March 02, 2023
What’s your biggest concern right now in Philadelphia sports? It's the question that Angelo Cataldi invented and had countless media members asking that same question ever since. Some days it’s to kill time on Twitter – or a show. But in this case, it’s truly valid.
We are Philadelphians, damn it, and we have concerns.
I have two. Not sure where they rank or how serious they are on your list, but I have two truly concerning issues that are burning at me. One is a player; the other is a concept, but both are hanging over me like a rain cloud about to destroy Evan Macy’s latest tee-time.
The first concern is what happens to Joel Embiid when the Sixers fail to make it out of the East. That is happening. Nobody is going to tell me any different despite a blowout of the Heat sans Embiid last night. The team grinds out wins and will be exhausted by the playoffs, Doc Rivers is more problem than not on the bench, and Embiid needs to play every second of every playoff game or they lose. The likelihood of them figuring this thing out in the postseason after failing multiple times in the second round is nil. S**t happens, but not like that in the NBA. Not with Milwaukee, Boston, and a third team lurking.
As we’ve seen, winning the East in the regular season doesn’t mean squat. Another bad loss in the playoffs and you have to start to think why Embiid would want to stay here. I’d love to stand atop a mountain with one of my son’s Paw Patrol megaphones, blaming everyone for Embiid’s loss – and ultimately the loss of Embiid – but who could blame him.
We already see this James Harden back to Houston rumor that’s harder to kill than Jason Voorhees, Tobias Harris is a trade chip every year, and Tyrese Maxey has been destroyed by some perversion of a lineup by Rivers. Suddenly, Daryl Morey has a much bigger job on his hands once the Sixers fail to meet expectations.
Yes, losing in the ECF is failing to meet expectations. At least mine. Not with the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, and Union primed to run it right back to their respective championships. No sir. More importantly, how could Embiid’s expectations truly be met?
We talk all the time about how great it is to play here, mostly because of us. We know the energy a Philadelphia crowd can bring because we want the best out of the players. All the stuff that gets mixed into this boiling pot of reasoning, it gets us to – “People want to play in Philadelphia!”
Again, look at the Eagles using Hurts or the Phillies using Harper as magnets.
Has Joel Embiid truly worked his magic to bring in the right piece around him at the right time to take his team over the top? The guy on the wing who can take over a game, win championships as we see guys on the wing do? Remove this unnecessary weight on Embiid (and Jokic for that matter) that all of a sudden a center is going to lead a team to a championship? Yes. You just saw the guy play twice for Miami.
The burn that is still the departure of Jimmy Butler and the remnants of the Sixers – still intact with Harris and basically swapping out Simmons/Butler for Harden – is a harsh reminder that Embiid did his job, but the team failed him.
I hope Embiid does find a way out of here after this year, following another disappointment. Go play with your friend, you deserve it. Embiid went through years of unnecessary BS as the guy was just trying to find his way back from injury. In a newer country in newer surroundings, his new city in the NBA turned on him as much as they embraced him.
He was criticized for missing games and late scratches — we covered it last week about how he’s now playing too much, but is all over the place in MVP races. It’s not enough. It won't be enough for you either. Nobody is above criticism but we saw some funny stuff come down on Hurts following the Super Bowl loss, Nick Sirianni too. These were the two main reasons this team succeeded. It’s going to happen with Embiid too.
Fans will turn, the media will turn, and with his injury status, Embiid could turn into the modern-day Ryan Howard: a guy whose last memories as a member of a Philadelphia team cloud and unfairly take precedence in people’s minds over the earlier heroics.
If Embiid’s main negative was that he turned the clock back to become a 2020 Wilt Chamberlain who never got out of the second round, then ok. We can live with it. It’s not easy to win in the NBA and we look at reasons why his teams lost, like other circumstances. But if Embiid’s career winds down as a broken body struggling to make it through seasons where his team finishes 6th or 7th, then that will be taken solely out on Embiid. That is unfair.
Howard was a legend and part of one of the greatest Phillies teams we’ve ever seen. A big part. It took people five years to forget the contract and injury and everything that came with it.
So go to South Beach or California — somewhere warm. Play with your buddy, bring another buddy along. Do what the rest of the league is doing and don’t let someone in the front office make those decisions. Become the true franchise and do what KD, or LBJ, or Steph, or anyone else with super stardom does: Influence.
Which leads me to my second concern, the next domino to fall following Embiid’s exit. With Embiid gone, forcing a way out in some capacity – it’s the NBA and nobody is locked in to anything. What happens next? Either the team makes a mad scramble to keep Embiid or they succumb to his wishes. Either way, expect mass change. Harden, Harris, Rivers all out. We are left with the concept of what Tyrese Maxey can be – mostly under a better talent developer – but that’s really it.
We have had a luxury with the Sixers despite the endings coming up short. This isn’t an easy thing to cruise through the regular season and have an MVP play at a top level. The beginning of the end comes with another disappointing loss. Now making the playoffs becomes a greater challenge than making it out of the second round. There’s growth from having a new coach and possibly star players.
No team in Philadelphia and possibly the NBA is playing with more immediate pressure on them in the postseason. Every single second of action means way more for this team this year than any time since Embiid has joined this team.
That’s not going to be easily replaced by another second-round knockout.
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