Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

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Joel Embiid doesn't want Sixers to end up like OKC

Joel Embiid doesn't want the Sixers to end up like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Not the 2017-18 Thunder, but OKC circa 2011-12.

Embiid is convinced that at some point soon, the media will turn on him and the Sixers. 

Speaking specifically about the core trio of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, Embiid told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne:

"I think with everything, the main thing we have to do is just stay together because I feel like there's going to be some type of situation where people say who is better between us three. And that's how it splits."

Shelburne, who wrote a long and interesting feature on Embiid this week, told more of the story Wednesday on Zach Lowe's podcast.

She recalled talking to Embiid about his social media presence at All-Star weekend in 2016, when he told her, "I'm just trying to have as much fun before everybody turns on me."

Shelburne pointed out the uniqueness of a then-22-year-old — who had been in the United States just seven years — understanding the "fame cycle" well enough to know that things could soon turn.

"I saw what happened in Oklahoma City with (James) Harden, (Russell) Westbrook and (Kevin) Durant and I don't want that to happen here," Shelburne recalled Embiid saying.

If the Sixers get to that point ... it'll probably be a good problem to have. Just prior to the 2012-13 season, the Thunder traded Harden to Houston in one of the worst trades in recent NBA history. OKC did it for several reasons — salary cap, personalities, only having enough shots to go around. And really, who knows if Harden would have been able to grow into this superstar had he been sharing the ball the next handful of seasons with two other alphas?

Embiid and Fultz have already grown close, and it's important to Embiid that the three young Sixers don't get caught up in the "Who takes the last shot?" conversations or "Who should be the All-Star" questions that inevitably come up. 

Luckily for the Sixers, Embiid, Simmons and Fultz have different enough skill sets that they should be able to coexist. It's not directly analogous to the OKC situation where all three players needed the ball in their hands. The Sixers were built this way for a reason. 

Right now, it's clear Embiid is the alpha of the group. He's the go-to guy in crunch time and again has a top-five usage rate. When Simmons eventually becomes more comfortable with his jump shot and Fultz finally makes his impact on the court, we'll see whether or not Embiid was prescient.

Charles Barkley sure had a lot to say about the Sixers

Charles Barkley sure had a lot to say about the Sixers

Charles Barkley sure had a lot to say about the Sixers in the last 24 hours.

With the team on national television against the Pacers Thursday, Barkley had some poignant comments about the team’s usage of Joel Embiid. Embiid was questionable prior to the game with back tightness, but played through it despite looking visibly uncomfortable. 

During TNT’s halftime show, Barkley went in on the Sixers for allowing Embiid to play:

Let me just say this about the Philadelphia 76ers: they’ve got to be the stupidest organization in the history of sports. You’ve got a franchise player who’s got a bad back, who’s injury-prone. He can barely walk and you’ve got him out there playing in a regular-season game. You have to be the stupidest organization.

(h/t Deadspin)

Then, less than 24 hours later as a guest on the Mike Missanelli Show, Barkley had some high praise for “the stupidest organization in the history of sports,” saying that he’d “take my chances right now with the 76ers winning the Eastern Conference.”

You can understand Barkley’s perspective considering Embiid’s injury history and his effusive praise for the Sixers’ big man.

For what it’s worth, Embiid downplayed the injury postgame, saying it’s something he’s gone through before and that he knew how to handle it. He also looked much better in the second half Thursday as he began to loosen up, helping lead the Sixers to arguably their best win of the season.

As for the Sixers' standing in the East, the team does appear to be clicking as it embarks on a brutal stretch of the schedule.

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NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers look ready to climb

NBA Eastern Conference power rankings: Sixers look ready to climb

In our Eastern Conference power rankings this week, the Sixers may be ready to start climbing. 

1. Raptors (34-13) Last week: 1
Despite Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics, it’s hard to take the Raptors off the top spot. Kawhi Leonard continues to play at an MVP level and Pascal Siakam is one of the most unique players in the league. Kyle Lowry hasn’t quite rounded into form since returning to the lineup, but expect him to soon.

2. Bucks (32-12) Last week: 2
If it wasn’t for James Harden going bonkers recently, Giannis Antetokounmpo would easily be the MVP favorite. Milwaukee has won 14 of its last 17. While there’s no star complementing the "Greek Freak," the Bucks’ depth is serious. 

3. Celtics (26-18) Last week: 3
The Celtics may be the most confounding team in the NBA. In between crushing the Pacers and a dramatic win over the Raptors, they lost three straight to the Heat, Magic and Nets, respectively. Gordon Hayward seems to be a big part of the equation. Still not all the way back from a gruesome leg injury, Hayward is shooting 48 percent in wins and just 34 percent in losses.

4. Sixers (30-16) Last week: 4 
Speaking of confounding teams … the Sixers followed up what might have been their worst week of the season with arguably their best. After demolishing the Timberwolves, they took care of the Pacers in convincing fashion. The Sixers have hit a brutal stretch in their schedule, but they’re currently playing their best basketball. They stay at No. 4, but if they keep playing like this, look out.

5. Pacers (29-15) Last week: 5
The Pacers are just clearly a tier below in the East. They’re deep, but what they really need is another star to complement Victor Oladipo and take up some of the offensive load.

6. Nets (23-23) Last week: 7
When Brooklyn was on the outside looking in, I said in this space that it would be a playoff team. That prediction is looking pretty good right now. While the Nets have been led by their scoring guards, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, second-year center Jarrett Allen really looks like a player.

7. Miami (21-21) Last week: 6 
Turns out an injury to Goran Dragic may have been a blessing in disguise for the Heat. Justise Winslow has stepped into Dragic's spot in the starting lineup and been a revelation. Over his last 12 games, Winslow is averaging 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 40 percent from three and 49 percent overall.

8. Hornets (21-23) Last week: 8
Since they appear dead set on re-signing Kemba Walker, you have to get the man some help. If they do, they should be able to hold onto this spot.

9. Pistons (19-24) Last week: 9
It was super fun watching Blake Griffin go for 44 against the Clippers and also telling owner Steve Ballmer to go somewhere with his handshake offer. Other than that? The Pistons just aren’t good.

10. Wizards (19-26) Last week: 10
Bradley Beal has been fantastic since the calendar turned to 2019, posting 30.6 points per game since Jan. 1. Too bad he’s stuck in D.C. as the Wizards refuse to “Trust the Process.” Bold strategy, Cotton. 

11. Magic (19-25) Last week: 11
It appears Orlando will value trying to get the eighth seed in the East over getting value for the expiring contracts of Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross.

12. Hawks (14-30) Last week: 12
Atlanta might be playing a little too well. Kevin Huerter is one of the culprits as the rookie is averaging 15.6 points and shooting 42 percent from three over his last eight. With John Collins, Trae Young and Huerter, the Hawks have a few intriguing pieces.

13. Knicks (10-34) Last week: 13
Tank …

14. Bulls (10-35) Last week: 15
… for …

15. Cavs (9-36) Last week: 14
… Zion.

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