By Tommy Matthews

Eight years after he was drafted by the Sixers out of Kansas, Joel Embiid has risen to the heights.

Two NBA MVP runner-ups in a row,

Winning the NBA scoring title in 2022.

Massive riches and a baby son, Arthur, named after his dad’s late brother.

But one thing is missing.

An NBA title.

And, after the Sixers got bounced from the second Thursday night for the third year in the last four, this question must be considered:

Will Embiid have to leave Philly to win a ring?

That’s what the Washington Post’s Ben Golliver is wondering:

“I still don’t know how we let [Butler] go,” Embiid said after game 6. “I wish I could have gone to battle with him still.”

Shaquille O’Neal reached the Finals at 23 and won his first title at 28. The NBA revolved around O’Neal in a way that it has never revolved around Embiid, despite his talents and charisma.

Embiid is synonymous with the 76ers, and he signed an extension last summer that runs through the 2026-27 season. He’s a certified Philadelphia icon, but it’s hard to see how he takes the next steps in his career without a drastic move. Another coaching change won’t be enough. Hoping for better health doesn’t count as a plan. Even if Embiid wins his long-awaited MVP in 2023, it’s incredibly difficult to envision the 76ers holding up through a deep postseason run.

The clock is ticking on Embiid’s prime, and he needs a more reliable sidekick, a more talented supporting cast and a more stable culture. Fixing all that ails Philadelphia will be a lot more difficult than orchestrating a move to greener pastures.

“I’m not the GM,” Embiid said, when asked what improvements are needed. “I’m not the president. I don’t make those decisions. These guys are going to do what it takes to win a championship. If it means trading people, or signing new people, or trading me, that’s what they’re going to do if they believe that’s going to give them a shot to win a championship.”

It might have been a meaningless aside buried within an extended news conference, but Embiid stumbled on the right answer. As with Barkley before him, a trade represents Embiid’s surest path to greater glory. Will pride and loyalty stand in the way?

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