In case you haven't heard, Joel Embiid joined the ranks of giants last night when he posted a 50-point game in only 27 minutes of play. For comparison, he played one minute more and put up two fewer points than Klay Thompson when he went absolutely nuclear against the Bulls a few years back. Embiid's achievement is equally as impressive and arguably more so considering the following:
A) He is not playing with Stephen Curry or Draymond Green or anyone even close to that level.
B) He is five inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than Thompson.
C) He hit only one three-pointer on the night, as opposed to Thompson's record-setting 14 makes from deep in 2015.
Embiid became the first player in NBA history to put up that many points while collecting at least 10 rebounds in only 27 minutes on the floor. It was masterful. It was dominant. It was whatever adjective you want to substitute. Even in today's fast-paced NBA, even with the plethora of highly-skilled scorers that populate rosters, it was an exceedingly rare performance, the type of night where it's very easy to envision a future in which the Sixers are champions with Embiid hoisting the O'Brien Trophy.
While this level of dominance is, of course, a bit of an outlier, Embiid has been performing at a league-best level all season. He's averaging 28 points and 10 rebounds per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. The whole offense operates around the big man and the Sixers go as he goes-- which has been a pretty good strategy so far with the team sitting only two and a half games out of first place in the East. Considering how poorly everybody not named Joel has been recently, that's a big win.
Now imagine with me, just for a second, if the Sixers didn't have $33 million sitting at home, refusing to play basketball. How good might they be if they were working with a full roster? How good might Philadelphia be if either Ben Simmons or a conglomerate of players brought in to replace Simmons were on the court every night? They'd probably be pretty good, and with Embiid playing like he is, it wouldn't be hard to see a championship contender.
But the Sixers aren't at that level because Daryl Morey is sitting on his hands and refusing to trade Simmons. Something that probably won't change by the trade deadline, if his comments to reporters today are to be believed.
I understand that we the people have no idea what trades have passed by Morey's desk. I am not advocating for the Sixers to trade him for a bag of chips just to be rid of the headache. But the longer Simmons remains on the roster, the longer the Sixers are wasting a healthy, prime Joel Embiid season. And that is a damn shame.
From everything we've heard and seen from Morey, he wants to wait until the Sixers can get a legit star in exchange for Simmons' services. The logic makes sense. A team built around a singular superstar hasn't won a championship since maybe the Kobe Bryant days; every title contender since then features multiple stars or have All-Star-level talent next to a MVP-type talent (last year's Bucks). Morey isn't going to ship Simmons off in exchange for shooters and three-and-D players because recent history and the current landscape of the league suggests that simply isn't enough to win a ring.
That all lines up. But, as we and everyone else have pointed out in written form, acquiring a second star is far from a sure thing. You know what else isn't a sure thing? Embiid's health. This right here, what we saw last night, is how good he is when his body is right. That is more likely to change in an instant for Embiid than perhaps any other star in the league.
The Sixers probably will not win a championship this year, and if everything goes as planned this is merely one of many dominant years Embiid will have. But "probably" is not "definitely." If enough breaks right, Philadelphia could make a Finals run-- but only if they have a full roster to work with. A group of guys dedicated to the same goal. They don't have that right now.
Morey could wait and it could work out. He could end up trading Simmons for James Harden this summer and I'll look like a fool. But from where I'm sitting right now, it sure seems like Morey is passing up chances to build around Embiid in hopes of a superstar blockbuster that is far from certain to materialize. Something right now, this season, is better than potentially nothing this offseason.