It won’t be hard to convince Philadelphia 76ers fans that this version of the James Harden trade was the best they were going to get. Between Daryl Morey’s insistence that he get a star in return, Harden’s insistence that he makes this as uncomfortable as possible, and the NBA’s insistence that it understands none of it, the rock was hurling toward planet Joel Embiid and nearing a point of extinction.
While this trade might appear to be a mitigation and not a solution, I think it’s the other way around. Before the Beard arrived in Philly, when Ben Simmons was sulking in big sweaters amid another Morey trade standoff, Embiid was playing at an MVP level. Nikola Jokić would go on to win his second in a row, and the Philly star finally got his trophy last year, but I want to see that Embiid for a full season.
Throw in a competent coach — Nick Nurse gives off passive Rick Carlisle vibes, but the honeymoon period should be great — a deep, reliable group of role guys, an appropriate amount of Tyrese Maxey, and Philly could make more noise than we’re used to.
Robert Covington is back, Nic Batum provides flexibility, Kenyon Martin Jr. can give you minutes(?), but most importantly the team won’t have to learn how to install another star. I know single-superstar systems are damn near impossible to win a title with, yet big men are different animals.
Jamal Murray was only himself for 75 percent of last playoffs, but Jokić was such a force that it didn’t matter. While Embiid may not be a passing savant, he’s always been unselfish, and ideally, he’ll be put in spots by Nurse, and not just throw at the canvas like Doc “Jackson Pollock” Rivers.
Through three games, Embiid is averaging seven assists. It’s a small sample size, but his previous high for a season is four, and the ball should ping around a bit more without it stopping for a dribbling exhibition every third pass. Will there be too much Maxey and Kelly Oubre at times? Yes, but there’s something to be said for a well-defined hierarchy (at least as far as sports as concerned).
Embiid is the straw that stirs most of the drinks, and that onus is going to be his burden in perpetuity. There’s nowhere to hide, and no one of which to defer. The offense is Joel, Joel, Maxey, and more Joel. It might just be best to give him the majority of the oxygen, and let the others scavenge for air.
Maxey has the official sidekick duties, and he’s run with the opportunity to the tune of 30, 6, and 6 on 56-56-91 shooting splits. However, unlike in years past, he’s the one who dictates how long those numbers hold up, and not some yet-to-be-defined role next to a yet-to-be-named player.
Philly would’ve had to sacrifice depth (and maybe Maxey) if it wanted to get a star in return for Harden, who hasn’t been willing or able to play for a while. It was a matter of time before the Sixers ran out of desirable second guys to swap next to Embiid (or, in this case, one of them refuses to play ball).
The Clippers trade might not have been perfect, but the deal for Harden was presented lauded as such, and it still imploded, too. Sometimes you don’t always get what you want …
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