While some fans clamor for Joel Embiid’s ousting, it’s worth remembering just how awful the Philadelphia 76ers’ center situation was before 2016-17.
“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
This quote, attributed to Harvey Dent in Christopher Nolan’s transcendent superhero drama ‘The Dark Knight’ dropped like a bomb over the Philadelphia 76ers’ fanbase in a way that would make even ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski jealous.
To some, including the aforementioned quote in an Instagram caption was classic Joel Embiid being Joel Embiid, the lovably subversive stirrer of internet mischief, but for others, it was like an act of war.
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For those unaware of the situation, after being booed early in the Sixers’ eventual 118-111 win over the Chicago Bulls, Embiid shushed fans after making a dagger 3 that helped to seal the deal, shouting an expletive that I am legally unable to repost. This post struck a nerve, and the comments section only turned more hostile when another incredibly divisive Philly figure weighed in on the matter.
While his intentions are anyone’s guess – be they opportunistic, or simply a sign of friendship – Jimmy Butler inserted himself into the conversation by suggesting that he knows a place where villains are welcomed, to which Embiid responded: “D*mn right my brother”.
Yikes, dude, why’d you have to say that?
Again, if you were never really a fan of Joel Embiid, a processor if you will, this may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in the same way others have written off Ben Simmons for his lack of willingness to shoot 3s, but before we enter a dystopian future filled with burning trash cans filled with number 21 jerseys and an outright banning of all things Shirley Temple in the greater Philadelphia city limits, let’s take a look back at just how bad the Sixers’ center situation was before the 2016-17 season.
Buckle up; this isn’t going to be a whole lot of fun.
First things first, let’s take this from a massively macro level. The Philadelphia 76ers have only had nine centers make an All-Star team since their inception as the Syracuse Nationals in 1950. Of those players, only three have made more All-Star appearances than Embiid over their careers, with the most recent being Wilt Chamberlin all the way back in 1968
That’s pretty bad, but when you consider the 76ers haven’t had an All-Star center since Dikembe Mutombo in 2001-02, it’s safe to say Philly doesn’t have a storied history of elite fives in the City of Brotherly Love.
But believe you me, they have tried over and over again to remedy that.
Since Mt. Mutombo continentally drifted to the greener pastures of *checks notes* New Jersey, the 76ers have used roughly a quarter of their first-round picks on center, adding everyone from Nikola Vučević, to Marreese Speights, to Nerlens Noel before selecting Embiid third overall in 2014. Heck, the 76ers were so set on getting a centerpiece, um, center, that Sam Hinkie opted to draft Jahlil Okafor third overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, just in case Embiid never got his health right.
Fortunately, he did, as since making his debut in 2016, Embiid has not only been the 76ers’ best center since Chamberlin but among the best all-around centers in the league.
As other teams transition away from running a traditional center, with the Houston Rockets going so far as to run a lineup without a single player measuring in at 6-foot-6 or taller, Embiid has averaged 24 points and 11.5 rebounds in a little under 31 minutes of action a night as the 76ers’ best overall player. Sure, he isn’t the fastest player in the league and shoots the long ball a little too often for his shooting percentage, but without Embiid this team would still be wasting draft picks on center, maybe worse.
You guys remember Andrew Bynum, right? Do you want that again?
Call them old fashion or a franchise stuck in their ways, but the Philadelphia 76ers are a team that really wants to win big and in the post. If fans have their way and the team moves on from their franchise player, it’s only a matter of time before the front office takes another chance on another big-time center, either trading away a ton of capital for another ‘can’t-miss’ college prospect, or a ‘generational player’ like Karl-Anthony Towns. Believe you me, the Timberwolves would happily swap out KAT for Joel Embiid in a heartbeat, as would every other team in the league.