Philly's Case for Keeping Simmons and Embiid Together
The Philadelphia 76ers should not trade Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid.
Good! Now I’ve got your attention. If you read NBA Twitter or listen to just about any NBA related podcast, what I just said is borderline idiotic. But hear me out.
The firing of head coach Brett Brown after a 4-0 first round exit to Boston all but confirmed that the team will keep both of their stars and give it one last crack under a new regime. Phillie fans should see this as a positive. You have two top 15 players, with a new coach, a new system and some roster changes around the margins coming this off-season… hopefully.
The issue with modern day society is we want, want, want. Everything that we want, we desire it now, this very second. Sports fans want their rookies to come in and play like Michael Jordan. We want the new iPhone the day before its release. We want the new pair of LeBrons’ before the man himself has even seen them.
This is what I see a lot of in basketball fans, and even some league executives, especially when it comes to the 76ers. In their minds, they should have won a championship by now. Have they forgotten that Simmons is 23 and has just finished his third full season in the league (not counting his rookie year which he missed due to injury)? Or that Embiid is 25 and has also just finished his third full season (not including his first two missed by injury and his third in which he played just 31 games)?
Lots has been written and said about Embiid’s and Simmons’ differing styles of play and how they tend to clash on the court. I tend to agree; it doesn’t seem to gel as naturally as an Anthony Davis and LeBron James-type duo. The advanced metrics with those two as a pair on the floor back it up too. But despite all their issues as a pairing, they were four agonisingly close bounces to possibly going to the Eastern Conference Finals (ECF) last season. In 2018, they ran into a Boston team that took LeBron to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. All of this, and they haven’t even entered their respective primes yet. Embiid is inching closer to what experts would call his prime years (27-31), but Simmons isn’t even close.
There’s only a handful of guys that seemingly had it figured out at 25. Some, but not many of those proceeded to win titles before age 25. Superstar talents like Michael Jordan who were still working it out with their team and coach, waiting for significant trades to happen or draft picks to develop. This is the case throughout NBA history, yet we’re calling for one of Embiid or Simmons to be traded after just their third full season together.
I’ve looked through some of the greatest duos in NBA history to see how long it took them to find success. This is what I found.
John Stockton and Karl Malone had eight straight seasons of first or second round exits before making the Western Conference Finals in 1991-92, losing to Portland. In the next four seasons, they had a first round exit, conference finals loss, first round bounce and then conference finals exit again before making the NBA Finals in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Malone was 33 and Stockton 34 by the time they made the Finals.
Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer in Detroit experienced, in consecutive years, first, second and first round exits before an Eastern Conference Finals loss in 1987. They made the NBA Finals in 1988 and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, before making and winning the Finals against LA the next year. Thomas was 27 and Laimbeer 31 when they won. For three of those years prior to the title, the Pistons even had star shooting guard Joe Dumars as well, and they still couldn’t get over the hump.
Even Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan went through a second round exit and back-to-back conference finals losses before winning the title in 1991. It helped more than a little when Phil Jackson (a GOAT coaching candidate) took over the reins on the sidelines.
In no way am I comparing Embiid and Simmons to these historically great pairings, but the sample size does well to demonstrate that these things take time. They were already on the brink of a conference finals and Simmons still can’t shoot and Embiid is never in shape. Imagine what they could be with a strong head coach and those facets of their game improving by, let’s say, 20 percent.
Maybe I’m a glass half-full kind of person, but it would baffle me if they were openly looking to trade one of them even after next season. Let’s not forget that a lot of commentators picked Philadelphia as their Eastern Conference champions prior to the season. In SB Nation’s pre-season predictions, their five experts picked the 76ers to make the Finals. So did Sporting News. Forbes picked them to win the title. Five of eight journalists predicted them to make the Finals in The New York Times, including Hall of Fame sportswriter Harvey Araton. Of the other three, two of them picked the 76ers to make the Eastern Conference Finals, including Marc Stein. In the GM Survey before the season, they received 30 percent of total points for a top four finish in the East, second behind Milwaukee with 37 percent.
What I’m getting at is that everyone thought they were going to be awesome. Now, 10 months later, they supposedly want one of their franchise cornerstones gone.
Predictions mean nothing: in the end, they’re just a way to create content. But they do shed a light on how many people had jumped on this Philadelphia bandwagon. What gives me hope even more for this duo is that a fresh face is coming in to lead them with new ideas and strategies, solely based around Simmons and Embiid.
I feel for Brett Brown; it’s hard to know what the problem is and how to fix it when you are in the thick of it. It’s always easier to diagnose from the outside looking in; being able to objectively survey what needs to be done. Phil Jackson did it in Chicago and Los Angeles and Steve Kerr did it in Golden State. They were able to watch on from afar and come into a team of stars with ideas on how to help them succeed.
Whoever Sixers brass hires to coach the 76ers will no doubt have watched a lot of their games. That candidate ought to have a plan in mind for what they can to bring the best out of Embiid and Simmons, allowing them to excel individually and to help get the team over the playoff hump.
This off-season will be crucial for Philly. Moves need to be made, some players need to be moved on from, and a supporting crew that fits Simmons and Embiid needs to be found.
But please, Sixers faithful, don’t lose faith so quickly. It may be four or five years till they win a title - if they ever do. But it’s not often two top 15 players come into your team organically through the draft, so now that you've got them, please be patient.