With the NBA trade deadline looming on Thursday, Joel Embiid appeared on 97.5 The Fanatic for an interview with Mike Missanelli. The most pressing topics included Embiid’s feelings about the current team, potential trades as the deadline draws near, and, of course, the Ben Simmons situation.
The Sixers sit at 9th in offense and 10th in defense. Those rankings say that the Sixers are an uninspiring contender. They’ve climbed into the boat during a massive storm, but the boat is a wooden skiff with holes in it. The smell test corroborates, indicating that this group simply doesn’t have quite enough juice to get over the hump at which it’s been stuck during this era.
But Embiid doesn’t see it that way, at least publicly.
“It takes all of us. My teammates, they’ve been great all season. Playing extremely hard, fighting on every possession. We’ve always believed in ourselves,” Embiid said when asked if his team has enough to win a championship.
“I still believe we’re good enough. We’re all going to have to be perfect if you want to be able to win and contend for the championship. But like I said, and I’ve said a lot of times, I love my teammates and I do believe in all of them. I think we have a chance.”
Embiid’s appreciation and belief in his teammates is admirable, but it’s also indicative of how flawed the roster is. “Perfection” is not a margin of error — or lack thereof — that you can bet on to win four playoff series. As much as Embiid enjoys his teammates, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a reality in which this current iteration of the Sixers can hang a banner.
Meanwhile, smoke has been growing that James Harden could depart from Brooklyn this offseason. On Friday, Shams Charania turned that smoke into a fire with his report that the Sixers and Nets were expected to engage in trade discussions surrounding Harden leading up to Thursday’s deadline. That report was matched by a joint update from Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne on Monday, which indicated that discussions surrounding the All-Star guard had not made any meaningful advances with just 4 days to go before the clock strikes midnight.
“I don’t know,” Embiid said with a chuckle when asked for his perspective on the Harden rumors. “I haven’t heard anything, the stuff coming out. He plays for the Brooklyn Nets. There’s nothing I can do about that. Like I said, I love all my teammates. But, that’s like you asking me a question like, ‘Would you love playing with Steph Curry?’ The top players, they all make each other better. He’s in that category, and he’s gotten close before. He’s gotten to the Conference Finals, he’s gotten close to making it to the Finals.”
That’s a long-winded way of saying that Harden would make the Sixers better and has deeper playoff experience than any of the team’s current core. So, of course he’d be a welcomed addition.
“But, that’s something I really can’t comment on because he plays on another team. It’s not realistic to me. We all see the same thing on the internet. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not,” Embiid added.
“I can’t comment on a player from another team, but who is not a fan of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or James Harden? Those are all top players in this league. I love watching them. I enjoy their game and what they’ve been able to do in their career.”
Throughout the interview, Embiid re-iterated that he loves his teammates and thinks the Sixers can do something special in their current state, plus-2.2 point differential despite being 11 games over .500 and all. That love and respect for his teammates, it seems, influences what may be Embiid’s conservative outlook towards roster turnover.
“I like to stay out of it, I don’t ever want to feel like I’m making a decision. I want nothing to do with it, I get paid paid to go on the court, do everything I can to bring the results with whatever we have. That’s what I focus on,” Embiid said when asked about whether he’s consulted on roster decisions.
“All the other things, I really don’t want to be responsible for choosing whatever has to be done. I really just want to play basketball, have fun, and enjoy my teammates. We have such great chemistry, especially this year. This is the most fun I’ve had with really any team that we’ve had in my career in Philly, and I’ve had a lot of guys come around since I’ve been here,” Embiid added.
“The chemistry has been amazing. We all love each other, and we need to keep going on the right path. We have a chance to do something amazing, so we need to keep going.”
The shot at Simmons there is not so thinly veiled. Embiid and Simmons have co-existed in 5 of Embiid’s 6 seasons in the NBA. The only season in which Simmons hasn’t existed next to Embiid is the current one, as both Simmons and the Sixers navigate the star’s unprecedented hold-out to force a trade out of Philadelphia.
Perhaps a different sentiment would be expressed if Embiid felt like Simmons genuinely looked in the mirror, just like he did, when the team failed to meet expectations.
“It’s unfortunate, everything that’s happened. Everybody is at fault. But at the end of the day, you got to look at yourself. When we lost, I looked at myself. I knew I wasn’t good enough. I knew I wasn’t healthy enough. So, I just looked at myself and tried to find ways I can be better and I can help this team get just as better,” Embiid said of the Simmons situation.
