Things have felt a little off in Philadelphia this season. Widely considered a top-two team in the Eastern Conference entering the season, the fifth-seeded Sixers have fallen short of those expectations so far and have struggled to smoothly incorporate major offseason signee Al Horford.
Franchise center Joel Embiid hasn’t been immune to the ups and downs of the 76ers’ season, having spoken last week about wanting to “get back to the fun Joel.” On Sunday, when Philadelphia hosted the Bulls, Embiid heard some boos from fans during pre-game intros and later appeared to shush the home crowd and say “Shut the f–k up” after hitting a dagger three in the fourth quarter (video link via Michael Lee of The Athletic).
Embiid, who claimed after the game that his comment was aimed at himself and not Philadelphia fans, said he didn’t care how it looked, adding that he wants to get back to being a “good a–hole.” On Monday, he posted an Instagram photo of that shushing moment, accompanied by the caption, “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Not content to leave it at that, Embiid later exchanged comments with Heat swingman Jimmy Butler, who replied to his former teammate’s Instagram post with the message, “I know a place where villains are welcome,” an apparent reference to Miami. Embiid’s response? “Damn right my brother.” (hat tip to Bleacher Report).
It’s premature to read too much into Embiid’s on-court actions on Sunday and his social media posts after the game. Considering the way the 76ers’ season has played out, the big man was probably just letting out some frustration and then engaging in some light trolling. He published a tweet later on Monday night reasserting his commitment to Philadelphia.
Still, given the ongoing drama, this is a situation worth keeping an eye on. When the Sixers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last spring, head coach Brett Brown‘s job security seemed tenuous, and if the team doesn’t advance even further in this year’s postseason, changes of some kind are probably coming.
A head coaching change and/or secondary roster moves are much more likely than anything drastic involving Embiid or Ben Simmons, but teams around the NBA are monitoring the situation. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on his podcast this week (hat tip to RealGM) that rival executives have started to openly wonder whether the Sixers would consider moving Embiid. As Windhorst acknowledged, that’s an extremely unlikely scenario, but it’s notable that execs don’t believe it’s an impossibility.
“My point is people are talking about that,” Windhorst said, per RealGM. “I don’t think they would do that without making an adjustment to the head coach. It’s such a radical thing. But the fact that we’re in mid-February and the people who work in the league, who have to prepare in advance, are mulling over Joel Embiid potentially coming to market, whether that’s true or not… I mean, (Sixers owner) Josh Harris can come on this podcast and deny it if he wants, but the fact people are talking about it, is not good. It’s a symptom of where they are.”