San Antonio Spurs could shape new dynasty if Philadelphia decides to trade Joel Embiid
By Dylan Carter
If the Sixers put star center Joel Embiid on the trade market, the San Antonio Spurs could change the trajectory of their organization with a trade.
Friction and the city of Philadelphia are no strangers to each other. Philadelphians wear their hearts on their sleeves and carry their outspoken pride triumphantly. They love their sports, and their sports teams love them—but the love doesn’t last without results and the San Antonio Spurs could take advantage of that nature in the offseason.
One of the faces of his generation in this league, star center Joel Embiid thrives under the spotlight. He loves the attention that comes with being an NBA superstar, and the masses of the basketball world love him too. However, the city that he’s called home since getting drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014 is getting a bit tired of his antics because the team isn’t performing up to expectations.
Trading for star wing Jimmy Butler didn’t work out for the Sixers, who pivoted toward the tandem of Josh Richardson and Al Horford in the offseason in a blatant effort to counter league MVP Giannis Antetekoumpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Adding some floor spacing, length and high-IQ defense put them in a better position to go head-to-head with the league’s best team, and arguably the game’s best player.
And yet another pivot from general manager Elton Brand sees the Sixers struggling with a 9-19 record on the road and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Much of the narrative surrounding Philly has been that Embiid and his co-star, two-way phenom Ben Simmons, cannot co-exist because of the contradictory natures of their respective playstyles.
This came to a head a few days ago when the rowdy Sixers fans got to Embiid. Some expletives were hurled toward the rampant Wells Fargo Center crowd, and the league began truly pondering whether ‘The Process’ is coming to a close.
If the Sixers are really going to move on from Embiid, which many in the NBA community are beginning to ponder, then it’s time for the San Antonio Spurs to step in and make a play at someone who could lead their franchise back into legitimate playoff contention. They have the trade assets to facilitate a deal, the proper surrounding cast to help Embiid thrive and the winning history that could help him fulfill his magnificent potential.
Opportunities like this don’t come around often, as the Spurs saw from the losing side of the Kawhi Leonard trade last year. It’s not certain that this even comes to fruition in Philly, but if it does, San Antonio may have the chance to redeem itself after all.
Next: Why would the Sixers trade Embiid to San Antonio?
Why would the Sixers trade Embiid to San Antonio?
Since Brand has taken over as leader of Philly’s front office, he’s gone all-in to embrace a win-now mentality for a team with enough talent to make a splash. For the most part, they’ve managed to stay healthy over the last few years and flesh out rotations of viable players, including veterans and youngsters alike, to complement the Simmons-Embiid duo.
However, Brand’s quick decision-making and continuous innovation could lead to a trade centered around Embiid. He’s certainly the more controversial player of the two and moving him helps Brand to build around the younger, healthier and more versatile Simmons.
Embiid is a marquee talent with exceptional skill and a world of potential, but he’s not a good outside shooter and as we all know, Simmons refuses to take threes. This causes huge spacing issues—something Embiid continuously alludes to in press conferences and interviews.
Joel Embiid on whether the #Sixers have an offensive identity right now:
“No we don’t. Spacing is an issue.” pic.twitter.com/VHzwyKNDm4
— Dave Uram (@MrUram) February 5, 2020
To survive with a star center who isn’t a surefire three-point shooter in the modern game, you have to surround him with players that can move off the ball and spot up for jumpers and Simmons may never be that guy.
Simmons has less of an injury history, is progressing faster, just signed a max extension in the offseason and is quickly ascending to NBA stardom as a first-time All-Star this year. If they have to choose between the two moving forward, it’s going to be the safer option and Embiid is certainly not that.
Trusted NBA media members with genuine insider knowledge such as Howard Beck, Brian Windhorst and Kurt Helin have all discussed the notion that trading Embiid is a plausible course of action if the Sixers cannot take a step in the playoffs. Luckily for San Antonio, they have multiple ties with Philadelphia including a big one with the man who has built this team up from the rubble of its rebuild: Head coach Brett Brown.
Brown won four titles in San Antonio before taking over as the leader of the Sixers organization and has held firm in his position since 2013. He missed out on earning his fifth title by taking his first head coaching job in the summer after the Spurs lost the Finals and has won 63 percent of his games in his last three seasons.
There’s a level of trust that runs deep between Brown and the Spurs, and he could be crucial in facilitating a deal between the two organizations. Reports indicated that they had discussions over Kawhi Leonard last summer and the Spurs asked for one of Embiid or Simmons, but Philly wasn’t interested in parting with either of them.
While the Sixers would head into a deal knowing well that they likely wouldn’t return an All-NBA talent in a deal, they’d be trading to put the proper pieces around Simmons to contend in the East and San Antonio could provide that in a deal. There’s no doubt the Sixers would fight to get him out of their conference, so the Spurs would be a legitimate option if it came down to it.
Next: What would the Spurs have to give up?
What would the Spurs have to give up?
If a player like Joel Embiid is on the market, you put all the cards on the table. Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to leverage all of the team’s future on one player, but no asset should be withheld from the conversation. A trade would need to take place in the offseason, likely at the draft or around the start free agency in early-July, so the Spurs would have a few expiring players for Philly to look at trading for.
