The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t tanking, dangit.
They’re not tanking when they sit their best player, rookie Joel Embiid, on the second night of back-to-backs.
They’re not tanking when they take part – a role of paramount importance! – in one of the sillier back and forths we’ve seen in recent NBA history, as documented by our Ben Rohrbach here:
They’re not tanking this year because, eh, they signed Jerryd Bayless. That guy that used to be with Portland. No, not him. That was Jarrett Jack.
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The franchise isn’t tanking; wherever your definition of the term might lie. Just ask Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo, especially after he was asked by the Bucks County Courier Times’ Tom Moore if he would “consider tanking this season in an effort to potentially make things better in future years?”
“Not a chance,” Colangelo replied Monday via text message.
Not tanking. Not at 0-4 to start the season, not with Embiid sitting out winnable games over Charlotte, not with Sergio Rodriguez leading the team in minutes per contest.
This is merely, erm, limiting too much of a good thing. Better to keep the expectations muted, as North America eases its way out of its unanticipated baseball fandom and back into Football Mode.
And let’s give the opponents a break, especially when they attempt to confirm that your rookie center might already be the most gifted at his position.
Especially when a gifted former NBA center, an 11-time All-Star and member of the NBA’s Top 50 Players of All Time list, comes out of the film room fawning. As Charlotte Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing has, this fall, in discussions with Hornets head coach Steve Clifford (via Keith Pompey at the Philadelphia Inquirer):
Ewing told Clifford that Embiid could very well be the most talented center in the league.
“And if you know Patrick, especially at that position, he doesn’t say stuff like that,” Clifford said. “I mean, he can shoot. He can put the ball on the floor. He can pass. He’s got a feel for the game. He’s got toughness, size, and strength.
“He’s got exceptional ability. I’m glad that he played last night. [Jahlil] Okafor is hard enough. We don’t need them both.”
Clifford, prior to Wednesday night’s win over Philadelphia, confirmed that he was “not intrigued to see him play tonight.”
Joel Embiid, through three games, is working at 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.3 assists in just 21 minutes of action per contest. Statistically, when he is on the court, the Sixers are one of the NBA’s most fearsome defensive outfits. His ability to roam and somehow stay settled, at 7-feet tall and after just 63 official minutes of NBA action, is borderline astonishing.
Partially because we’re just not used to as much from legitimate NBA-sized centers in the modern era. It is more than passable to admit as much.
Greg Oden, perhaps Embiid’s closest comp when it comes to size, frame and ability, saw his career crumple in a heap due to leg woes. Yao Ming should still be playing basketball at a high level, but he retired years ago. DeMarcus Cousins astonishes, but he remains stuck in a basketball hellhole in spite of his trips to Team USA’s international stage and the All-Star Game. Anthony Davis has the height and length of the center, but he remains something else altogether.
Dwight Howard comes and goes while Al Horford and Marc Gasol remain criminally unspoken-of. Hassan Whiteside will probably have to drop 40 and 20 in a Finals clincher to win the hearts of those that still think he’s too flash for this pan, while DeAndre Jordan would like a word.
Karl-Anthony Towns is actually a year and a half younger than Joel Embiid, coming off of a revelatory rookie year, and he already seems like a story from Sunday in the face of the Bright New Thing.
Embiid looks all the part of someone, outfitted in too many wristbands to count, that would line up alongside Patrick Ewing in a game televised by CBS. That, in the modern era, is enough to make a certain type go batty. This isn’t to dismiss KAT and Anthony Davis as too modern for the table, far from it. It’s just that … of course Patrick Ewing would be smitten with watching Joel Embiid play basketball.
He has to mind his minutes, though. Embiid missed his first two potential NBA seasons with a litany of foot woes, breaks and fractures that have limited and/or ended the careers of big men like Bill Walton, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Oden and Yao.
The sorts of setbacks that Joel Embiid suffers, sadly, won’t put him on the shelf for two to four weeks. If he were to re-injure himself, it would be in a way that could end his 2016-17 season. It would lead us to question whether or not his body could hold up to pushing that frame through an NBA career. You have to go slow with these sorts of limitations.
You also have to play the young man, if only for half a contest to start, while sitting him during what (luckily) have become the rarer and rare NBA back-to-back. At some point, you have to give a guy that might change the fortunes of an entire franchise the starting spotlight. You have to unfurl the living, dunking embodiment of The Process.
This is why, in a season that will see the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA draft lottery for the fifth straight season, the Sixers ain’t tanking. We won’t get to see as much of Joel Embiid as we’d like to, this season, but he and his team will be damned if they don’t try make a difference when he’s out there.
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