Knocked his entire career for conditioning woes, Joel Embiid dedicated his offseason to a fitness program he vowed would keep him with the 76ers from Process to pension.
Embiid kept his personal transaction wire humming in the shortened offseason with the additions of a personal chef, nutritionist, physical therapist and massage therapist to help shape the 6-foot-11 center into MVP form.
“I’m doing whatever I can to take care of my body so I’m able to play 20 years here in Philly,” Embiid said. “That’s the thing I’ve learned the most since I’ve been in the league.”
Embiid’s first six seasons in the league have encapsulated the Sixers over that time: so much potential, so many flashes of greatness, never enough to sustain it over a full season.
That led to serious changes for the Sixers as they regroup from their transformation from a franchise expected to contend for the Eastern Conference crown into one that needed a serious facelift and has — for now — tempered title enthusiasm. Daryl Morey, long the architect in Houston, took over as the top decision-maker in Philly and Doc Rivers was hired as coach.
The roster got a needed revamp with shooters like Seth Curry, Danny Green and first-round pick Tyrese Maxey brought aboard to fire up an offense that ranked 13th in efficiency and was swept in the playoffs.
What hasn’t changed?
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For better or worse, the 76ers are still hitched to Embiid and All-Star guard Ben Simmons as the max-contract cornerstones expected to eventually lead the franchise to its first title since 1983.
“The main thing is winning,” Embiid said. “When you win, everybody wins. If we win, that means all these awards, I’m part of it, I’m up there or those considerations. A player, I guess, of my talent should always be in MVP conversations or defensive player of the year conversations. All-NBA. It should be like that every year. But to be able to accomplish that, you’ve got to win.”
Embiid was outspoken about not wanting to return to play in the NBA restart bubble. Yes, he had been hobbled by injuries, notably a sprained left shoulder, before the season was suspended but he was keeping a secret:
Embiid and his girlfriend were expecting a child.
He surprised almost everyone when he announced in late September he had a son named Arthur Elijah De Paula Embiid.
Dwight Howard won a championship ring last season as a role player with the Los Angeles Lakers before signing with Philly to back up Embiid. He saw how LeBron James, who won his fourth NBA championship, and Anthony Davis, the eighth player in basketball history to win an NCAA championship, an Olympic gold medal and an NBA ring, put aside egos to win it all. He said Embiid and Simmons need to do the same to make a serious title push in Philly.
“They have to know each other so much on and off the court that when they’re playing it’s just natural,” Howard said. “OK, I I know Jo needs a touch right now, let me give him easy buckets. Ben is frustrated, let me set a screen for a him, get him a couple of dunks, couple of shots at the rim just to get himself going. Once you’re willing to give yourself up, great things tend to happen.
“Those two guys coming together, putting aside any ego, pride, anything and saying, hey, we’re both here for one mission and that’s to win a championship and it starts and finishes with us two. I saw that with LeBron and AD.”
The 76ers traded last year’s starters Josh Richardson and Al Horford, who lost his starting spot late in the season because of weak production, leading to a new-look lineup.
Simmons, Embiid and Tobias Harris, who played for Rivers with the Clippers, are in the lineup with Curry and Green expected to join them. Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott and Howard round out the second unit.
On the Bench
Rivers, who won a championship with the Celtics in 2008, makes Philadelphia his fourth coaching stop only months after an unceremonious split with the Clippers. Rivers and the Clippers parted ways after blowing a 3-1 series lead in the playoffs and reports soon followed that Los Angeles was a mess in the final season under his watch.
Rivers was blamed for catering to Paul George and Kwahi Leonard, which led to acrimony in the locker room. George then said Rivers failed to make the necessary adjustments to stop the losing and lead the Clippers into the next round.
He now has to figure out if Philly can win with the Simmons-Embiid core or if perhaps dealing one of the All-Stars — for James Harden, perhaps? — is the way to build a contender.