June 3, 2023

Joel Embiid’s loyalty to Philadelphia could be tested this offseason.

With another early exit from the playoffs and the team firing coach Doc Rivers on Tuesday, the 76ers will be tasked with improving a roster seemingly at a dead end, depleted of draft capital and cap space.

Even before Rivers was fired, some of the NBA’s top executives believed that contending teams — including the Knicks — were positioned to land Embiid, especially if his running mate James Harden decides to return to Houston, as rumored.

“Choose loyalty or choose a chance to compete for a championship,” ESPN’s Tim MacMahon said of Embiid as a guest on the Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe.

And now Tim, James can walk. And if you don’t think that teams with trading assets, like the Knicks, for example, have been watching this situation from a distance,” Lowe responded.

“[The Knicks] have been watching, rubbing their hands together,” MacMahon interjected.

Harden’s departure to Houston would put Embiid in the prime of his career on a rebuilding roster – which isn’t exactly how you want to spend their peak years.

The Knicks have cashed in a boatload of assets for Donovan Mitchell this season, but could they go all in for the reigning MVP?

“I know teams look around with resources and say, ‘Wow… Can we?’” said Lowe.

All eyes are on Joel Embiid this offseason after Doc Rivers' firing.
All eyes are on Joel Embiid this offseason after Doc Rivers’ firing.
Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the 2023 NBA MVP
Joel Embiid is the 2023 NBA MVP
Getty Images

And Lowe isn’t alone in theorizing that the Knicks could be interested in cashing in their loot of spare change and young players for a superstar.

Ringer founder Bill Simmons believes the Knicks are “in that mode” for Embiid.

“The Knicks are just waiting for Embiid to say, ‘It’s time for me to go,'” Simmons said on his podcast. “They have their relationships. They have leon [Rose] And [World Wide] Wes, which are his [Embiid’s] guys. They’ve been waiting for this moment, and now it’s here.”

He said the 76ers could decide to leave Coach Rivers — which they did on Tuesday — and resign Harden to a massive overtime while they roll it back with the current roster of players.

But anyone predicting what Harden will do with his career is a fool.

“The Rockets think he’s coming,” MacMahon and Lowe agreed after Sunday’s loss to the 76ers.

If Harden really goes to Houston for a carefree basketball life on a young roster, Embiid is stuck.

James Harden is the key to Joel Embiid's future
James Harden is the key to Joel Embiid’s future
NBAE via Getty Images

Zach Brazalier of The Post also reported in March that the Knicks were well positioned this offseason after passing on a potential Mitchell trade last year.

He named Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns on a small list of potential trade candidates, on top of Embiid’s speculation if this year would end badly, which it did.

“If I’m the Knicks, all those Karl-Anthony Towns rumors start now. Forget that. I’ve got a good team when I’m the Knicks,” Lowe explained of the Knicks’ impressive stock of trading assets.

“I missed my chance on Mitchell, which is fine; we came back from that. It turned out to be a good decision. Towns isn’t the guy I play all the chips for, but Embiid? That’s the guy I play all the chips for.

New York will find out on Tuesday night how much draft capital they have in the NBA Draft Lottery — as they own the Mavericks’ top-10 protected first-round pick, which they have a 20 percent chance of keeping.

At the trade deadline, they elected to keep the Mavericks’ draft pick and trade their own pick to Josh Hart, despite the Mavericks going all-in with a trade for Kyrie Irving.

New York also has lottery protected picks this season from the Wizards and Pistons who have different protections until the 2027 season where they would become second rounders if those two teams continued to pick in the top 9 between those seasons.

The Knicks acquired the Bucks 2025 draft pick (top four protected) and keep all of their future draft picks after this season.

“As for Joel, he loves Philly; Philly loves him. He loves being loved in Philly; he understands what that means. I think it would be really hard for him to follow the superstar: “I’m really pushing myself to get out of here,” Lowe said of Embiid.