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April 21, 2023

Eytan Shander: The NBA should suspend Joel Embiid

You simply cannot kick a man in his groin.

At least not in the NBA — the league has made that abundantly clear. While Joel Embiid clearly avoided contact with Nic Claxton in Game 3 of the Sixers-Nets series, the intent was also abundantly evident. Whatever the reason or justification, the matter of fact was Embiid reacted to a desperate player who is fully capable of self-destruction. 

How do we know? Claxton lived out the self-fulling prophecy of meltdown by catching his second tech for a stare down later in the game. 

The league should absolutely suspend Embiid, if we are keeping things consistent. We would all beg for the same to happen to Claxton, or any important Celtics player, or anyone on Denver if they couldn’t control themselves after being dunked on. This is the same scenario as anyone on a football field reacting to the initial bump or slap, they always get the second guy. Every single time. 

You have to know your opponent, where they are at all times – not just on the floor but in the series. Embiid has been hacked and will continue to be hacked. It’s the natue of being one of the best players in the NBA who happens to be a big man. Shaq went through it, as did others before him. Embiid won’t be the last. 

The kick seemed like a healthy combination of frustration just coming from different areas, but – as someone who has self-destructed at work already knows – the manifestation of frustration to action will be costly. Embiid carries the weight of this team and the league’s top player as its MVP, he’s just far more important to the Sixers pathway to success than a Draymond Green – or really anyone else in the NBA. 

There isn’t anyone who is relying on Embiid that doesn’t need him on the floor. The intensity against him is only going to ramp up as they continue to go deeper into the playoffs. We simply cannot transition from fear of Embiid getting hurt to now fear of him getting suspended. Game 3 might be the first step in someone at the league office confirming their preconceived notions that Embiid is dirty – he is not – to build future cases. 

But you can be guilty of an act requiring a suspension and not be a dirty player. There is a wide gap between reacting the way in which Embiid did to Claxton versus an illustrated history of belligerence like Green in Golden State. The physicality in which Embiid brings and attracts is also unmatched with anyone else in the league. He’s this generation’s version of Shaq, with the ability to play the perimeter reflecting the advancement of the position. 

But that doesn’t change him being a magnet for physical, and at times, dirty play against him. While he isn’t a cheap shot artist or a dirty player, he’s capable of hitting the ground in full flop manner. I’d argue that’s also part of the evolution of the game. At this point, flopping is here, guys aren’t going to stop flopping, they are simply going to master how to flop and draw a foul. 

That’s what becomes so difficult to officiate a guy so talented and special and physically unique as Embiid, and why he needs to use that strategy to wear opponents down – mentally. The suspension comes down as a result of Embiid’s act, but hopefully serves as a reminder about the power he wields on the floor. 

This isn’t about hammering down a thunderous dunk on top of Claxton’s head, rather the ability to withstand everything turned around on Embiid. If the MVP can avoid a costly outburst while dealing with ridiculously physical and at times unfair play, he can turn that around and use it on the other side of the floor. The optics of a man that size taking contact on defense and hitting the floor will normally benefit Embiid, especially if it’s off the ball. 

That’s a weapon. One, however, that becomes useless if it’s wasted on suspensions or groin kicks.

A suspension or absence from Embiid will garner one positive, the joy that is to watch Tyrese Maxey.

Philadelphia sat back last night, collectively smiling as their next homegrown all-star to-be shines, once again. Part of it just watching the continued improvement of an already deadly player on the floor, but most of it comes with a sense of understanding of what’s to come. 

The 76ers simply cannot survive against Boston, a healthy Milwaukee, and whatever awaits them as the final boss without gems from Maxey. It’s the playoffs. This isn’t about which player steps up outside of Joel Embiid or James Harden, or which tertiary option can you go to if either struggle. 

This is about solidifying Philadelphia’s own “Big 3” with each playing in different phases of their careers. Time is clearly running out for Harden, Embiid as clearly standing atop the NBA, and Maxey is on a steady incline. They compliment each other off the floor in legacy as much as they do on it, none of it more evident than the past two games.

Building the playoff confidence for Maxey consists of both veteran members of the trio stepping aside. The ego is gone, as Harden has no problem allowing the younger Maxey to shred the Brooklyn Nets – while helping to establish Maxey’s “playoff” confidence. These are essentially warm-up games, and the team is doing exactly what should be expected – especially from Maxey.

If the league keeps things consistent and sets a precedent that will most likely help Embiid moving forward, expect another opportunity for Maxey to grab the spotlight.  

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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