The first man to follow Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey to the stage on Monday’s Media Day was Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid, who fielded a host of questions related and unrelated to Ben Simmons.
Like his head coach and president of basketball operations before him, Embiid made clear his wishes for Simmons to return to the team. He complimented Simmons’ defensive exploits, calling him a “monster,” and knack for creating so many open 3-pointers to surrounding shooters.
“Of course, we want him back. He’s a big piece of what we’ve been building the past few years. Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff that has happened in between. I know a little bit about all of that, but that’s not really for me to deal (with),” Embiid said. “After we lost, I kinda tried to figure out ways I can be better, so we can win something. But I think you just gotta have some self-awareness. I could’ve done much better than I did. I turned the ball over a few times, missed a few shots. Tobias (Harris) could’ve been better. All my teammates could’ve been better. You just gotta look at yourself and find ways to get better.”
Of the many ways to get better, Embiid referenced his own turnovers in Game 7, shot-making struggles down the stretch of Games 4 and 7, and his Game 6 performance, which he classified as “really, really bad.” Under the scenario in which Simmons does find himself back in a Sixers uniform, Embiid shared his wishes for the All-Star to improve on the offensive glass because of the attention he commands inside and how that establishes mismatches for Simmons to capitalize.
He also acknowledged strides as a shooter and individual scorer, two areas that are routinely hinted at during offseason montages but have yet to translate to game action thus far.
“I’m sure we’ve all seen videos, so that would help,” Embiid said. “Because he has that potential. He has that potential to be that good.”
The common refrain from Embiid, however, was that it’s not about mandating growth from a singular player. Everyone must advance their skill-sets to inch closer toward the collective objective of a championship, himself included. He encouraged everyone to disregard the external noise or stressors engineered by fans and instead, hone in on internal development.
Had Embiid been extended the opportunity to convene with Simmons in Los Angeles, he said he would’ve expressed his disappointment. Not with Simmmons individually, but with the situation as a whole because he believes they can win together, knows Simmons shares that sentiment as well and wants to see the partnership through to a title. It’s a matter of everyone playing up to their potential, he said, which spurred mentions of himself, Simmons, Harris, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton and Andre Drummond.
“In the regular season, we’ve been so good and so dominant that we know it’s working, so I think it’s all about taking the next step,” Embiid said. “To be able to win, it’s hard. ... But that’s something I’m willing to do and I think my teammates are also willing to do.
“It’s time to take the next step. I hope that he really changes his mind because if I didn’t like playing with him, I’m honest, I would say it. But I do love playing with him because he adds so much to our team. We’ve been building this thing around us. I don’t see it as, like, ‘This is my team.’ I don’t care. I don’t care about any of that. That has nothing to do with me. I’m not trying to live in the spotlight. I got my family. I’m happy. That’s not me. I’m just trying to play basketball and have fun.”
Following the Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Embiid was asked what he deemed the turning point. At that moment, he said he felt it was when the team had an open dunk, but only scored one point on the possession. Of course, Simmons was the one who bypassed that opportunity and dished it to Thbyulle, who subsequently split two free throws and failed to knot the game at 88.
Today, Embiid stood by those comments and did not recant anything because he said “he just stated the facts.” He later added that he doesn’t consider that response a contributing factor in Simmons’ trade request because he didn’t call anyone out if “you listen to the whole quote.”
“I was asked a question: ‘What was the turning point of the game?’ And I really believe it was a turning point of the game. If there’s anybody that should be mad, it’s me freaking calling Matisse out for missing the freaking free throw. But we all talk about and we all joke about. We know we gotta be better,” Embiid said. “I don’t have any regrets because I don’t feel like I put anybody in a situation where they had to feel bad. But at the end of the day, like I just said, you gotta have self-awareness and you gotta figure out ways how to get better as players and as a team. I’m figuring it out. I’m not perfect. ... I make mistakes. It happens. All I can do is try and play hard, as hard as I can. But honestly, we just all gotta grow up.”
While he did not outright state it, Embiid also alluded to the notion that Simmons’ inclusion among various trade rumors over the past nine months is perhaps influencing his decision to hold out. The eighth-year center repeatedly described the dynamic as “unfortunate,” but countered with the NBA’s position as a business and the players’ relation to that.
“If, I don’t know, Golden State offered Steph(en) Curry and Klay (Thompson) for me, you think the Sixers would say no to that? They gotta say yes to that. I would say yes to that,” Embiid said. “Because that’s what (teams) do, they always gotta find ways to get better, so you can’t get mad at that. It’s just the way it is. I look at it in the way of you just gotta move on, you just gotta be yourself and do the best job you can because we get paid to do it. And we get paid a lot of money. A lot of people don’t make this type of money.
“But people don’t really look at you as a human being and that’s not fair. But at the end of the day, you gotta take on your business. ... It is unfortunate. I would not like to be in that situation. But then again, it is a business.”