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April 13, 2023

Eytan Shander: Joel Embiid's MVP award will be meaningless if he can't win this postseason

Joel Embiid is the NBA’s MVP.

Over the last three seasons this has been the most exhausting point of conversation in any NBA circle, devaluing two of the three candidates – depending on which guy is on your team. It’s amazing and refreshing to see Embiid win it, but I’m exhausted. Hopefully the Sixers have a little more energy for this playoff run because they will need it. 

Embiid finally accomplished his major goal over the past three years. It’s hard to think by watching the increased number of games played and the relative lack of load management, that there was anything more important to him than winning this award. He took it personally when Jokic won his second straight and clearly came back with even more vengeance this season. It’s a major symbol of accomplishment for anyone, let alone what Embiid has gone through just to get here. 

Don’t worry, you will see countless think pieces or origin stories about Embiid, stuff we already know. I didn’t want to catalogue the past, rather look at the immediate future of this team, mainly Embiid. I don’t know if you caught up yet, but there isn’t a single athlete in recent Philadelphia history that has more pressure to win in a single season than Embiid.

Right now. 

Don’t let this take away from your regular season celebrations, you deserve to splash champagne all over your twitter accounts, it’s been a hell of a ride for sure. There’s something special about having the best player in the game play on your team, no matter the sport. But the added pressure now on Embiid’s shoulders carries a burden I’d wish on no one. He simply can’t lose for a multitude of reasons, even more heightened by winning this award. 

For starters, the team is going to look much different next year depending on how early they exit the playoffs. This isn’t Embiid’s “fault” but he’s the most important piece on a failing team, so it’s hard to just absolve the man. Even so, he is most likely going to be the least culpable on the floor, but we will get to why that is even faulty coming up. Bottom line, the table has been set for Embiid – or anyone else in his position – to win… or else.

James Harden will be gone. Doc Rivers will be gone. Tobias Harris – fingers crossed – will be gone. Then it’s back to the drawing board: getting new players to gel with Embiid and a coach who can figure it out on the bench. Starting over is never an easy thing, unless that’s Embiid moving to South Beach to play with Jimmy Butler. 

The reality is the weight of just this year’s team and the accomplishments they set out to achieve rest on Embiid carrying them, even more so by him winning the MVP. If he can't do it alone, then he has to make sure other guys have the chance to help. Finally winning this prestigious award doesn’t give anyone a pass for an early exit, but it’s certainly not going to keep anyone around following a non-championship year.

We expect this team to make it out of the second round, on to the Eastern Conference Finals and eventually to the NBA Finals. But that’s not a given just because the team has the league’s MVP, just ask Nikola Jokic. 

That’s the other issue hanging over this stupid conversation about the three big men, all the stuff used to pile on Jokic now becomes super relevant to Embiid if his team bows out early. It’s like killing Jason Voorhees and becoming the new Voorhees. Just copy and paste the conversations from Jokic to Embiid. It’s the same damn thing. One guy wins the award, doesn’t make it to the Finals, doesn’t win a championship, and is labeled soft and overrated. The online conversations between Jokic and Embiid hives would leave you thinking neither are any good at basketball. That’s not even taking into account the slighting of Giannis who is better than both. 

Why? He’s won. 

MVPs win championships and that’s exactly what Embiid needs to do. It’s a matter of validating all of the trash talk floating around this award. That includes his own barbs at Jokic. Just winning this award for the rest of us doesn’t do anything more than give us a sense of satisfaction that Embiid is looked at equally as Jokic. That’s really all we can take away right now, because there is still plenty of work to be done. 

If he can lead a championship run this year, we talk about this award validating Embiid being on the same plane as Giannis, passing Jokic. It would cap one of the most amazing seasons by a center – and really anyone – in the history of the game. 

That’s an immense amount of pressure. Carrying the weight of the team’s future from a personnel standpoint, the city’s undying desire to see this team win something with Embiid at the helm, and the amount of energy to lobbying that Embiid put in to win this award – possibly blowing up in his face because he failed to do what the other guy failed to do. We threw it right back to the Denver crowd about how meaningless the regular season is and how valuable the Finals MVPs are. 

Now it’s time for Embiid to live up to and surpass that hype – validate the award by smashing the playoffs. Otherwise, he’s just another Joker.  

Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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