“I worked hard this summer to try to improve every facet of my game. I know a lot of other guys, and you can look at their progress. […] At the end of the day, you got to have some self-awareness and kind of look at yourself and see how you can help a team. It’s never about one player. Like I always say, you can’t win basketball 1-on-5. You need your teammates. You need everybody to do their part.”
Much of the vitriol surrounding Simmons through the first four seasons of his NBA career is based in his unwillingness to look inward and address on-court weaknesses in his game. To exacerbate the failure in last season’s playoffs, Simmons’ handling of the fallout has always communicated an “It’s not me, it’s you” sentiment. That would reasonably make Embiid as furious as it makes the fanbase, but the big fella made it known that he isn’t losing sleep over it.
“I’m fine, I’m just going with the vibe of whatever happens, happens. I just try to deliver and I’m just trying to bring the results,” Embiid told Missanelli when asked about whether he’s angry about Simmons ostensibly not caring that his antics have paralyzed the team.
“But the notion of guys getting called out [post-Game 7 press conferences], I just don’t see it that way. You look at the way I spoke about it, I didn’t call anybody out specifically. I just called out a bunch of events that happened, which was we missed a free throw, which was Matisse. He [Thybulle] wasn’t mad at me. He just knew that I’m challenging him, like I want us to be better. I want to be better and I want my teammates to also be better. He didn’t get mad at me. I also called out my own turnovers. I had a big one in that fourth quarter by Gallinari, he stole the ball from me. There was also a bunch of other events — we fouled a three-point shooter at the end of that fourth quarter. There was a lot of stuff that happened, and obviously coach made some comments.”
Embiid walked the corporate line throughout the interview. So, it wasn’t surprising to hear him avoid blunt slander of his teammate. But, Missanelli used one word that triggered an honest response from Embiid — unreasonable.
“Oh, definitely. You look at what happened. I just think this is a business,” Embiid said when asked if he thought Simmons’ reaction to the comments following Game 7 was unreasonable.
“If we don’t get the results, you guys are always with us, you guys are always booing us, which at times we do deserve. If we’re not playing well, we deserve the boos. We deserve to be let know that we’re not playing well, we need to be better. So, I just don’t think it was reasonable.”
There still remains a very real — if not likely — chance that no trade materializes and Simmons is still on the roster as the deadline passes. And wisely, Embiid left some room for his teammate to return in that event.
“Honestly, I’m trying to win,” Embiid said with a laugh. “I’m trying to win a championship. Whatever that’s going to help me achieve that, I’m fine with whatever. I’ve always said that we’re a better team with him on the floor, I’m sure a lot of people agree. Even if they don’t want to agree, it doesn’t matter. We still have a benefit with him on the floor,” Embiid said when asked whether Simmons would be welcomed back should he decide to play.
“My goal has always been to win a championship. I don’t hate anybody and I don’t have any problems with anybody. Let’s say I really hated someone from another team and the front office went and traded for that guy because they think that we can win a championship. I have no pride. My goal is to win a championship,” Embiid added.
“I’ll be fine with it. Like I said, I don’t hate anybody and I love everybody. But, I don’t know how everybody else feels. But to me, I’m trying to win a championship and whatever it takes to accomplish that, I’m fine with that.”
To wrap up the interview, Missanelli asked Embiid whether anything could’ve been done differently at the end of last season. Embiid’s answer didn’t illustrate regret over words used as much as it did over, perhaps, not understanding his teammate.
“The only thing I can think about is the comments. But then again, I look back at what was said during the year. We talk about coach really had all of our backs, especially him, all year long. Always praising and all that stuff. So if that one thing was the reason why all this is happening, then it’s not fair,” Embiid said.
“Everybody is allowed to make mistakes, especially in the heat of the moment. But, I really believe that it’s really deeper than that. I think that some people deal with pressure differently. But for me personally, honestly, I wouldn’t change anything. I’m honest, I won’t go back on what I said, especially because I didn’t mention anybody, I didn’t call out anybody. […] I just don’t think it’s fair, like I always go back and this is a business. If Golden State came and offered Steph, Klay, and 2 first-round picks for me, you think the Sixers would say ‘no’ to that? Of course they would say ‘yes’ to that. This is a business. You never know what can happen. You can’t feel disrespected because your name is in trade rumors.”
Simmons is getting exactly what he wants now, with his name in trade rumors as the days left before the deadline whittle down to just hours. It’s exactly what he needs in order to move on with his life, and it’s exactly what his current employer needs to break out of its paralysis.