Give the 76ers credit.
The Sixers’ position had always been they’re not trading Ben Simmons just to make a trade. They talked about trying to win a championship, and believed they would be in a better position to win one with him on the roster.
So they wanted an All-Star-caliber difference-maker to be included in their steep asking price for the three-time All-Star.
Simmons still hasn’t played in a game as the Sixers participated in their 49th game of the season Saturday night. They’re in third place, 1½ games out of first in a wide-open Eastern Conference after defeating the Sacramento Kings 103-101 at the Wells Fargo Center.
With Joel Embiid in the midst of a momentous season, one could argue that the Sixers only need solid reinforcements -- not A-list additions -- to make a run at the conference title.
Not making a move before the Feb. 10 trade deadline could end up wasting what could be the best season of Embiid’s prime. The five-time All-Star, who has dealt with health issues in the past, will turn 28 on March 16.
Sixers president of basketball operation Daryl Morey doesn’t see it that way. He prefers to think of the big picture.
“If they think we’re burning the season away without trading Ben, we are not only burning this season away if we trade Ben for something that makes everyone feel good,” Morey said during his Jan. 20 appearance on The Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 The Fanatic. “We are also burning away all the other future seasons, because we are burning away more of a marginal trade than if we are patient.”
It is no secret that the Sixers (30-19) want to pair Embiid with Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden.
The duo would give the Sixers one of the best scoring tandems in the NBA. The pairing would make the team a favorite to win a title.
Now that it’s becoming clear that they are unlikely to land Harden at the trade deadline, the squad could attempt to acquire him in a sign-and-trade for Simmons during the free-agency period.
But a lot could change between now and then.
Harden, who’s reportedly unhappy in Brooklyn, could end up winning a championship with the Nets. But the team will need to overcome the situation surrounding unvaccinated standout Kyrie Irving who is a part-time player and Kevin Durant who is sidelined for a few more weeks with an MCL sprain. But one has to expect the Nets to live up to their preseason hype once all three players are on the floor together. Would that change Harden’s reported opinion of his current situation?
Portland’s Damian Lillard and Washington’s Bradley Beal are among other A-list players the Sixers can try to wait on. Like with Harden, there’s no guarantee that those players will be available or become an option.
For now, it’s best to give our attention to the magical season that Embiid is having.
He had a 36-point, 12-rebound, and 6-assist performance against the Kings. That extended his streak of 25-point performances to 17 games, marking the second-longest streak in franchise history behind Hall of Famer Allen Iverson (27 games). What’s more impressive is Embiid averaging 33.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 54.2 % from the field and leading the Sixers to a 15-5 record over the last 20 games.
Embiid has scored 30 or more points 21 times this season, including six 40-plus-point efforts.
He’s also tied with Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James for second in the league in scoring at 29.1 points per game, to go with a league-10th-best 10.8 rebounds, and a career-best 4.3 assists heading into Thursday’s game. Add the 1.0 steals, 1.5 blocks, and 32.9 minutes through 37 appearances to those numbers and you have an MVP-type season.
Individual seasons like this don’t come around too often.
It’s hard not to think about how the Milwaukee Bucks built a championship team around Giannis Antetokounmpo last season. They went out and acquired solid players who fit to his strengths instead of going star hunting.
Former Sixer Jrue Holiday, a one-time All-Star, ended up being their biggest acquisition to pair with Antetokoumpo and two-time All-Star Khris Middleton. Holiday fit in perfectly, averaging 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 1.6 steals. He was also an All-Defensive team selection. He was a great pickup to go with a couple of plug-in-hole role-playing acquisitions.
The Bucks didn’t need to add Harden, Lillard, or Beal next to Antetokoumpo to win a championship. Antetokoumpo remained the unquestioned alpha dog while the additions provided much-needed support that wasn’t always visible in the box score.
If we’re being honest, we know the Sixers roster, as it stands, will have a tough time advancing far in the postseason despite Embiid’s domination.
But that could change by adding a few quality role players who will help Embiid navigate through his incredible season. With his injury history, such an incredible season shouldn’t be taken for granted moving forward.