The Sixers moving Michael Carter-Williams at the trade deadline wasn't exactly out of the blue. Whispers popped up at various times throughout the last season and a half based on genuine reporting and stat-based analysis alike. Joel Embiid in trade talks, though, is a new angle that evidently popped up at last Thursday's deadline.
The report comes from Mark Heisler of Forbes.com. Heisler touches on the broader idea of no one being safe, but the news of note goes like this:
In an unnoticed development at last week's trade deadline, the 76ers were still trying to trade up for a top pick in this draft, indicating a willingness to talk about Joel Embiid or any player on their team, an NBA source told Forbes.com.
Yes, that's the Joel Embiid they drafted No. 3 overall last spring. In other words, after going 65-144 over the last two-plus seasons and parting with Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young, Jodie Meeks, Spencer Hawes, Nick Young and Andre Iguodala, the 76ers don't have an asset on the lot whom they're committed to.
All they have to show for that wheeling and dealing is Dario Saric, a hot Euro-prospect who's signed with a Turkish team through the summer of 2016, and, of course, more No. 1 picks.
Normally it'd be easy enough to dismiss NBA reporting from a publication which is decidedly outside the usual rumor mill -- particularly a piece that included Nick Young along with the other names mentioned above. But Heisler is a vet, having covered the league for 30+ years at the L.A. Times, so he's connected enough to take him at his word.
The MCW trade has been praised due in large part to his stylistic clashing with the more "important" pieces of the Sixers rebuild, namely Embiid and Nerlens Noel. If Embiid -- the guy assumed to be the Sixers future star -- is up for grabs as well, the detractors' claims of Hinkie kicking the can down the road gain a little more weight.
To buy into that notion, you still have to ignore pretty much everything we can say we know about the Sixers long-term plan. Discussing the Embiid pick post-draft, Sam Hinkie spoke of "violence at the rim" being a primary objective for the franchise. While Noel has lived up to that ethos on the defensive end, Embiid is the rare player who looks primed to do so on both ends of the floor. Trading him for anything short of a Robert Griffin III-esque package would likely be a non-starter.
That's not to say that Embiid's name wouldn't be floated out there. Front offices around the league have come to terms with what Philadelphia is doing, and therefore are doing due diligence exploring trades with the transaction-happy Sixers. In return, Hinkie is doing his job, seeing what sort of return he could fetch for any one of his players.
Though it's safe to assume Embiid's price tag is higher than anyone else on the roster, it can't be assumed he's untouchable. The Sixers can't afford to (hypothetically) miss out on acquiring a brooding star because they refused to entertain trades that include Embiid, Noel or any of their stockpiled picks. Moves that would move the needle swiftly would inherently be tied to the Sixers biggest talent; the only way to acquire someone else's ready-made star is to ask, and be willing to give up something valuable yourself.
More than anything, this circles back to Hinkie's reputation as a listener. Reading the report, the first thing that jumped to mind was what Kyle Lowry had to say about him in a mid-January interview with Philly.com:
He just knows the game. He understands the analytics, of course. But he also knows the game. He would come to me and talk about certain things. He was always asking questions: 'What about this? What do you think about this?' It was kind of a mutual relationship because he respected what I did as a basketball player, and I respected what he did as a guy in management.
That inquisitive nature is the very foundation of this rebuild. We know the Sixers had been fielding Carter-Williams trade offers for some time, and the team's insistence on asking, "What about this?" led them to last Thursday's three-team deal. It'd be naive to think the same process isn't applied to the team at large.
It's something to think about, but ultimately it speaks to the Sixers thought process more than their feelings on Embiid himself. They Sixers are ruthlessly attacking the market, a practice that will continue even as the team transitions into contention with time.