Joel Embiid wants his 76ers to be the team that takes LeBron's championship place

Joel Embiid. (Getty Images)

Joel Embiid wasn’t just working as a promoting, preenin’ NBA superstar when he posited that his Philadelphia 76ers are in place to take over the Eastern Conference upon the eventual fall of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The guy was speaking to the general condition of many NBA fans, parked midway through the 2017 postseason, fans likely tiring of the way the Cavs have with the East. If any fans outside of Ohio are enjoying what appears to be LeBron James’ seventh consecutive run to the Finals, then they’ll probably be sick of it following June.

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That’s where Embiid and the 76ers come in, featuring a Rookie of the Year candidate and hoped-for franchise center in Joel, alongside the returning No. 1 pick from the 2016 draft in Ben Simmons, and whomever the Sixers select with the third overall selection in June’s NBA draft. In years past teams from Chicago, Boston, Indiana, Atlanta and Toronto failed to get in LeBron’s way, and though Boston returns again with homecourt advantage in the 2017 Eastern finals, the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie gave the C’s but one game to win prior to falling in the face of an advancing James.

Get it in now, Embiid warns:




Fantastic! The declaration is a little unnerving, considering that Embiid played just 31 games in 2016-17 after missing the previous two seasons with a series of foot worries. Speaking to the Sixers start at the lottery, CSN’s Jessica Camerato drew some warning summer plans from the 23-year old:

“[My offseason goal is to] make sure my body’s ready because I think next year I’ll be able to play almost every game,” Embiid said. “Just make sure my body’s ready to take on the toll of the NBA schedule, back-to-backs, but I intend to play every game and we’re going to see how it goes. It’s about getting strong and getting my legs strong and making sure I’m ready for next year.”

It is very likely Embiid will be under restrictions when he returns. This past season, he was capped at 28 minutes and held out of back-to-backs as the Sixers closely monitored him after he was sidelined by foot injuries the previous two years. So does he plan to play in back-to-backs for the first time next season?

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Embiid said.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are set to line up opposite Boston in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, and they’ve never looked a stronger favorite in the East. The Cavs have yet to lose in the playoffs thus far, and with the Golden State Warriors also on a 10-0 run to begin its march back to the Finals (the last win coming in yet another blowout), the league and its followers are getting nervy even in anticipation of what could be the most celebrated Finals in NBA history.

LeBron turns 33 before 2017 lets out, though, his team was top-heavy, taxed-out and old midway through 2016-17 and it will stay the same in years past this, championship or bust. This is where Embiid, Simmons, Okafor, swingman and fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Dario Saric, and the gritty Robert Covington hope to pair with yet another powerhouse rookie prospect to be selected third overall in this year’s draft.

The issue here is that that No. 3 pick is destined to be rather young – perhaps the 20-year old Josh Jackson, according to Draft Express’ first post-lottery mock draft – possibly a teenager. These additions come prior to adding a kid with the Lakers’ unprotected pick in 2018 alongside Philadelphia’s own first-round draft pick. Embiid, by June of 2018, just has to hope those particular additions fall within a half-dozen years of the 24 years of age he’ll be on draft night in 2018.

The full complement of picks won’t hit the Philadelphia airwaves until the fall of 2018 at the earliest, and that’s presuming that Philly’s line of first-round luck doesn’t carry over and cloud any future selections. Embiid, 2016 No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons and the since-departed 2013 pick Nerlens Noel all lost each and every game of their rookie seasons, with only the disappointing Jahlil Okafor receiving the health clearance to work in what should have been his rookie season.

We’d say that 76ers fans could hardly handle such a returning scenario, but then again this was the fanbase that celebrated yet another reminder of the depths of The Process with banners, marriage proposals and delicious, sugary drinks for everyone:


Embiid might stand as a half-generation older than whomever the Sixers pick in 2018, but for now this is a 23-year old NBA fan – a relatively new NBA fan in comparison to some his age – that has grown up with nothing but LeBron knocking the East around. James’ failure with the Cavaliers in the 2010 Conference semifinals, to Embiid, must feel like it took place on another planet: Joel didn’t even begin playing basketball until around the time LeBron finished his first season with the Heat in 2011.

The 7-footer might be a basketball novice, at least in comparison to those that had basketball sneakers thrown into (instead of “at”) their crib, but it’s more than clear that he understands the game at play here.

Embiid spent the bulk of his Tuesday at the ESPN upfronts, sending out a message of good cheer alongside another Rihanna paean during what has been an enormously difficult spring for the company and sports media in general. Though clearly aware that every mug, grin and reaction given on the lottery stage would make for instant internet success, Embiid didn’t come across as preening or trying too hard during the lottery telecast.

He’s just a naturally adaptive, intelligent and funny guy who happens to be incredibly talented at basketball, and putting the brightest spin on the most dour of situations. While you’re muttering into your third neat bourbon of the lousy early evening, Embiid’s on his second Shirley Temple and off to put cash in the jukebox. The songs are going to be annoying as hell, but at least someone is trying.

LeBron James looks on as another blowout spins away. (Getty Images)

The NBA doesn’t have a LeBron James Problem, far from it. As we copped to during our Cavaliers/Celtics series preview, the following week or so has a good chance to present us with the best we’ve ever seen from the exquisitely rested LeBron James, and one would hope that even after six consecutive Finals trips that we’re not too bored with perpetual greatness.

In a couple of years, though, the men selected in the 2003 draft will have to make room available for the prospects born in 1996, or even more recently.

And, soon enough, those who were born in 1994 will have to step aside for even younger usurpers.

First, he’ll have to play more than 31 games in a season, and the 76ers will have to make the postseason for the first time since Doug Collins started Tony Battie for 11 games (2012). Then he’ll have to crawl his way through the playoff ranks, hopefully at the same rate that LeBron (who took the Pistons to seven games before downing them in his second postseason, in a Finals run) worked at over a decade ago.

For a whole lot of people Joel Embiid’s age, it’s time.

However, the same point that Joel used to pump up Philly’s prospects is also the best reminder for Cleveland Cavaliers fans. Luckily for them, LeBron James most assuredly is not Joel Embiid’s age. He’s not ready for any of this to end, any time soon.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!