The Sixers had their media day on Monday. There were no rookie injuries to dissect. No questions about players forgetting how or refusing to shoot. No coaches or executives on the hot seat. Even the local reporters that love their own brand of “gotcha journalism” could only muster a meager question about the team changing its healthcare partner.
It was a relatively boring day — and I’m sure the Sixers were just fine with that.
Part of the lack of flamboyance had to do with Joel Embiid. Usually the five-time All-Star is good for a few standout sound bites on media day. As recently as last year his comments on the absence of Ben Simmons made waves and helped many outlets with traffic (thanks, Joel).
On Monday, he was low-key while addressing the reporters on hand alongside James Harden. He even appeared to have selective memory when it came to the Simmons saga.
“Which drama? I don’t remember any of that,” Embiid said, a response that was met with laughter from those on hand.
Embiid did elaborate a bit more on that answer.
“I thought last year went great,” Embiid continued. “As a team starting the year, I thought it went well. I didn’t feel any distraction; we were still winning games, we did a great job. And then we added James, and we went to another level.”
The two-time MVP runner-up also made wisecracks about how boring his summer was.
“I’m feeling great. I was in bed all summer,” Embiid said with a laugh. “But I’m feeling great. Healthy, ready to go, ready to compete. It’s going to be fun.”
It was a much different tone from the charismatic big man than we’re used to. His focus was on the team, with clear goals for it: become the best defensive squad in the league and compete for a championship.
Both of those goals start, of course, with Embiid. The 28-year-old was the first center to win a scoring title since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-00. He was also the first center to average over 30 points a game since former Sixer Moses Malone did so during an MVP season with the Rockets in 1981-82. Despite those accolades, Embiid once again missed out on the MVP award as Nikola Jokic won it for the second straight season.
Embiid has never shied away from talking about his desire to take home that award. That wasn’t the case Monday.
“Nah, whatever happens, happens,” Embiid said. “That’s something I’m not worried about at all. All I’m worried about is having the best team in the league. You win games, everything else is going to take care of itself. So my focus … is I really want us to be the best defensive team in the league. And then offensively, I think we can easily figure it out. Obviously during the regular season, you’ve got to make sure everybody stays healthy, especially because our goal is to win a championship.”
Despite being the “crown jewel” of the offense, as Brett Brown affectionately referred to him, Embiid’s importance on the defensive end is just as critical to the Sixers’ success. When looking around the league, you’d be hard-pressed to find many better two-way players. Everything the Sixers do revolves around Embiid — on both ends.
The one comment you could label interesting from Embiid was when he talked about his defensive impact. He essentially admitted that his massive offensive role has taken away from his defense at times — something he’s looking to rectify this season.
“I believe we’ve got the right pieces [to be the the best defensive team in the league],” Embiid said. “Obviously adding P.J. [Tucker] and De’Anthony [Melton] is going to be a big help, and I plan on getting back to the level I was probably before I had all that offensive load. I’m just excited to go out and compete. Whatever happens, happens, but our goal is to just go out and compete together and try to win games. Whatever it takes, defensively and offensively.”
It’s funny that even the questions hurled at Embiid were mostly milquetoast. It was Harden that was pressed on his weight and fitness, normally an Embiid staple. It was also Harden that was grilled on the team’s playoff disappointment, another reporter favorite when it comes to Embiid.
When asked the standard “what did you work on this summer?” question, Embiid again chose light humor over pumping himself up.
“Like I said, I was chilling on the couch, so I didn’t really work on my game,” Embiid said. “So we’re just going to have to wait and see how this season goes.”
The man who was once criticized for having more tweets than games played is now seemingly prepared to let his game do the talking.
Not a bad idea when you’re as good as Joel Embiid.