brown’s coaching, Nerlens Noel’s growing game, role players like Robert Covington and Jerami Grant, and a slew of cap space and future draft picks, the Sixers have a nice foundation. The centerpiece, however is supposed to be Joel Embiid, and that is why I’m writing today. Over the weekend, we learned that the navicular bone in Embiid’s foot is not healing at the rate that it should. It’s important to be clear about this, there is no new injury here, the foot is just not healing as quickly as doctors and the Sixers thought. There have been differing reports on whether or not another surgery will be needed. There is also the question of how much longer Embiid will be out whether or not surgery is required.
At this point, I think it’s important to hold your outrage/despair/misery until we know just a little bit more. We still don’t even know if a second surgery is needed, so don’t pull out those pitchforks just yet. That said, this news is really disheartening, even for a Sixers optimist such as myself. The more I reflected on it, the more I realized that this has been bothering me because of how high my expectations for Embiid are.
Think about who you feel is the best athlete in Philadelphia right now. Is it Cole Hamels? Claude Giroux? Maybe you’d go outside the box and nominate WBA junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia. I’m not even sure who I’d pick right now, but I can tell you that three years from now, I would have said it would be Joel Embiid in a landslide. My expectation for Embiid was (is?) that he would be at least a top-15 NBA player and the guy who the Sixers’ next period of contention was built around. I hate that I’m already using past tense language here, because this really could just be nothing more than a small setback. But is there such a thing as a small setback when the issue concerns someone you see that much potential in, the player that you see as the lynchpin for a sustained run of greatness? In short, even though I told you not to panic in the previous paragraph, I’m panicking a little here.
With this much uncertainty surrounding this important of a player, you have to wonder what this news does to the strategy that has become known as “The Process”, Sam Hinkie’s road map to building a contender. The Sixers hold the 3rd pick in the NBA Draft, which takes place about a week and a half from now. If centers Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor go 1-2 as many believe the will, do the Sixers take a sorely-needed point guard like D’Angelo Russell or Emmanuel Mudiay, or do they go with Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis? What if Russell is taken with the second pick…would the Sixers take Okafor at #3? Personally, I would stick with Russell at the third pick if he’s there. Another question to consider is whether the Sixers would pull from their stockpile of future 1st-round picks in order to acquire a second 1st-rounder this year. If the deal was right and the Sixers could get a solid contributor out of it, I’d be all for it. In addition to all that, there has been speculation that the Sixers would like to help buy out the remainder of Dario Saric’s contract with Turkish club Anadolu Efes. We had to wait a year for Noel, and we will likely be waiting over a year for Embiid. So getting Saric over to the States as soon as possible would give a Sixer fan base that has already shown a remarkable amount of patience a shiny new toy to be happy about.
It sounds like there are a number of possibilities for the direction the Sixers can go, right? I think that’s what Sam Hinkie is going for when he talks about optionality and acquiring assets, the ability to change course relatively quickly when you do hit a bump in the road and things do not work out as planned. There are still so many variables in play. Two weeks from now we could be downright giddy about where the Sixers appear to be headed, or we could have our patience tested even further by Hinkie. There is literally nothing that can be ruled out, even a few years into this rebuild.
With all of that in mind, Embiid is still the guy as far as I’m concerned. Whatever they need to do to get him as close to reliably healthy as possible, do it. He has more potential than any player in last year’s draft or this year’s draft. Without the hope of him eventually being the go-to guy on this team, I think the long road back to the top for the Sixers becomes even longer.