The Sixers’ regular season starts Wednesday night, but it was inevitable Tuesday that their stars would face questions unrelated to on-court schemes and expectations.
Ben Simmons was asked whether it’s been unsettling to hear reports that the Sixers have made him available in James Harden trade discussions. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey told The Athletic’s Shams Charania the team is “not trading” Simmons, and head coach Doc Rivers said last Friday that he called Simmons to talk about the situation.
“No, I come in every day, take it a day at a time and am ready to work,” Simmons said. “I’m with my teammates. Every day I wake up and have a Sixers uniform on, I represent the Sixers. So my mentality never changes. I’m here to win a championship; that goal’s never going to change. I know things are always going to be said in the media and rumors and things like that, but my goal is to come in every day and get better, and help the team I’m on win a championship.”
Joel Embiid gave a similar answer on that topic. He also indicated he’s not scrolling through Twitter for Sixers news and rumors.
“I haven’t heard anything, honestly,” Embiid said. “When I go on social media, I just check anything really about video games — FIFA, in particular. So that’s what I focus on. Most of the time I don’t use social media as I used to, so I don’t ever go on there unless I’ve got to do something. I’m just focused on getting better, focused on my family. Just making sure everyone around the team and my family is positive and happy.”
If he’d happened to sneak a look at social media during the Sixers’ practice, Embiid might have seen a story from The Athletic’s Bill Oram and Joe Vardon. In the piece, which details how Tyronn Lue and Frank Vogel wound up coaching the Clippers and Lakers, respectively, Oram and Vardon report Embiid “ultimately opposed Lue as (Sixers head) coach for X’s and O’s reasons and for the optics of Simmons’ ‘guy’ getting the job.”
Embiid didn't directly deny that reporting, but he gave a long response, sharing his thoughts on his role in the organization and the Sixers’ coaching search.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “Like I’ve said all year, you’ve got to control what you can. I don’t really know. I just try to come in every single day and do my job, and these guys put a lot of trust in me to make it happen. Those types of decisions, I’m not a GM, I’m not in the front office. That has nothing to do with me. And I’ve always told them, they’ve got to do whatever is best for the team.
"If they thought Doc was the right coach for us, then I trust them. If they didn’t think any of the other candidates were the right choice for us, then I trust them. I’m sure they did the background check. So that’s not something I can have control of; I’m not in the front office. I’m just a player. I just try to come in every single day and do the best job that I can with whatever I have.
“Obviously, this summer we made a lot of changes. All I’ll say is that we had a lot of great candidates; all of them are great. Ty has won a championship. I think we were looking at — looking at the reports — Mike D’Antoni, who was an assistant coach with us. And then Doc came in the picture. I thought the choice they made, you could’ve gone either way. Either of them would’ve been great for this team. The owners and (general manager Elton Brand) … they went with Doc. I thought it was a great choice. That’s all I’ll say, but reports are going to be reports. I can only control what I can.”
After missing the Sixers’ second preseason game with an illness, Embiid has no concerns at the moment about his health or conditioning. He liked how he felt during the Sixers’ preseason opener vs. the Celtics and what he saw reviewing the game. Embiid played 17 minutes in the first half and scored 18 points.
“I’m good,” he said. “It was nothing, it was just precaution. Can’t really get into it, but I’m good. There was nothing really wrong. I’m healthy. I’m excited to go into this year and play the whole season, and keep doing whatever I’ve been doing. I’ve been feeling great these past couple weeks, especially since we started, and my body feels great. Everything feels great. Even watching the first (preseason) game against Boston — playing in it and watching it afterwards — just me running the floor and playing with so much energy, that’s what I intend on doing the whole season. I’m good for it.”
Of course, reporters were also curious about on-court matters before the Sixers’ opener. One question for Simmons, the Sixers’ primary ball handler — even if Rivers won’t stamp a “point guard” label on him — was what he makes of the Sixers’ half-court offense and where the team needs to specifically improve.
Seth Curry on Monday accurately said the Sixers “struggled in the half court at times” during the preseason. The team turned the ball over 26 times in its preseason finale against the Pacers.
“I think everything’s going to improve,” Simmons said. “Obviously, we haven’t been together that long. With time, we’re going to get better. The areas that I think we need to improve are just moving the ball, cutting with urgency and just making the right play. Good to great, getting the best shots we can.”
Embiid provided insight on what’s changed on the other side of the ball for the Sixers under Rivers and defensive coordinator Dan Burke. We assumed during training camp that the Sixers would care less about limiting opponents’ three-point attempts with Burke in charge of the defense, and Embiid confirmed that is indeed the case. The team allowed 29.4 three-point attempts per game last season, fewest in the NBA.
“We’ve kind of gone back to what we did my first year or two with the Sixers,” Embiid said. “We used to be a heavy paint-guarding team, making sure we don’t give anything in the paint and then worry about the shooters later — we’ve just got to make sure we don’t give up those drives. That’s the way we used to play my first two years.
“And then the last three years, we worried a lot about shooters instead of making sure no one gets in. That’s why a lot of times, we gave up a lot of mid-range shots. But when you look at analytics, that’s kind of like a shot you want. I think it’s all about finding a balance between making sure no one gets in the paint, and also you can’t leave three-point shooters wide open. But I think we’ve got the individual talents to make those adjustments.”