Joel Embiid has talked plenty this season about authenticity, the idea of struggling with how to be himself and have fun on the floor.
On The Old Man & The Three Podcast with JJ Redick and Tommy Alter, Embiid provided more honest insight into those issues.
I won’t lie, during the season I was not myself,” he said. “I was not there. I just wasn’t comfortable. The offense wasn’t the same, basketball was not the same to me. The way things happened last summer, it was just so frustrating, so I was kind of mad at the whole world and I was just like, ‘Eh, whatever. I’m just coming to work and I’m going to do my best,’ but I wasn’t playing up to my standards.
“And it was hard. It was a big change, but you adjust. Every year is going to be different, and this year was different. But I still believe. We’ve got a big chance to make it happen. We can win the whole thing.
Embiid, who left Sunday night’s game vs. the Blazers in the first quarter with a left ankle injury, misses his creative, unpredictable two-man game with Redick. In general, he found things easier in an offense with Redick and Jimmy Butler. Offseason acquisitions Al Horford and Josh Richardson have not complemented him as well. The team is 17th in offensive rating this year after finishing eighth last season.
“Defensively, like you said, we’re pretty good,” Embiid said. “We’re big … we can switch a lot. But offensively, it just wasn’t there. We had our offense, but at times it was not the right offense. The offense we’ve been using the past four, five years, that wasn’t the offense for this team. It was completely different.
"You don’t have a JJ Redick, you don’t have a Jimmy Butler who’s going to do the pick-and-rolls. But I think we’re getting it. I think the last month that we spent in the bubble has helped us a lot. I think we’ve come closer.”
The three-time All-Star also went into depth about the dynamic between himself and Sixers fans, which notably included a shushing gesture during a Feb. 9 game vs. the Bulls, and discussed why he didn’t play to the crowd as much this season.
“I didn’t do that as much this year because there was a lot going on,” he said. “From last summer going into this season, not being myself, not dominating as I usually do — there was just no passion. I just played without it. I think I got used to it. And then, finally, when I decided to react because they booed me, I shushed them and they got mad.
“That was a game-changer. I have a lot of love for the fans in Philly. That’s just passion. They understand me; our relationship is different. I love them, they love me, they understand me. They know what I’m about, I know what they’re about, I know what they want. They just want to win. They just want a winner and they just want a championship. You’ve just gotta play hard and push yourself, always give it 100 percent.”
Of course, it’s uncertain when Embiid will next play in front of non-virtual fans. When Redick raised the idea of a “bubble” again being necessary to play the 2020-21 season during the coronavirus pandemic, Embiid was not enthusiastic.
“There’s no chance,” he said. “I don’t think it’s happening. You’ve gotta find a way. Hopefully, by then it’ll be better, we will find some more solutions to what’s going on right now. To expect being in the bubble for eight months, that’s unlikely. I don’t know if I can do it. There’s no chance.”
On a lighter note, Redick had an amusing story about his visit to the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, as the team pitched itself to him in free agency. His future head coach was thinking more about Xs and Os than Redick putting pen to paper.
“I come to the facility at 12:01 a.m. — this is July 1, 2017,” he said. “I show up to the facility at 12:01 a.m. and I’m getting a tour of the facility. I see the offices, I see the locker room, I see the weight room. And as we’re walking from the weight room through the court, back to Bryan Colangelo’s office, Brett (Brown) stops us and he starts running two-man game with me and Jo. And we’re in street clothes — I have a blazer on and we’re doing DHOs.”
The former teammates also talked about the natural evolution of their two-man game, Embiid’s emotions after Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater last year and much more. You can listen to the full podcast below.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.