Fresh off winning Player of the Week for the second time this season, Joel Embiid gave a longer-than-usual interview. In that one, compiled by former Liberty Baller extraordinaire Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, Embiid caused a stir. In characteristic “Troel” fashion he left us with a quote that went viral.
“Sixers fans, they want to trade me,” Embiid said.
You might’ve already seen the aggregators pick it up: Joel Embiid says Philly fans want to trade him!
The text chain I have with buddies, fans of other teams (mostly the Knicks) immediately shared it and started putting the eyes-looking emoji‘s. “Are Sixers Fans done with Joel?” Was one question asked, tagging me for an explanation. “I guess they don’t T the P anymore over there in Philly!?” was another.
So my first thought, before I read the clip, was that Troel must be totally joking. He always mentions this stuff. Remember his exit interview after they lost to the Heat?
But then my second thought was Embiid hears more than me, often directed at himself, and he knows that there’s always silly fans who want to trade him. He probably sees random Twitter accounts saying the team should rebuild and could get at least 12 picks for him, Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, and De’Anthony Melton at least. His buddies probably send him the worst ones on the internet all the time for a laugh. And he remembers being personally booed by his own fans back in 2020.
There have always been fans suggesting that they should take Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro ever since he and Jimmy Butler started openly flirting with the idea Embiid might head to South Beach one day. And like most stars, when Embiid hears it, even if it’s from the least savvy fans, who’d prefer Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson, like most top stars, he probably uses all that as motivation.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where Joel has been largely devoid of criticism to the point where Kyle Neubeck of the Philly voice said we can’t never blame “Saint Embiid.” Even he deserves some criticism when the team plays poorly as well.
“But when there are still holdover problems from past versions of this team, we are past the point of putting the responsibility all on somebody else, acting as if Saint Embiid is blameless in the exercise. You can’t blame Brett Brown because Embiid currently has more turnovers than assists.”
So is the truth somewhere in the middle?
Per Fischer, here was more context. You decide what Jo meant, and how playful or not he was being:
“He was then asked to deliver a message, to the segment of Philadelphia’s fan base that has found cause for panic, that is pounding their timeline to remove Rivers and wants to declare that the trade that landed Harden is already a failure.
“I don’t know,” Embiid said, shrugging. “Sixers fans, they want to trade me.” The 28-year-old grinned wide, his breathy laugh filling the space. There’s that twinkle in Embiid’s eye when he’s ready to unwind and talk.
So here is where our brief conversation, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, truly begins.
You don’t believe that.
Embiid: I do believe that. They want to trade me.
They don’t all want to trade you. They want certain people to, uh, be relieved of their duties and, uh, certain people to depart the franchise.
Embiid: Look, all I can do is try to do my best every game. I’m grateful to be in this position, because it’s not an easy job. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
It might remind you of Embiid’s May exit interview when he said things like: “They can trade me anytime. Everything has a price,” Embiid said. “You never know what can happen, I’m sure there are some Philly fans who want that to happen.” And “Like I said, I’m not the GM. They can trade me anytime,” Embiid said. “I don’t know. I got home two days ago and I got the best award I could get, it was Most Valuable Father.”
So it’s not a topic he hesitates to bring up. In full context, he almost uses it to avoid (overtly) criticizing his organization for not putting more help around him over the years. In this case, he uses it to avoid addressing Fischer’s unsubtle “bro, the fans want to fire Doc not trade you, silly” probing.
So it’s some sort of crafty, weirdly self-deprecating red herring, or smoke screen. I refuse to list the ways the Colangelos and then Collaborative Front office failed us, you won’t catch me trashing Doc who lets me have the ball whenever and wherever I want, so “maybe they all want to just trade me!”
Look, the dude is on pace to be the first center ever since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to average 30 points per game two seasons in a row. He’s squarely in the MVP conversation and if he averages 30, anchors a top-five defense, and the Sixers capture home court for at least the first round, it’ll be difficult to argue against him winning MVP once again. He’s going to have a case here. It’s amazing how awesome he is — like historically awesome.
And yet, without that signature playoff run on his resume, not even a Conference Finals appearance on the resume yet, I myself whine on podcasts that he’s doing too much heavy lifting early in the season for this team to look like true title contenders, I nag when he takes way, way, way too many diving injury risks in non-impact moments of early regular season games whose outcomes are often already decided. I bemoan that we’ve already seen the Joel regular season Hero Ball show before, so now we need the next evolution of his game with sharper, more willing passing, and a bigger emphasis on defense and less on point totals.
And he speaks to that stuff in the full interview so give it a read. Spoiler, I don’t love his answers.
So guilty as charged — I’m at least part of why some say that Philly is a pretty tough market in terms of basketball. Dude drops 91 in 60 some odd minutes, and I’m wondering why he checked back in up 21 with seven and change to go.
Was Doc worried they’d blow another lead like vs. Lakers? Or did Joel want to put up 30 for his average? Either way, not great, Bob!
Not that I’m ever popping Joel in the trade machine. The way I look at it is this... maybe Joel does occasionally have a wandering eye. Maybe he’s still scarred by the team not doing more to keep Jimmy Butler in town. Maybe he enjoys getting a rise out of us with quotes like this. Maybe he is sensitive to and derives motivation from to the dumbest possible fans fake trading him for far lesser talents.
If we’re being totally honest, if I was the GM of the team and Mark Cuban called and offered me Luka Doncic straight up for Joel, I might take that deal. I might trade Joel for Giannis too. In fact, off the record, I’d probably say yes to both of those. So I guess I can prove Joel’s point. With that said, the only even mildly realistic trades that could happen for Embiid wouldn’t make the team better. So if you’re actively trying to trade Embiid, for deals that could actually get done, you probably don’t know ball.
I’ve probably over thought this now and fell right into Troel’s trap. But in case anyone asks you, do Sixers fans want to trade Joel, the short answer is no, not in the slightest. He is literally the embodiment of why they did “The Process.” His now perennial MVP candidacy meant the fans who cheered a losing team in 2015 were right and the Mike Wilbon’s were wrong. Even if they cannot admit it. Tanking for Embiid and a truckload of picks and cap space was brilliant. Even if the org. squandered most of the resources we all suffered to accumulate.
Fans wish ownership hadn’t done the post-Hinkie-post-Process disaster-Colangelo-Collaborative years and cost him the shot at multiple titles. Like Fischer alludes to, they can’t fathom why they haven’t fired Doc Rivers yet. They pray Daryl Morey can find this man more help to make amends for the sins of our past. That’s where our heads are at. You’ll find much more fake trades bringing in Jae Crowder and Reggie Bullock or Eric Gordon then you will shipping The Process out of town.
But don’t tell that to Joel. Whatever mindset he has... it’s working.