The Sixers will live and die by the health of Joel Embiid. As good as the Sixers are, they have proven time and time again that they need the big man to be successful. Over the last few years, the team hasn’t been able to find solid backups that allow Embiid to rest like he should, forcing him into heavier minutes and extra stress on his body. After last year’s heartbreaking playoff exit at the hands of the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors, the sense among the franchise and its fans was that if Embiid was even remotely close to full health and the team had a qualified backup center, then the team could have won that series and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
From the start of free agency, the Sixers seemed focused on adding to the depth at the center spot, and boy did they succeed. Making one of their biggest free agent splashes in quite some time, they decided to sign Al Horford out from under the noses of the hated Boston Celtics. Horford has a lot of experience at the center position, but will now shift to power forward in order to play alongside Embiid within the starting lineup.
While questions about the fit next to the big Cameroonian remain, there is no doubt that the signing of Horford allows the team to give Embiid more rest. The Sixers tend to stagger their starters, so Horford and Embiid might not actually share the court all that often in the grand scheme of things.
Horford is a great option to play center when Embiid isn’t on the court, but the Sixers didn’t stop there. Later in free agency, the team added Kyle O’Quinn on a veteran’s minimum contract to be used as additional depth behind Embiid and Horford. O’Quinn isn’t flashy, but is both average on offense and defense, something that was lacking on last year’s Sixers roster.
It’s understandable that Joel Embiid doesn’t want to miss any games because he wants to shed the “injury prone” label hanging over him, but he needs to realize that overworking himself is only going to hurt in the long run. Having to rely so heavily on Amir Johnson and Greg Monroe towards the end of the year and into the playoffs is one of the reasons the Sixers’ season ended the way it did. Having playable options to fill in the small gaps come playoff time is what winning teams are able to do, and now the Sixers have figured out how to work the margins in order to do exactly that.
By only adding quick solutions to a much larger issue, the Sixers showed fans that they were willing to risk their biggest asset for marginal success, but starting this upcoming season, all of that changes. It is understood that Joel Embiid is going to need to rest more often in order to be in top shape for the playoffs, and now that both the player and the franchise understand that, they can move forward and reach their full potential. In years past, the Sixers have had to live and die by the health of Joel Embiid, but this year could be just a bit different now that the cavalry has arrived to take the load off of the franchise center’s shoulders.