NBA Trade Deadline: Embiid Injury Throws Potential Wrench in 76ers’ Trade Deadline Plans

NBA Trade Deadline: Embiid Injury Throws Potential Wrench in 76ers’ Trade Deadline Plans Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers were long rumored to be major buyers at this season’s NBA trade deadline. However, the recent injury to Joel Embiid is potentially throwing a wrench into the team’s trade deadline plans.

Embiid was having another MVP-caliber season. The 29-year old was averaging 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game this season. Behind his dominant play, the Sixers were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They were in a prime position to compete and make a deep postseason run. There was growing pressure on president of basketball operations Daryl Morey to make a significant addition to the roster in order to capitalize on Embiid’s dominant campaign.

Things changed over the past week since Embiid sustained a meniscus injury that required surgery. Details about the injury and the recovery timetable have been scarce up to this point. The uncertainty surrounding Embiid’s injury and when he will return has cast doubt on the Sixers’ plans for the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

With Embiid’s return this season up in the air, Morey might decide to not make any major moves at the trade deadline. The Sixers are in a position where they will have the assets to add another star player next offseason. The team will have multiple draft picks to trade in addition to having as much as $55 million in available cap space. Punting away the rest of this season became a real possibility once Embiid was set to miss an extended period of time.

However, multiple reports indicate the organization is still attempting to be aggressive at the trade deadline. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, in a Feb. 2 appearance on “NBA Today,” said the Sixers are still “talking about the kinds of deals you would make with the expectation that they are going to be playing important basketball this spring.” Zach Lowe of ESPN echoed that sentiment on the Feb. 5 episode of “The Lowe Post” podcast. Lowe said the Sixers “are still operating as a team that has a healthy Embiid in the playoffs.”

Even if the Sixers remain aggressive at the trade deadline, there are not many big names available. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are off the board after being traded in recent weeks. Zach LaVine, who the Sixers were reportedly not interested in, is having foot surgery and is going to miss the remainder of the season. Dejounte Murray is still available, but he is not a clean fit next to budding star Tyrese Maxey.

The Sixers would be better off adding two smaller complementary pieces to the roster. Adding another competent center to the roster should be their top priority. Paul Reed and Mo Bamba are too inconsistent for the Sixers to get by with relying on them for significant minutes over an extended period of time. The Sixers also would benefit from adding another capable ball handler to take some of the weight off of Maxey’s shoulders. Together, those moves could possibly help the Sixers stay afloat for however long Embiid is out of the lineup.

On Tuesday afternoon, some details were reported regarding Embiid’s recovery timeline. Wojnarowski reported Embiid underwent a left meniscus procedure on Tuesday and will be re-evaluated in four weeks. That timeline would likely put him on a path to being able to return later this season. If his recovery takes 6-to-8 weeks, that would put his return at around late March or early April.

Wojnarowski’s report seemingly indicates there is some optimism Embiid might be able to return this season. However, the Sixers might not be able to hold up until he is able to return to the lineup. The Sixers currently sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, and they have lost six of their last seven games. The team has been putrid in games Embiid has missed this season, sporting a meager 4-11 record. There is just a 3.5-game difference between the Sixers and the seventh-place Orlando Magic. If the Sixers were to finish below sixth place, they would fall into the play-in tournament.

Would it be wise for the Sixers to rush Embiid back into the lineup with just a few weeks remaining before the playoffs? While he might be medically cleared to return, Embiid is likely not going to be anywhere near his peak abilities. It will take at least a few weeks for him to ramp up physically, and doing so amidst the playoffs will be immensely difficult.

Despite all of those concerns, the Sixers might find it impossible to pass up the rest of this season if there is any chance Embiid can return for the postseason. When Embiid is on the floor, the Sixers have been one of the best teams in the league. He is going to be turning 30 years old in March. The number of years he has left in his prime are quickly dwindling both due to age and physical degradation. The Sixers have surrounded Embiid with a second star player (Maxey) as well as an assortment of complementary pieces.

The Sixers’ trade deadline plans were thrown up into the air because of Embiid’s injury and the uncertainty about his return this season. Will they continue to go all-in this year in a sign Embiid can return for the postseason? Will they make complementary moves to improve a few key spots in the rotation? What, if any, moves they make at the Feb. 8 trade deadline will go a long way towards determining whether the team believes Embiid will return later this season.

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