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Sixers being ‘aggressive’ in trade market, with belief Joel Embiid can return in 2023-24

With there still being “significant belief” around the Sixers organization that Joel Embiid can return this season, the team is reportedly active ahead of this week’s NBA trade deadline.

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline is nearly here. And even though Joel Embiid has only just undergone surgery to address his injured meniscus (and will be re-evaluated in four weeks), making it uncertain exactly when he’ll be able to return, the Sixers are reportedly still active in trade talks ahead of the deadline.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski has already reported that there's hope Embiid could return this season, and reiterated that message in a new appearance on SportsCenter. Wojnarowski also went one step further, saying that the Sixers are confident enough in Embiid returning this season to operate as buyers ahead of the trade deadline.

“The Sixers are very much weighing the possibility that Joel Embiid does return this season, that they can still play with him as their centerpiece, and because of that they’re going to continue to be buyers at this trade deadline,” Wojnarowski said. “I think they’re trying to improve themselves on multiple fronts.”

“They’re out, they’re aggressive,” Wojnarowski added. He also mentioned that the Sixers want to at least stay in the top six in the Eastern Conference.

Daryl Morey has a tough task ahead of him to navigate how to handle this trade deadline. The team could clearly use some ball-handling and scoring help to take the burden off Tyrese Maxey right now, and Wojnarowski also mentioned the possibility of adding a new backup center to help them short term (such as Andre Drummond or Kelly Olynyk). But they also need to operate with their assets, future flexibility, and long-term fit for Embiid in mind.

In addition to a range of second-round picks and some tradable contracts, the Sixers also have three first-round picks and a first-round pick swap at their disposal following the James Harden trade (as our Bryan Toporek broke down). However, they need to ensure acquiring any players this week will be worthwhile, or that they’ll at least be around beyond this season to maintain their value. Using up too many assets to bring in players now if Embiid’s return is delayed isn’t going to be worth much when the team can’t contend without him anyway. The Sixers have the flexibility of the potential $55 million they could create in cap space this summer to consider, too.

Wojnarowski did mention, though, that he believes the Sixers are willing to live with the risk of making moves before the deadline even if Embiid doesn’t come back this season or isn’t at full strength.

Thankfully, from a fit standpoint, acquiring another ball handler or reliable two-way wing would suit the team’s needs and fit with or without Embiid available. There’s also the simple fact that getting valuable players already on the team (like De’Anthony Melton and Nicolas Batum) healthy will make a real difference in the coming weeks, too.

We'll see soon enough how the Sixers approach this week’s deadline, and will find out over the next month how Embiid’s recovery goes. If all goes well, maybe they can still have a shot at looking like a contender again later this season.

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