Apparently, all it takes to convince American hoops players to represent their country is an insult or a loss at the FIBAs. Whether it was Noah Lyles, the B team’s fourth-place finish, or the human instinct to ape the cool kids, Team USA looks to be loaded for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The latest addition is reigning MVP Joel Embiid, who was born in Cameroon and holds dual French and American citizenship. This comes after a who’s who of names, including LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant, expressed interest in going another round with the national team. As much as I’m enjoying the solidarity, and the stars’ urge to keep the gold medal streak alive, I’m not naive enough to overlook all that comes with the league’s biggest stars hanging out together all summer, or Embiid’s current situation in Philly.

I remember what happened with the Redeem Team, how it led to the Heatles, and subsequently Adam Silver’s pursuit to snuff out any and all tampering. The commissioner’s stance on collusion is as admirable as it is misguided, and that couldn’t be more evident amid the current player empowerment era we’re in.

Embiid might say it was difficult to pick between Cameroon, France, and the U.S., but my hunch is it was a business move more than anything. The center can not only network with other stars to see who’s a good fit, or unhappy, but he also can observe the workout routines of the game’s best.

LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Co. all raved about the experience of watching Kobe Bryant’s hard work and dedication in person, and ideally some of that will rub off on the center who’s faced conditioning and health questions his entire career.

But let’s be honest: Embiid is doing this for the tampering. From an alliance-building point of view, Team USA basketball is pure, uncut cocaine. Instead of an offseason pickup game, or a 2K-generated simulation, these guys are able to inject what it’d be like to play competitive hoops with other superstars directly into their bloodstream.

Imagine Papa John’s was the only pizza you’ve ever tried. Now imagine eating actual good, delicious pizza after years of over-sauced, under-cheesed animal byproducts on cardboard? That’s the conundrum facing Philadelphia if they can’t surround Embiid with a cast worthy of contention.

When he goes over to Europe next summer, Embiid’s synapses will be firing like an 18-year-old knee deep in pornstars, and there is no way he’ll be content returning to James Harden and Daryl Morey leg wrestling at the Sixers’ team facility. Damian Lillard got a taste of competent teammates at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, and it’s no coincidence he was over his situation in Portland a season and a half later.

None of these self-proclaimed alpha dogs are willing to take repeated gut punches from inept management, and there’s more and more understanding from fans, agents, and other players when a star’s situation becomes untenable. And that’s when the trade request comes.

Joel Embiid is scary close to realizing just how bumbling the 76ers organization has been for a decade and counting, and if he doesn’t know it already, he’ll know for damn sure after the 2024 Olympics.



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