Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
With news in the past month that Joel Embiid will most likely miss the entire 2015-2016 season with a recurring foot ailment, Sixers fans are again reminded of the pain that came along with the realization that Andrew Bynum would never suit up in a Sixers uniform. They had traded a future first round pick, two young prospects, and Andre Iguodala in order to get the “franchise player.” When the Bynum trade didn’t work out, the team was devastated. Doug Collins and Rod Thorn stepped down and the team was left without many assets of note, excluding All-Star PG Jrue Holiday. The team went for it, hoping that Bynum would push them to serious Eastern Conference contention, but instead were left with nothing. The Sixers took a risk and it blew up in their face. They lacked young talent, cap room, and a direction, launching a major rebuilding process. The Andrew Bynum risk failed.
Joel Embiid may very well become the next Andrew Bynum or Jeff Ruland, but under Sam Hinkie, the Sixers are very well positioned to soften the blow if Embiid never plays a game in a Philadelphia uniform. In the 2+ seasons as team president, Sam Hinkie has acquired enough assets and cap space so that even he missed on one top-3 pick, he could still move the program forward. He drafted another gifted big man in the top 3 of the 2015 NBA Draft (Jahlil Okafor), he acquired another big man who has the potential to become an elite NBA defender (Nerlens Noel), major cap space in the next few years, extra draft picks (Kings pick swap, possibly four 1st round picks in 2016), and other young talent (Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas, Jerami Grant, Dario Saric). The Sixers took a major risk drafting the gifted, yet injured Joel Embiid in the draft, but Hinkie was prepared if this particular risk did not pan out. Not many teams in the league can handle losing a player of Embiid’s caliber for an extended period of time, but Hinkie has the pieces and the assets needed to soften the blow if Joel can not perform at 100%.
It frankly is more upsetting that the fans will not be able to watch Joel Embiid play for the second consecutive season. This feeling is worse the regret of not taking one of the “healthy” players taken after Embiid, such as Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, etc. None of the players taken after Embiid had the talent or the ability to lead a franchise as much as Embiid. Embiid was a high-risk, high-reward draft selection but he was, and still is, the right pick.
The bottom line is that Sam Hinkie and the front office has to move forward thinking that Joel Embiid will never play a game for the Sixers. They cannot base their future around Joel and think that he will become the franchise player at this point. The most important thing is to continue to build the team through the draft, free agency, and trades without him in the lineup. Continue to rehabilitate him off the court and see if he can still become an important player for the future. The plan has shifted to the point that if Embiid plays at all, it’s an added bonus. If he doesn’t play, Hinkie has set the team up with the opportunity to become very good without Embiid. Hinkie understood the risk to draft Joel, but after seeing firsthand what happened to Yao Ming in Houston, he must continue to grow with or without Joel Embiid.