CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid had a lot to say Thursday about his absent All-Star teammate.
And, while he maintained that he hopes Ben Simmons joins the Sixers and ends his training camp holdout, Embiid's sentiments were not those of a player confident he’s going to reunite with his No. 2 star.
Embiid got rolling when asked for his reaction to a report earlier this week from The Athletic’s Sam Amick that Simmons thinks his career is “better off” without Embiid.
“I saw (the report),” Embiid said. “I don’t know if it came from him or whatever, but over the past few months stuff has been put out there. And, looking by the reaction of him not being here, I feel like it’s fair to assume that it’s coming from ... whether it’s his agent or his people or whatever. Like I said, it is disappointing, but I feel like over the years the way our team has been built around — like you look at last year, I was the worst three-point shooter of the starting lineup and I shot 38 percent from three.
“We’ve always had shooters, and I feel like I can really play with anybody and I can make anybody be better on the court. I don’t necessarily need shooters. But I feel like over the years — like you look at when we got Al (Horford), it’s because we needed a stretch five, just to make sure that was for him. And most of my career I’ve had to kind of step out to the three-point line quite a bit — which I don’t mind. I like to be a basketball player; I like to do everything on the basketball court. But I feel like our teams have been built — whether it’s the shooting, the stretch five and all that stuff — I feel like he’s always had it here.”
Embiid was far from done, rattling off the many capable three-point shooters still on the Sixers’ roster, among them Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Furkan Korkmaz.
Soon enough, he got back on track.
“It was kind of surprising to see what was said,” Embiid continued. “Even going back to the reason we signed Al. We got rid of Jimmy (Butler), which I still think was a mistake, but he needed the ball in his hands and that’s the decision they made. But, like I said, it is surprising. But I’m really focused on the guys that are here.
“The situation is weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to all the guys that are out here fighting for their lives. Some guys rely on the team to be successful, to stay in the league and make money somehow. Because, if you’re on a winning team, you’re always going to have a spot in the league, just because you’re on a winning team and you contributed. Obviously we’re a better team with him. We’re not a better team without him, that’s for sure. We are a better team with him but, like I said, it is surprising. But I’m focused on the guys that are here.
“We’re trying to get better, trying to get on the same agenda. … Every single day we’ve got to attack it, and try to get better every single day. But we are a better team with him. There’s no question about it. We still hope that he changes his mind, but I owe it to these guys to worry about what we have here. That’s the front office’s job to figure out what’s going to happen. That’s not my job; I’m not a GM, I’m not an owner, so that’s none of my business, honestly.”
Though Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is the team’s lead decision-maker on the Simmons front, Embiid’s opinions hold considerable weight. Morey, who was in the gym for Thursday’s practice, holds Embiid in high regard and signed him to a supermax extension in August. Embiid isn’t an executive, sure, but his views on Simmons aren’t exactly irrelevant.
For the time being, the Sixers are testing out contingency plans without Simmons, including Tyrese Maxey as the first-unit point guard, but it’s unclear how the drama will resolve. Simmons’ contract stipulates that he’s paid 25 percent of his $30.6 million salary this season on Friday, per ESPN, and the Sixers' approach to that key date is not yet known.
Unless Simmons makes his way to New Jersey, it’s inevitable that there will be intense curiosity about him. At least there’s not much left unsaid when it comes to the MVP runner-up’s feelings.