How the Philadelphia 76ers could succesfully break up Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
After an embarrassing first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the undersized Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers made the easiest, most obvious change: firing Brett Brown, and underachieving, unimaginative coach. But Gregg Popovich isn’t walking through those doors, and even if he were, this roster is too broken and expensive to ever be a true contender.
It didn’t all start with Markelle Fultz’s unpredictable yips. His rookie season, the team won a playoff series and had a +15.5 net rating with Embiid and Simmons on the court together – before Simmons established himself as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. This year their rating was barely positive.
This tweet from Mike O’Connor illustrates how badly the 76ers mismanaged their assets over the past two seasons. Even after taking Fultz, the 76ers had their two franchise players, future assets, and a good – if not great – supporting cast to orbit their stars.
Two years later, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, a half a dozen draft picks became Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford – with the latter two on horrific, practically unmovable deals.
So no, it’s still too early to say the Ben Simmons–Joel Embiid pairing can’t win a title. But it’s the right time to admit it certainly can’t work with this uncomplimentary roster. Without trading one of both of their stars, the 76ers will be in basketball purgatory – too bad to ever sniff the conference finals, and too good for lottery picks – while boasting a historically expensive roster.
Here are this writer’s humble suggestions for how the front office can gently reset the roster and hope to build a competitive team in the next five years.
Joel Embiid to the Warriors
2020 first-round pick (via Warriors)
2021 first-round pick (via Timberwolves)
The Splash Brothers could also conceivably thrive with Simmons in the paint, instead of Embiid, and the same above package would probably be available. But my buddy Andrew, a devout Nets fan even after the infamous Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade, has long seen Simmons as the team’s White Whale.
Assuming the Nets re-sign Joe Harris, he, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving provide immensely more floor spacing than even the 2017-18 76ers team that Simmons thrived with. And Simmons’ defense would make up for many of this trio’s lapses.
Ben Simmons to the Brooklyn Nets
unprotected 2024 first-round pick (via Nets)
Like the Warriors, the Nets are in win-now mode, and actually have assets that would perfectly compliment a 76ers team without Embiid. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are both average 3-point shooters who can defend multiple positions and create offense for teammates. They’d provide a balanced lineup with Harris, Embiid, and Horford. Perhaps the Nets even throw in a future unprotected pick or two to seal the deal.
LeVert begins his team-friendly three-year deal next season, while Dinwiddie has a player option he’s likely to opt-out of next summer. The 76ers could trade either guard to a team that sees itself as being one piece away from contention, for a serious draft pick or young asset compensation. Again, this team would be a cleaner fit than 2019-20, if with a lower ceiling.
Philly fans don’t want another rebuild – but then again, they didn’t want Sam Hinkie fired either. With changes to the draft making it harder to successfully tank for a top pick – hello Knicks – Philly’s best option may be to acquire as many picks and assets as possible, and try to do what this year’s Oklahoma City Thunder team did and build a team capable of making the playoffs year after year while waiting out the duration of their worst value contracts.
If the team were to trade Simmons and Embiid for the Nets and Warriors’ packages, they would actually have a starting 5 that better compliments Horford, Harris and the role players Philly currently has on its roster, while giving themselves good future draft picks and roster flexibility – rebuild around LeVert and/or Dinwiddie, or trade one or both of them when they receive the best offer.
Obviously, 76ers fans will wish they hadn’t emptied the war chest to trade for Tobias Harris and nearly maxed him and Al Horford out, but they did, and in so doing, closed the Simmons-Embiid title window.