The Joel Embiid trade rumors are coming. There is already plenty of speculation about the superstar’s future in the wake of last week’s deadline. The noise will only get louder if the Philadelphia 76ers can’t turn things around this season.

It started Monday when ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted on his “Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective” podcast that people around the NBA are starting to prepare for the possibility that Embiid could be available in the summer. Just hours later, Jimmy Butler had a brief exchange with Embiid on Instagram, suggesting he would welcome his ex-teammate as a member of the Miami Heat.

None of that is evidence that the 76ers have even considered fielding offers for the All-Star, but Philadelphia’s struggles have left the league wondering what changes could be coming next offseason.

Preseason projections indicated that the Milwaukee Bucks and 76ers would dominate the Eastern Conference before a playoff series determined which of the two teams would reach the 2020 NBA Finals. Milwaukee has held up its end of the bargain, on-pace for 70-plus wins and running away with the No.1 seed. Philadelphia has fallen well short of expectations.

With the All-Star break just days away, the 76ers are the East’s No.5 seed. They trail the No.2 seed Toronto Raptors by seven games in the loss column. Philadelphia is 2.5 games behind the No.4 seed Heat, who have already clinched the tiebreaker over the 76ers by beating them three times in four tries.

If the 76ers enter the postseason as the No.5 seed, they won’t have home-court advantage in a first-round series. Without a top-four seed, Philadelphia might be one-and-done in the playoffs.

The 76ers are 9-19 on the road. Philadelphia has a worse road record than the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings.

Philadelphia was upset by an injury-riddled Boston Celtics team in the 2018 postseason. The 76ers went all-in last season by trading for both Butler and Tobias Harris, only to come up short in the second round. Another early playoff exit would be borderline disastrous, potentially forcing general manager Elton Brand to make a bold trade.

The pairing of Embiid and Ben Simmons has been at the center of Philadelphia’s issues. They are two of the league’s most talented stars, as well as an odd fit in the same lineup.

Simmons scores most of his points around the rim. Embiid does much of his damage in the post. The lack of floor-spacing has resulted in Philadelphia ranking 20th in offensive rating.

Simmons caught fire last month when Embiid missed nine games because of a torn ligament in his finger. The guard averaged 21.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game. The 76ers went 6-3 without their starting center.

Philadelphia certainly isn’t a better team without Embiid. But Simmons appears to be a better player when the center on the bench, allowing Simmons to push the pace and operate in the paint.

Much of the previous speculation involved hypothetical trades for Simmons because of his poor shooting ability. Now, it seems Embiid could be the star that’s more likely to be moved if Philadelphia ever decides to make a blockbuster trade.

Embiid would probably have more trade value than Simmons. He’s been an All-NBA Second Team selection in each of the last two seasons. Embiid is going to start in his third straight All-Star Game Sunday.

When healthy, Embiid might be the NBA’s best defensive player. He’s averaging 24.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks per game in his career.

Philadelphia's Joel Embiid reacts after scoring in the 76ers' 121-109 NBA victory over the Milwaukee Bucks
Philadelphia's Joel Embiid reacts after scoring in a 76ers' victory over the Milwaukee Bucks GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Sarah Stier

Injuries have prevented Embiid from playing more than 64 games in any season. He’s already missed 16 contests this season.

The 76ers have a payroll just north of $130 million, putting the team $21 million above the salary cap. With Embiid and Simmons set to earn more than $29 million each in the 2020-2021 season, Philadelphia’s payroll will approach $150 million.

Two summers ago, the Raptors broke up their All-Star backcourt following years of playoff disappointments. Seven months ago, it was the Houston Rockets that traded one of their two stars after failing to reach the finals.

Philadelphia currently looks like a team that might soon have to make a similar difficult decision regarding one of its All-Stars.