The Philadelphia 76ers are once again in a tough spot.
Joel Embiid is expected to miss "an extended period of time" after undergoing surgery on his torn left meniscus later this week, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. We won't know the exact recovery timeline until after the procedure, but there's a strong chance we don't see Embiid until late in the regular season or the playoffs, if at all.
It will be virtually impossible for the Sixers to fill the void at center. Embiid was well on his way to a second straight MVP before the injury, averaging 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on .533/.366/.883 splits in 34.0 minutes. He is the greatest scorer in modern NBA history and he is the sun around which Philadelphia's offense orbits.
Not only does Embiid create a ton of scoring opportunities from scratch, but he leveled up as a playmaker this season under Nick Nurse. The Sixers leaned on Embiid as a frontcourt passing hub and a legitimate creator for teammates. Already short on viable ball-handlers and setup mechanisms in the backcourt, the Sixers will now need to look to unconventional places to generate shots.
One such place is the trade market, which should be bustling prior to Thursday's trade deadline. Assuming Embiid is eligible to return before season's end, the Sixers cannot waste a year of his prime — no matter how slim their chances of winning it all. Tyrese Maxey is still there. The Sixers need to stay competitive, if at all possible.
Here are a few moves Daryl Morey, Elton Brand, and the front office can look to pull off.
3. Sixers can boost defense with Jonathan Isaac trade
The Embiid injury is equally catastrophic for the Sixers' defense as it is for the Sixers' offense. He is one of the best rim protectors in the NBA — a one-man scheme with the mobility to guard up in space and the instincts to erase countless lanes to the basket. There's no way for Philadelphia to land a true big man defender of Embiid's caliber, but there are avenues to improve the Sixers' rim protection and general defensive fortification.
Few are better than Jonathan Isaac, who continues to perform admirably outside the limelight for the Orlando Magic. Multiple knee injuries have sapped Isaac's durability and brought into question his career longevity, but at 26 years old, he is currently one of the best per-minute defenders in the league. Isaac's role is extremely limited in Orlando (14.3 minutes), but he's averaging 1.2 blocks with an impressive analytics profile (1.0 DWS, 2.6 DBPM, 7.5 BLK%, 17.9 PER).
The offense is a work in progress and the Sixers probably can't thrust Isaac into a 30 minutes per game role, but as a situational stretch-four or small-ball five off the bench, he could have a pronounced impact on Philadelphia's ability to generate stops. Isaac's instincts are off the chart. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan, Isaac is a hawk in passing lanes and one of the NBA's elite (per-minute) weak side shot-blockers.
Marcus Morris has been a nothingburger since arriving in Philadelphia. He has a key to the city and is a great vet to have in the locker room, but the Sixers need production and defense from that spot. His expiring salary is almost a perfect match for Isaac's (also expiring) contract. Given how limited his role is, the Magic probably can't expect more than a couple second-round picks to move off the former No. 6 pick. Notably, Isaac has $17.4 million in non-guaranteed salary next season. The Sixers are looking to maintain cap flexibility, but there's an easy avenue to keep him around if he performs.