Joel Embiid Needs to Prove Himself Early On in 2016

Feb 8, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid practices prior to a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid practices prior to a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Sixers trade rumors are swirling around like wildfire and have put even more pressure on Joel Embiid to perform well early on in 2016.

The combination of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant, Richaun Holmes, a healthy Joel Embiid, and the arrival of Dario Saric is an excessive amount of 4’s and 5’s that can’t all share the minutes they will need to properly grow in the NBA. The Sixers need to make a trade (or two), but they would be taking a huge risk if they do so before Joel Embiid proves that he was worth the wait.

We all know about Embiid’s talent that has garnished such massive expectations over a three year span, but not one of us knows if he can truly live up to the hype. I myself am a firm believer in Embiid but it’s purely based on hope, not legitimate reason to believe so. And I think that is a way of thinking many Sixers fans have adopted while we’ve waited patiently for a man who is still drawing Hall of Famer comparisons. However I’m starting to wonder if we  could we be setting ourselves up for disappointment?

Since 2011 if you combine Embiid’s senior season at The Rock School Christian Academy where they went 33-4 with the 28 games he played at Kansas, it comes out to 65 competitive basketball games that Joel has participated in. That’s less than a full NBA season in five years. To expect a guy to come out and be Hakeem Olajuwon after such a long layoff would be silly. In fact, it would probably be foolish to assume Embiid could even start game one of the regular season as long as either Noel or Okafor are still around. We already know we won’t get to see him in the Summer League. That means his very first live NBA action will be game one of the Sixers regular season.

Transcendent talent or not, being thrown to the wolves and playing 30+ minutes from the get go is not a realistic outlook. Embiid will need time to adjust to the pace of the professional game, and most importantly, really test his pesky navicular bone for the first time. No matter how intense Joel’s been practicing, even if he’s back to playing 5-on-5, he has not entered the realm where he’s going all out, 100 percent, in-game, and that’s a huge deal.

Everything is still unknown when it comes to Embiid, and that seriously effects the decision making process when it comes to moving Okafor and Noel. If you trade away Okafor, and Embiid fails to blossom and or stay healthy, the Sixers would be stuck paying Nerlens Noel max-contract money, or find themselves without a reliable center.

On the flip side, If the Sixers move Noel, Embiid’s struggles could make the Sixers reliant on Okafor, who does not project to be a good fit defensively in the same lineup as guys like Ben Simmons and Dario Saric. There would be no one to protect the rim unless big Jah vastly improved his defensive skills.

So, perhaps the best decision for Philadelphia is to see if Embiid gives you the best of both worlds (offense and defense) in his first season and wait until the trade deadline nears, to move either Okafor, Noel or both. Sure their trade value may diminish, but at least Philly won’t intentionally put themselves in one of the aforementioned situations by entrusting Embiid’s health too soon. An 82-game season is no joke. It wears the body down and requires a lot of physical perseverance.

“They’ve talked to the entire league and those names have come up.”

I’m willing to bet Brett Brown, and the rest of the Sixers staff have more confidence in Joel Embiid than anybody because they’ve seen every detail his recovery first hand. They speak so highly of him, but they cannot let themselves be blinded by potential until it comes to fruition.

For what it’s worth it does not seem like any trade talks between the Sixers and other teams have gotten past the preliminary stages. In a recent NBA Rumors chat, I asked NBA Guru, and writer Steve Kyler whether or not any real developments are being made within Noel, and Okafor trade talks. Kyler noted that the Sixers are “Simply looking at their options,” and “To characterize them as ready to do something with either guy is a little misplaced.” Kyler went on to describe the situation as somewhat of a result of the new GM in town.

"“Whenever new management comes in there is an introductory “Hey whats going on with your roster?” call and that’s why you have heard so much about Okafor and Noel, not because the 76ers are trying to deal one, but because they have talked to the entire league and those names (have) come up.”-Steve Kyler"

It seems as if Sixers nation is taking these trade rumors a bit too seriously, too soon. You can’t really blame anyone for buying into it because this is indeed a crucial off-season for the franchise, and something is bound to happen eventually. Not to mention that is just the nature of the beast when it comes to the NBA off-season. Whether the front court maneuvers come tomorrow, during the draft, at the deadline, or when Noel’s contract is up next summer remains to be seen. The Sixers aren’t going to unload their best players just for the sake of a balanced depth chart. They can just use their 50 million in cap room to fill in holes in the back court. Philadelphia wants a fair return for their former top picks, and they aren’t going to settle for anything less.

So whether they make a move or not, all of the pressure is going to be on Embiid to be that second building block next to Ben Simmons. That’s not to say Okafor or Noel couldn’t possibly be one of those pieces. I think it’s asinine to count out either player this early in their careers, but the Sixers have made it crystal clear that Embiid is the guy they want as their future center between willingly shopping the values of the other two, and the amount of work and money they’ve put into Joel over these past couple years. Joel is plan A. Everything else follows. They are seeing this thing through regardless of the results.

Related Story: Poll: Fans Want Noel, Not Okafor

The Sixers are ready to see this number three overall pick show the league why he was considered the best player in the 2014 draft. Only question left is can he come through for them and the city of Philadelphia?