76ers

James Harden may be MVP favorite, but Joel Embiid makes statement

James Harden may be MVP favorite, but Joel Embiid makes statement

Joel Embiid was listed as questionable for Monday night’s game, still dealing with back tightness.

With the league’s MVP favorite in the building and a national TV audience to shine for, there was little chance Embiid was going to miss this one.

Thanks in large part to the All-Star center, the Sixers rolled against James Harden and the Rockets, 121-93, at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). Embiid’s stat line was again impressive — 32 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks in 26 minutes — but hardly shows the impact he had.

Veterans Nene and Kenneth Faired looked helpless against the league’s best big man. Then again, with the way Embiid was rolling, it’s hard to imagine anyone could’ve stopped him. While Harden may be running away with the MVP award, Embiid made a statement Monday.

He did his best to downplay the notion that Harden’s presence added any extra motivation.

“I do whatever my team needs me to do and that’s score the ball, be the best defensive player in the league, “Embiid said. “It’s good, everybody’s winning. If MVP comes with it, great. But right now we’re looking to win a lot of games and we’re doing that.”

Embiid has won the city of Philadelphia over with his game, but also his larger-than-life personality. His feuds with Andre Drummond and Russell Westbrook have reached legendary status. His Twitter and Instagram accounts have always been must-follows.

But you’ve seen less of it this season. As Embiid has matured and the goals of the team have gotten bigger, Embiid’s focus seems to have grown. Not as much trolling and what could’ve been viewed as silly arrogance has turned more into honest confidence.

And with all the injuries and minutes restrictions Embiid has dealt with, playing through some muscle soreness in his back isn’t hard.

I've been with him now for five years and the growth that he has shown through two naviculars, gaining weight, unsure if he's going to play,” Brett Brown said. “We sent him to the Middle East to find ways to help him recover and for him to come back and be rewarded with a contract, to be in MVP conversations — I appreciate him gutting something out, that is true, but it's the overall growth and the leadership especially that interests me the most.

While Harden is seen as the hands-down favorite for MVP, Embiid doesn’t even really seem to be in the conversation. Guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Stephen Curry seem to get all the attention.

Embiid is doing his best not to focus on that and while he has grown up before our eyes, he’s still having as much fun as ever.

The trash talking and trolling has quieted some, but we still get the occasional nugget.

“It was fun. We beat them by 30, so it was pretty fun for us, I don’t think it was fun for them,” Embiid said. “But [Harden’s] a great player. Have a lot of respect for him. The way they play, you just gotta key in on him and have guys like Corey [Brewer] that are really getting to him. … He’s fun. 

“I love playing against guys that you guys might say are better than me, just to prove to you guys that they’re not, but it’s fun to me.”

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Sixers hire two new assistant coaches in Ime Udoku, Joseph Blair

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USA Today Images

Sixers hire two new assistant coaches in Ime Udoku, Joseph Blair

Brett Brown lost two prominent pieces of his coaching staff in Monty Williams and Billy Lange.

It appears both those vacancies have been filled as the team announced Wednesday the hiring of Ime Udoka and Joseph Blair.

A team source confirmed a report earlier this month that the Sixers were bringing in Udoka. Udoka spent seven seasons on Gregg Popvich’s staff in San Antonio after spending over a decade as a professional player in the NBA and overseas. He’s been a head coaching candidate in the past, most recently interviewing for the Cavaliers job before the team hired Michigan coach John Beilein. 

Udoka and Brown were on the Spurs staff together before Brown took the Sixers job.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with Brett in Philadelphia,” Udoka said in a statement. “He has done a great job building a respected program and I look forward to joining his staff. This is a wonderful opportunity and I embrace the challenge of taking the next step in my career. I am excited to get to work and help this extremely talented roster continue to achieve success at the highest level.”

Blair was the surprise hire. He’s fresh off leading the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the G-League affiliate of the Rockets, to a title as the team’s head coach. The last coach to win a title with Rio Grande Valley? Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. Before that, Blair was an assistant with the Vipers after serving as an assistant for his alma mater, the University of Arizona. The 6-foot-10 Blair also has a history as a player, playing professionally overseas, and he had a couple stints as a Harlem Globetrotter. 

"I'm honored and excited to work alongside Brett, this staff, and team, as well as being a part of such a historic, respected, and energetic organization,” Blair said in a statement. “I look forward to learning, growing, and adding value, all while producing positive results for the city and the organization."

The team hired another former Spurs assistant in Cameron Hodges as part of their player development staff this offseason. They also promoted Lindsey Harding from scout to a player development coach toward the end of the season after Lange departed to take the head job at Saint Joseph’s. Williams took the head coaching job with the Suns, leaving the door open for Udoka to serve as Brown’s top assistant.

“I am excited and proud to welcome Ime and Joseph to our program,” Brown said in a statement. “The depth of basketball knowledge and experience that each brings to our bench will be integral in furthering the success we have enjoyed over the last two seasons.”

“Our players will continue to develop and improve under their direction and they will help me strive to guide our team toward our ultimate goal of winning a championship.”

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NBA free agency 2019 tracker: Rockets looking for first-round pick to tempt Sixers in sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butller

NBA free agency 2019 tracker: Rockets looking for first-round pick to tempt Sixers in sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butller

This is one of the biggest offseasons in franchise history for the Sixers. Keep track of all the latest NBA free agency rumors and rumblings right here.

4:59 p.m. — Marc Gasol staying in Toronto

3:14 p.m. — Rockets seeking a first-round pick for sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler

But ...

11:49 a.m. — As expected, Kevin Durant is hitting the free agent market.

Tuesday, 3:49 p.m. — The Celtics are reportedly expected to make a strong push for Kemba Walker.

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