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February 07, 2022

Joel Embiid discusses the Ben Simmons situation and James Harden rumors in new interview

With just a few days left until the trade deadline, the Sixers big man talked about his current teammates, a likely soon-to-be ex-teammate, and even a potential future teammate

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Embiid-Simmons-cropped_020722_KF.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Will Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have any words to exchange Thursday night?

Three days before trading ceases for the rest of the season, Sixers center Joel Embiid had the opportunity to clear the air and discuss the Ben Simmons situation looming over everything in Philadelphia. With the prospect of a static roster surely in his mind, Embiid left a little bit of room for the idea that Simmons could return to the Sixers, while driving home the point that he doesn't regret anything he has done or said to this point.

Mike Missanelli had Embiid on his 97.5 The Fanatic show on Monday afternoon, giving the big man a chance to touch on a variety of topics. But with due respect to Embiid's son and his potential soccer career, it was the Simmons details that took center stage.

In a recent article detailing Simmons' mindset from ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, the impact of comments following the Game 7 loss to Atlanta took center stage once again. Embiid and Doc Rivers have taken a lot of blame for Simmons disconnecting himself from the team, and Embiid continues to push back on the idea that what he said was that powerful or that pointed at Simmons.

MORE: Live NBA trade rumors: Nets shoot down Sixers' attempt at Harden, but...

"Everybody's at fault. But at the end of the day, you got to look at yourself. When we lost, I looked at myself. I knew I wasn't good enough, I knew I wasn't healthy enough," Embiid said. "So I just looked at myself and tried to find ways that I can be better and I can help the team just be better. I worked hard this summer to try to improve in every facet of my game, and I know a lot of other guys did. You can look at the improvement Tyrese [Maxey] made, Tobias [Harris] has made, you know, every other guy on the team. So I think at the end of the day, you got to have some self-awareness and kind of look at yourself and see how you can help the team. It's never about one player, you can't win basketball one-on-five. You need your teammates, you need everyone to do their part."

"The notion about guys getting called out and whatever, I just don't see it that way. You look at the comments that were made — if you want to put me in that position, you look at the way I spoke about it. I didn't call anybody specifically. I just said, I called out a bunch of events that happened. Which was, you know, we missed a free throw which was Matisse [Thybulle]. Matisse wasn't mad at me, he just knew I'm challenging him. I want us to be better, I want to be better and I want my teammates also to be better. He didn't get mad at me. And I also called out my own turnovers, I had a big one in that fourth quarter, [Danilo] Galinari stole the ball from me. There was also a bunch of other events, we fouled three-point shooters in the end of that fourth quarter."

Embiid would take it a step further moments later when Missanelli asked him directly whether he believes Simmons' reaction to the comments was unreasonable.

"Oh definitely, definitely," Embiid said. "You look at what has been said, I just think this is a business. If we don't get the results, you guys are always on us, you guys are always booing us, and on us, which at times we do deserve. If you're not playing well, you deserve the boos, you deserve to be let known that oh, you're not playing well, you need to be better. So, I just don't think it was reasonable."

Whether you think Embiid has taken the right approach throughout this process or not, he has been remarkably consistent in terms of his expectations for himself, his teammates, and anyone around him who is going to help them push for a championship. The bar he has set for himself, which has risen even further over the past two years, is the same bar he expects his teammates to clear on the journey with him. If anything, he has a relatively high tolerance for failure, and has made clear in conversations with teammates and press conferences alongside them that playing fearlessly is part of the gig. He has urged teammates like Maxey and Thybulle to take more open shots when they come to them, and he has made sure to make note of his own poor play when it happens.

The singular goal in Embiid's mind is not an MVP trophy (which he deferred his thoughts on), but winning a championship, and Embiid was clear on Monday that he will play alongside anybody who helps them get closer to that goal. That group includes Simmons, who Embiid noted yet again would make them a better team by rejoining the group.

MORE: How much is too much for Sixers to offer for Harden?

"Whatever that's going to help me achieve that, I'm fine with whatever. I've always said, obviously, we're a better team with [Simmons] on the floor. I'm sure a lot of people agree, even if they don't want to agree, it doesn't matter, we still are a better team with him on the floor," Embiid said. "Let's say, I don't hate anybody and I don't have any problems with anybody around the league, [but] let's say I really hated someone in another team and the front office went and traded for that guy because they believed that we could win a championship. You know what? I have no pride. My goal is to win a championship, I would be fine with it...I don't know about how everybody else feels, but to me, I'm trying to win a championship, and whatever it takes to accomplish that, I'm fine with that."

