CAMDEN, N.J. — Talk about a pregnant pause.
Joel Embiid took a good 10 seconds or so at Monday’s Sixers media day when asked what he would’ve said to Ben Simmons if he’d had the chance to speak in person with the three-time All-Star about his desire to be traded.
“Honestly, I would probably say, ‘I’m disappointed.’ Obviously we haven’t won anything,” Embiid said. “Just going by what’s been said through the media and you guys tweeting through your sources and stuff, I would look at it in a way of, look at what we’ve been able to do. Obviously we haven’t done anything in the (playoffs) and I’ve got to be better; everybody’s got to be better. But in the regular season, we’ve been so good and so dominant that we know it’s working.
“So I think it’s all about taking the next step and everybody playing up to their potential, whether it’s me, him, Tobias (Harris), Shake (Milton), (Matisse Thybulle), the new guys coming in, (Andre) Drummond. Everybody’s got to be on point. To be able to win, it’s hard. I haven’t gotten close to it, but I can see you get to the second round and man, you get to Game 7 and it’s so draining mentally. It’s hard, it’s not easy. But that’s something that I’m willing to do and I think my teammates are also willing to do. So I think it’s all about everybody playing up to their potential.”
Those words left quite a lot open to interpretation. Embiid was in a candid, loquacious mood, though, and glad to try to clarify.
“I’m disappointed where the situation is. … I’m just disappointed that he’s not here,” Embiid said. “He knows it, too; he knows we can win together. A few of us have complained about the fans. I think, as a whole, we just need to not care and just play better. Just play our game. It doesn’t matter.
“How many people have told me, ‘Don’t shoot threes'? This year I’m thinking about freaking shooting more threes. I don’t care, because that’s what’s going to help the team. Last year I thought one of the things that hurt us a lot is we didn’t shoot a lot of threes. People have different views on that, but I think it goes a long way, so that’s something that I’m going to do. If you’re not comfortable doing so, then don’t do it. And in this situation, Ben does so many great things for the team that it’s not really needed at times. At times it might be, but it’s not really needed because defensively he’s a monster, and then offensively he creates so many open threes.”
Embiid noted several times, with no gray area, that his preference is for Simmons to return.
The 25-year-old Australian has four years remaining on his rookie maximum extension but, as Harris later acknowledged, it would be (highly) surprising if he walked through the doors of the team’s practice facility when training camp begins Tuesday.
“Of course we want him back,” Embiid said. “He’s a big piece of what we’ve been building the past few years. Obviously there’s a lot of stuff that has happened. … I know a little bit about all of that, but that’s not really for me to do. But the way I look at it is that we’ve all got to be better. After we lost, I tried to figure out ways that I can be better so we can win something. I think you’ve just got to have some self-awareness. I could’ve done much better than I did; I turned the ball over a few times, missed a few shots. Tobias could’ve been better. All my teammates could’ve been better. You’ve just got to look at yourself and find ways to learn.”
One of the many factors to consider for Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey in Simmons negotiations is Embiid’s status as a special player. He’s a 27-year-old coming off of an MVP runner-up season who signed a supermax contract extension last month, has clearly dedicated himself to an improved diet and fitness routine, and said there’s “no problem” with his right knee after suffering a small lateral meniscus tear last postseason.
The Sixers don’t want to squander his prime, and so the incessant buzz about possible trades to swap Simmons for another star — such as James Harden last year — has been inevitable.
Embiid can empathize with that aspect of Simmons’ situation, to an extent.
“ … I understand being in trade rumors and all of that stuff,” he said. “But that’s just part of the business. If Golden State offered Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) for me, you think the Sixers would say no to that? They’ve got to say yes to that. I would say yes to that; how would you say no to that? That’s what they do. They’re always going to find ways to get better, so you can’t get mad at that. It just is what it is. So I look at in a way that you’ve just got to move on, and you’ve just got to be yourself and do the best job you can, because that’s what we get paid to do. And we get paid a lot of money. A lot of people don’t make this type of money.
“I just feel like it is a business. It’s unfortunate being in that situation. Personally, I’ve never really gone through it except probably two years ago when the whole city wanted me to get traded. … People don’t really look at you as a human being. … But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to take care of business. You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do based on what you get paid for. It is unfortunate. I would not like to be in that situation but then again, it is a business.”
Though it does not appear the most probable outcome, it is still possible — in a technical sense, anyway — that Simmons plays for the Sixers again this season. In years past, Embiid has expressed that he “loves” when Simmons is aggressive and shoots open three-pointers.
If Simmons is back, what would Embiid like to see from him?
Those familiar summer videos in which Simmons drains long-distance jumpers and slams in powerful dunks were at the top of his mind.
“I’m sure we all see the videos, so that would help,” Embiid said, “because he has that potential. He has that potential to be that good. We know what he brings defensively. Even without that, offensively he just creates a lot of shots, mainly for our three-point shooters. And then I think offensively, something he’s got to focus on — especially because I post up a lot and he’s in the dunker (spot) — something he can focus on is I think he can be a monster on offensive rebounds.
“There’s so much attention on me — all the time they send double and triple teams at me — and I feel like he always has a mismatch, whether it’s me playing high-low and passing the ball or, if I end up shooting it, him having the opportunity to grab way more offensive rebounds than he has been in the past.
“So I think there’s a few ways he can be better, but it’s not all on him. Like I keep saying, I’ve got to do better. You go back to Game 7 (in the second round against the Hawks), I turned the ball over a few times. I missed a couple of easy shots. Game 4, I missed the game-winning layup. Game 6, I had a really bad game. Game 4, I shot 0 for 12 in the second half. So I’ve got to be better. That can’t happen, especially if these guys are going to count on me the way they do.”