A single star was not enough to lift the Sixers to a single win over the Celtics.
Joel Embiid, after averaging 30.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in the Sixers’ series loss to Boston, faced questions about both went wrong and what’s next for himself and the team.
It wasn’t easy to be concise in answering the “postmortem” questions, but he hit on a few key points.
“It’s frustrating. … Throughout the year, we had a lot of injuries,” he said. “During the playoffs, we missed a big piece in Ben, especially defensively. During the season, playing against Boston, he was a huge piece, especially defending Jayson (Tatum). It was just a weird season. We can just all look back and have a lot of regrets.”
The word “regret” came up again when Embiid reflected on his personal journey and how the Sixers reached this point — swept in the playoffs, in the early stages of burdensome contracts with Al Horford and Tobias Harris — after a period when their potential seemed immense. The 26-year-old enjoyed the 2017-18 season, when the team surpassed expectations and its young stars first experienced playoff basketball, much more than this one.
"I just feel like, a couple years ago when we made the playoffs for the first time, we had a bunch of great players that were either drafted here or formed in Philly,” he said. “We had a bunch of guys that were in a great situation. We had JJ (Redick), Marco (Belinelli), Ersan (Ilyasova). I feel like going into those playoffs, we were just young. We were just learning.
“And then, as you know, we decided to trade a lot of it, with the picks and stuff, for Jimmy (Butler) and Tobias (Harris). We got a bunch of great players in return. Like I said, it just didn’t happen. We could never find a rhythm this year. It is disappointing. There’s a lot of regrets. I felt like the focus was not always there, and we’ve gotta do better. We’ve just gotta look at ourselves in the mirror and just do better."
This offseason is packed with uncertainty, and Embiid was firm in saying important decisions on items like head coach Brett Brown’s job status and the construction of the roster aren’t his to make. He did, however, touch on his future with the Sixers.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I always say that I want to end my career here. If it happens, good. If it doesn’t happen, well, you move on and all that stuff. But I’m here and I’m going to still try to do my best to bring a championship back to Philly. We’ve got a lot of great talent on the team — Ben, Tobias, Al, Shake (Milton), Matisse (Thybulle). Alec (Burks) proved to be a big piece off the bench, Furkan (Korkmaz). We’ve got a bunch of great players, you’ve just gotta find a way to make it work. I think we can. Like I said, I’ve just gotta go about it and just do my job.”
The topic Embiid was most talkative on was the areas in which he’ll aim to personally improve during the offseason. Embiid was the NBA’s best high-volume post player during the regular season and actually was even more efficient vs. the Celtics (1.15 points per post-up possession), but that’s never going to be the entirety of his offensive game in today’s NBA, where spacing and three-point shooting matter.
“What I did during these playoffs obviously wasn’t enough,” he said. “I’ve gotta do better, we’ve all gotta do better. … I’m always looking to improve everything as far as my game goes. A lot of people always want me to be a big man and they want me to be (Shaquille O’Neal), but this league and this game (are) completely different. They call a bunch of offensive fouls all the time — you can’t elbow people; you can’t use your elbows; you can’t push people all over the place; you can’t post up as much anymore. You’ve gotta move the ball and all that stuff. I’ve just gotta work on my game and fit whatever the team wants me to be.”
Embiid then suggested — and not inaccurately — that the Sixers’ current roster often required him to vacate the post area and accommodate his teammates.
“I can be dominant down low, but then again, to help the team it’s not always about me," he said. "It’s about the team. With the roster we have, if it is the same roster next year, I’ve gotta be able to space the floor, I’ve gotta be able to play outside, because we’ve got Ben, who’s such a threat. Especially when he’s got the ball in open court, you’ve gotta give him space. You’ve gotta space out for him. … That’s when my guard skills come in handy, and that’s what I’ve gotta work on.
“I’ve gotta work on everything, from the post to ball handling to shooting the ball. I always say, I want to be a complete basketball player, so that’s not going to stop me. I know a lot of people are going to be mad — ‘You need to post up’ and all that stuff. In this game nowadays, you can’t do that. … You can’t just go out and post up. You’ve gotta be able to do everything on the basketball court. So, like I said, that’s what I’ve gotta work on. It’s not about myself, it’s also about the team. So I’ve gotta help myself and I’ve also gotta help my teammates.”