Before somebody twists that quote out-of-context — no, Embiid was not saying he hates Simmons or anything close. If you missed the point, try reading again. And frankly, I think the Jimmy Butler situation is a great example of Embiid's philosophy. When Butler arrived, there were some very loud and persistent rumblings behind-the-scenes that this was a disaster partnership waiting to blow up, that Butler's boisterous personality and uncompromising style were not going to work out. But as Embiid and Butler spent more time with one another, they figured out how to help one another on the floor, grew closer away from it, and established a partnership that many people still believe ended prematurely. Embiid's willingness to embrace being a pick-and-roll partner that season illustrates the buy-in you get from him if you bring him players in a push for titles.

Part of the difficulty with the Simmons situation has been trying to pinpoint the specific thing(s) that led him to this point. With numerous opportunities to clear the air and bridge the gap between himself and the organization, he and his representation have done their best to dance around the subject. Yes, we've all heard the leaks by now about whatever sting the Game 7 comments caused, but as we've noted recently, Simmons made his own decision to wall off communication and then reportedly got mad that no one from the organization was communicating with him.

That has left everyone to have a laser focus for what we see in public — those comments from Embiid and Rivers after they were defeated in June, the trade rumors that unsettled him last season, and so forth. Offered a chance to walk back anything that had been said and done in the past, Embiid declined, hitting Simmons with a barb or two while noting Rivers' PR campaign for Simmons prior to his lowest moment.

"I look back at what was said during the year. You talk about coach really had all of our backs, especially [Simmons]," Embiid said. "All year long, always praising and all of that stuff. It's kind of, if that one thing [after Game 7] was the reason why all of this is happening, then it's not fair, because everybody is allowed to make mistakes, especially in the heat of the moment. But I really believe it is really deeper than that. Obviously, some people deal with pressure differently, especially from fans and stuff. To me personally, honestly, I wouldn't change anything. I'm honest, I won't go back on what I say, especially because I didn't mention anybody, I didn't call out anybody."

MORE: NBA Trade Rumors: Nets open to trading James Harden ahead of trade deadline

"I just don't think it's fair. I always go back [to] this is a business," Embiid added. "Let's say Golden State, they came and offered Steph [Curry], Klay Thompson] and two first-round picks for me, you think the Sixers would say no to that? Of course, they would say yes to that. This is a business. You never know what can happen. You can't get your feelings hurt just because your name is in trade rumors." 

Genuinely, Embiid made a decent effort to leave the door open for Simmons during the interview. But that seems like it's about all he's willing to do. There's little apparent interest in convincing or recruiting anyone to be a part of the team midstream. It's an understandable position for someone shouldering the load Embiid is and has for the Sixers, and it has been Simmons' decision to make from the moment the season started and the rest of these guys had real games to play.

Embiid's taste for recruiting, in fact, still didn't appear in public despite having a chance to address swirling James Harden rumors in the same interview. The same philosophy was at work here — I have my guys, and don't have time to worry about anyone who is not sharing the floor and bench with me on a nightly basis. So while Embiid showed appreciation for Harden's talent, he stopped well short of hinting that the Nets' star might be his teammate in the near future.

"He plays for the Brooklyn Nets, and there's nothing I can do about that," Embiid said. "That's like you asking me a question like, would you love playing with Steph Curry? Obviously the top players all make each other better, and he's in that category of just being able to — and he's gotten close before. He's gotten to the conference finals, he's gotten close to making it to the Finals, but that's something I really can't comment about because he plays for another team, and it's not realistic. We all see the same thing on the internet, and I don't know what's true and what's not. I do believe with the guys we have, my teammates, I do believe that we have a chance together. It's going to take all of us to play at the highest level possible to compete."

"Who's not a fan of, you know, Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or James Harden? They're all top players in this league. I love watching them, I enjoy their game and what they've been able to do in their careers."

Mark it down — the big man probably doesn't have a future in breaking news. And we'll know the immediate future of his team's roster by the end of the week, when all these shenanigans will have worked themselves out.

MORE: Sources: Ben Simmons 'increasingly likely' to be with Sixers after trade deadline

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