The Sixers were fully all-in on their rebuild back in the summer of 2014. The team was coming off of a 19-63 campaign, 15 fewer wins than the season before. This was the first real chance for Sam Hinkie to land the transcendent talent that Philadelphia had lacked since Allen Iverson.
The Sixers went into the night armed with the third overall pick in the draft. The Sixers — along with the Milwaukee Bucks — fell one spot in the draft order as the Cleveland Cavaliers landed the first overall pick in the lottery. Some at the time viewed this as a bit of a disappointment, but history would show that this would work in favor of Philadelphia.
Joel Embiid was widely considered the best overall prospect in the entire draft class, getting compared to all-time great Hakeem Olajuwon. Injuries, however, had tanked Embiid’s draft stock. The Cleveland Cavaliers were trying to put together a successful team around former number one overall pick, Kyrie Irving. To say that they were antsy to make the playoffs would be an understatement, as they had failed to do so since Lebron James bolted to Miami.
The Milwaukee Bucks — on the other hand — were sold on Jabari Parker, a hyper-athletic forward with an improving jump shot.
All of these circumstances led to Joel Embiid falling to Philadelphia at the number three pick in the draft. Sam Hinkie constantly preached about taking the best player available in the NBA Draft and managed to so back in 2014.
(Had to include this gem of a clip when talking about the 2014 Draft)
What most people didn’t expect was the time in which Embiid was out with his respective injuries. The timeline for the healing of both of his back and leg pushed back the debut of the 7-footer for two entire NBA seasons. Embiid spent a lot of time rehabbing his injuries and became an afterthought to many people outside of Philadelphia. Many began to question if he would ever take the court and if Hinkie wasted a top-three draft pick.
You could say that the NBA world began to forget about the former third overall pick.
Fortunately for both Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, neither side gave up hope. Sam Hinkie was the embodiment of patience and the long-term view. Combine that with Joel’s resilience through hard work and tough times and it lead to Embiid finally making his long-awaited debut in 2016. And boy, did it not disappoint.
I was fortunate enough to have been one of the 21,000 people in the stadium that night and I’ll never forget the atmosphere I experienced that night. Thousands of people erupted whenever Embiid hit a shot, got a stop on defense, or even shot a free throw.
The entire city of Philadelphia was behind Joel Embiid, who put the NBA world on notice with one dominant play after another while playing limited minutes. The city reminded Embiid that they didn’t forget about him that night.
Joel Embiid showed the world that he was a top center in the league over the next few seasons, being selected as an All-Star, All-NBA player, and making the All-Defensive team. He became an icon on and off of the NBA court with his colorful personality and hilarious jokes online.
While Embiid progressed as a young up-and-coming player, the Sixers saw massive change within their front office structure. Sam Hinkie — the guy whom drafted Embiid and he shared a personal relationship with — was forced out and stepped down as the President of Basketball Operations. This led to the Sixers hiring Brian Colangelo, who would later become arguably one of the most hated front office figures in the Philadelphia Sports scene ever.
The roster decisions post-Sam Hinkie began a domino effect that largely led to the team catering to Simmons’ needs over Embiid’s. Let me explain:
The Colangelo-led Sixers would go on to draft Ben Simmons, who would go on to make a great young duo alongside Joel Embiid. While we’ve seen Simmons and Embiid dominate together (when given a roster that can shoot a basketball), we’ve seen that both play a different type of basketball in terms of pace. It seems like the Sixers have consistently catered to Simmons over Embiid more and more over time just by looking at the roster decisions that were made.
Two examples involve Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick. Both former Sixers bolted in the summer of 2019 for Miami and New Orleans, respectively. Embiid was one of the key recruiters in landing Redick in free agency back when he first signed in 2017. Both shared a friendship that translated very well to on-court performance. Jimmy Butler — on the other hand — was acquired mid-season in the winter of 2019. Embiid would go on to become one of Jimmy Butler’s more praised teammates.
The Sixers would go on to sign Al Horford in the free agency period — who essentially plays the same position as Embiid — to a staggering four-year deal worth $109 million. Horford was viewed as Joel Embiid insurance for the Sixers in an event in which Embiid was not able to play or needed rest. We’ve seen with time that the Horford/Embiid duo was a clunky fit at best, and was far from an upgrade when compared to JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler.
In highsight, the Sixers replaced two of Joel Embiid’s close friends (and great players) with an aging player that played the same position as him. While Richardson is a great player, he wasn’t the best fit to put around Embiid, as he is an inconsistent 3-point shooter.
Looking back, the Sixers have had a history of trading away close friends of Embiid. Just take a look at where the majority of them are currently located around the NBA:
Jerami Grant - Traded away to the Thunder in the winter of 2016, currently in Denver.
Nerlens Noel - Traded away to the Mavericks in winter of 2017, currently in Oklahoma City.
Justin Anderson - Traded away to the Hawks in summer of 2018, currently in Brooklyn.
Robert Covington - Traded away in winter of 2019 to the Timberwolves, currently in Houston.
T.J. McConnell - Signed free-agent deal in 2019 with the Indiana Pacers.
JJ Redick - Signed free-agent deal in 2019 with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Jimmy Butler - Sign-and-traded to Miami in 2019.
The Sixers have not only put an incompetent roster around Joel Embiid, but one lacking the majority of the teammates he has been close with.
We saw former coach Brett Brown share a strong bond with Joel Embiid. Both Brown and Embiid went through a lot together — two years of rehabbing injuries, multiple losing seasons, and the tragic death of Joel’s younger brother Arthur. While Brett Brown as a coach can be debated endlessly, it’s very fair to say that Joel Embiid lost yet another close friend on the Sixers in Brett Brown.
What a scene.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 25, 2018
The Sixers' locker room celebration was incredible after Brett Brown's first playoff series victory as he rings the bell while being showered by his team. pic.twitter.com/nBFfTq6F6t
The 2020 offseason is arguably the most important ever for the Simmons and Embiid-led Sixers. There obviously needs to be massive change and we are seeing the start of that as the team searches for a new head coach. The Sixers need to keep Joel Embiid in consideration with whatever direction they choose to go in regards to a roster or coach.
Joel Embiid has consistently stated that he wants to be a Sixer for life. We’ve seen him grow up from an unknown player with injury concerns to a dominant player in the best basketball league in the entire world. During that time, he has been nothing but loyal during his rapid ascend to stardom. It’s time that the Sixers cater to his needs both on and off the court.
Joel Embiid has given the Sixers the superstar they’ve needed for so long. He’s one of the greatest talents to ever suit up in the Sixers’ red, white, and blue. No matter what, the Sixers can’t forget about their talented 7-footer.