The Philadelphia 76ers are one of this season's most disappointing teams. After spending quite a bit of money on Al Horford and Tobias Harris over the summer to complement their two young superstars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they currently occupy sixth-place in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers have their moments -- like the Christmas Day beatdown of the Bucks -- but overall Philly has struggled to play consistently and keep up with other mid-tier conference foes like Boston, Toronto, Miami, or Indiana.
After coming within one errant bounce of a potential birth to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, expectations were sky-high for the Sixers this season. So far, they've fallen far short, leading Colin Cowherd to suggest drastic measures on The Herd Wednesday afternoon: trade Embiid and build around Simmons.
Cowherd's reasoning is mostly founded in what Simmons was able to do when Embiid missed nine games with a finger injury last month; as he notes, the Australian forward averaged about 22 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists per game without Embiid. The Sixers went 6-3 in that stretch. Without Embiid clogging the lane, the Sixers were able to semi-replicate what Milwaukee does with Giannis Antetokounmpo -- let your point forward run the floor while surrounding himwith shooters and secondary playmakers. Cowherd also noted that Simmons looked "happier," which is hard to determine from outside the locker room.
As Cowherd notes, Embiid is the greater talent of the two, but he's also far more injury-prone. He famously missed his first two seasons in the NBA, and has missed at least 18 games in his two fully healthy seasons since. Simmons, meanwhile, also sat out his first year, but has missed a combined four games in the two seasons since, and only two this year.
From a pure basketball standpoint, this isn't as insane as it sounds on the surface. Simmons can't shoot, but does everything else at an All-NBA level. An offense tailored to his skillset would more closely resemble a modern NBA offense than one built around Embiid. Embiid is indeed supremely talented and borderline unstoppable when he's feeling it, but his struggles from deep and his need for post-ups don't encourage a free-flowing offense. That isn't to say an offense built around Embiid would be unsuccessful, but it's been a while since a team won a championship with a dominant seven-footer as the centerpiece.
However, Philadelphia would riot if the Sixers traded Embiid. He's beloved in the city and Philly could be an excellent team on both ends of the floor if he and Simmons learned to play together. There also isn't a huge rush in that regard, given Embiid is only 25 and Simmons is 23. But it's all still a work in progress, as Embiid noted in an interview from practice today:
It's also worth remembering that an Embiid and Simmons-led team went 51-31 last season. The issues at hand with this iteration of the 76ers may have more to do with how the roster is constructed than the two stars themselves, or perhaps even the coach tasked to make everything fit.
It's far too early to panic in Philadelphia. But, if the Sixers do face the decision of Embiid vs. Simmons in the future, Cowherd's points will likely remain relevant.