First and foremost, you’d need to part ways with LaMarcus Aldridge. Now that he’s more open to spacing the floor out and shooting triples, he’s the perfect complement to Simmons as a slashing playmaker who thrives in the pick-and-roll and when controlling gravity on the way to the rack. Simmons dishing to Aldridge for pick-and-pop shots would generate more offense than any combo the Spurs have made with Aldridge, and his three-point percentage may even increase from where it’s at this year.
Horford and Aldridge can both protect the rim, and Horford’s ability to move on defense makes up for some of LMA’s questionable mobility. It’s a combination that no team would want to face when heading to the rim and it helps the Sixers alleviate their logjam in the paint.
The additional assets are where the Spurs need to make some tough decisions, but ultimately, it’d take one of their young guards. Since starter Dejounte Murray is more of a slasher than a shooter, he’s probably off the table in these discussions, so it’d come down to Derrick White or Pennsylvania-native Lonnie Walker IV.
More likely, the Sixers would want to take on the more experienced player in White to take ball-handling pressure off of Simmons and bring in an established shooter. Walker is a great option for them, and his roots could be a draw, but White is the better fit for what they like to do.
Spurs fans have come to love White and it’s not a deal that’d be taken lightly, but it’s worth it to bring in a top-10 player in the world. Philly could ask for both of them, but that’s where the line needs to be drawn. San Antonio could also dangle rookie Keldon Johnson as a potential piece, or even Luka Samanic, but they shouldn’t give up more than one player in addition to Aldridge, as well as two first-round picks.
The thought process here is that San Antonio has its best draft pick since they took Tim Duncan No. 1 overall in 1998 and would give the Sixers and instant chance to pick someone out of the lottery to add to their lineup. Acquiring defensive phenom Matisse Thybulle was a masterful move by them in this previous draft, so who’s to say they can’t strike again?
It’s certainly a haul, but Embiid changes the trajectory of this team drastically and learning from the Spurs’ coaching staff would help the superstar elevate his game even further.
Next: How would Embiid fit with how the Spurs operate?
How would Embiid fit with how the Spurs operate?
Quite honestly, this wouldn’t be a traditional personality move for San Antonio since Embiid is such an outspoken individual. He has a fiery personality and brings a lot of spunk to the hardwood that would take some adjusting from head coach Gregg Popovich.
Still, the talent that he brings to the table is well worth the adjustment. Since Aldridge and the Spurs had friction after his second year in San Antonio, Popovich learned that sometimes a coach needs to adapt to his players as much as the players need to adjust to the coach. This is a lesson that would be well-tested in an Embiid deal.
When it comes down to it, the Spurs and Joel Embiid have the same mentality: Do whatever it takes to get the win. Embiid started playing the sport when he was 15 years old and has spent the last 10 years dedicating every fiber of his being to being the best possible basketball player.
His hard work has resulted in three All-Star appearances, two All-NBA honors and two All-Defensive team selections in 197 games. He’s an exceptionally talented individual who completely changes a team’s defensive identity with his impeccable rim protection and leadership on that side of the court.
Embiid instantly becomes the Spurs’ most talented big man since Duncan and ranks in the top five of most talented players to suit up in the black and silver. He has a very similar attitude to the aforementioned Murray and gives the Spurs a real reason to re-sign DeMar DeRozan.
Whether that’s to trade him off elsewhere or to see how he fits next to Embiid is up to the Spurs’ front office, but a team with Patty Mills, Rudy Gay and a heap of young, high-energy players is going to compete for homecourt advantage in the rugged West.
If the Spurs want to go in on a win-now mindstate, this is how you do it. And even with that being the case, it still fits the timeline of the young core as Embiid will only be 26 years old by the time this dream would come to fruition.
Next: What does an Embiid-led Spurs team look like?
What comes next for an Embiid-led Spurs team?
A matured Dejounte Murray needs to step up for the Spurs to reach their potential in this hypothetical world. His shot is coming along smoothly, his turnovers are becoming less frequent and the jitters he showed earlier in the season as dissipating. Murray needs to be fearless, and if he does, the Embiid-led Spurs have a one-two punch for the ages.
This is also contingent on third-year Lonnie Walker taking a step as well. DeRozan is the team’s second scorer if he’s not traded, but if he is then Walker becomes the second scoring option for this team with classic Spurs ball movement coming back into play. This is a step that many Spurs fans believe he’s destined to take already, and having a commanding force like Joel to dominate the opponent’s attention makes that possibility easier.
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Patty Mills already curls off of Aldridge’s screens for good three-point looks, but if you replace him with Embiid then more often than not, Mills’ triples are wide open. The same can be said of any shooter the Spurs employ. It’d even make a decent bit of sense to re-sign Bryn Forbes in this scenario as a spot-up shooter and floor spacer.
Believe it or not, this signing also helps pave the way for a Luka Šamanić breakout. The lengthy rookie has an incredibly versatile skill set that includes three-point shooting, slashing, passing and ball handling. That kind of complimentary player works with Embiid like Dario Šarić once did in Philly with the caveat that Samanic would actually fulfill his potential.
San Antonio would need to flesh out the roster a bit and find low-salary players to fill in the gaps, but that would have the making of a 50-plus win team with genuine championship aspirations.
Instilling classical Spursian ball movement around an offense built around Joel Embiid is a pipedream that isn’t likely to be realized, but if the cards fall right and the Sixers decide they need to move on from “The Process” as a whole, it might just come true.