Joel Embiid

Sixers Notes: Harden, Thybulle, Embiid, Toughness

As we previously relayed, when James Harden was asked whether he’d opt in to his $47.37MM player option for next season, he said, “I’ll be here.”

Following up on Harden’s statement, Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey confirmed that the team plans on having the former MVP on its roster going forward.

That’s the plan, is to have him back,” Morey said, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “That’s been the plan since the trade. Obviously, we have to work with his representation and that’ll be between us to figure out how that works.”

Morey added that improving the defense will be a focus in the offseason, while coach Doc Rivers said the team needs to improve its toughness.

Well, I think it’s something that our players can grow,” Morey said of a lack of mental toughness being a common theme in exit interviews with players. “I mean, going through losses and how you respond to that and how you take it as your own look in the mirror. I think we all need to look in the mirror and say, ‘How can we each be better?’ … And that goes for myself as well.”

Here’s more from Philadelphia:

  • In an appearance on “Get Up,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said, Nobody in the NBA believes that the Sixers are going to give James Harden a max contract.” If Harden is willing to take a pay cut to improve the team’s financial flexibility, Windhorst points to Chris Paul‘s contract structure with the Suns as something that might work for both sides. Paul declined his $44MM player option last summer and signed a four-year, $120MM contract, but only $75MM is guaranteed.
  • Matisse Thybulle, who was only partially vaccinated and thus ineligible to play in Toronto, was removed from the starting lineup for the postseason after starting 50 of 66 regular season games. Thybulle was asked at his exit interview whether he regretted his decision to not get fully vaccinated, with the hindsight that it impacted his performance and – by his own admission – his confidence. However, Thybulle said he was content with his choice and had no regrets, according to Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice (Twitter link). Thybulle averaged 25.5 minutes per contest in the regular season, but just 15.2 during the playoffs.
  • Joel Embiid was understandably frustrated that his otherwise-healthy season ended with injuries, writes Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I’m not looking for any excuses, but those are just the facts,” Embiid said of his orbital fracture and torn thumb ligament. “It [stinks]. I don’t think anybody would believe that I was 100%, so it does [stink] to get to this stage and not be yourself, not being able to do what you want and your body not allowing you to just be yourself … I would say [I should] try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but those are freak injuries. If it happens, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
  • Rivers’ comments about improving the team’s toughness were initiated by Embiid, who said the Sixers have “never had P.J. Tucker” during his tenure, a nod to Tucker’s hard-nosed defense and all-out effort. “[He] believes that he can get from Point A to Point B and he believes that no one can beat him,” Embiid said of Tucker, per Mizell. “They [Miami] have a few of those guys. … Since I’ve been here, I’d be lying if I said that we’ve had those type of guys. Nothing against what we have. It’s just the truth.”

Sixers Notes: Harden, Rivers, Green, Butler, Offseason

It has become clear over the course of the season – and especially in the playoffs – that the current version of James Harden isn’t the same one who earned the MVP award in 2018 with the Rockets, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN, who suggests that recurring hamstring issues over the last couple years have slowed down the Sixers guard.

“Since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden,” Sixers star Joel Embiid said on Thursday, after the team lost Game 6 to the Heat and was eliminated from the postseason. “But that’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a play-maker.”

While it’s true that Harden is still an elite play-maker, he’s being paid like he’s also an elite scorer, with a $44.3MM salary this season and a $47.4MM player option for 2022/23.

There’s a belief in some league circles that Harden isn’t fully healthy and has bounce-back potential, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. However, according to Bontemps, the soon-to-be 33-year-old is viewed by many executives as more of a $25-30MM per year player than a superstar who should warrant a five-year, $270MM commitment this offseason.

During an ESPN appearance (video link), Amar’e Stoudemire, who saw Harden up close as a member of the Nets’ coaching staff this season, questioned the guard’s conditioning and advised the Sixers against offering a maximum-salary contract.

Harden, who will be eligible for a contract extension if he picks up his player option or a new free agent contract if he turns it down, suggested after Thursday’s loss that he would be open to taking less than his max, and an Eastern Conference scout who spoke to Bontemps said the 76ers would be wise to go that route.

“If there were any logic whatsoever, the answer (to giving him a max deal) would be no,” the scout said.

Here’s more out of Philadelphia:

  • Asked after Thursday’s loss about his job security, head coach Doc Rivers defended his track record, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link).I don’t worry about my job,” Rivers said. “I think I do a terrific job. If you don’t, then you should write it. I worked my butt off to get this team here. When I first got here, no one picked us to be anywhere. Again this year, the same thing.”
  • After leaving Game 6 due to a left knee injury, Sixers swingman Danny Green will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the damage, a source tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There’s “significant concern” that Green’s injury is a serious one, as ESPN’s Tim Bontemps relays.
    [UPDATE: Danny Green Diagnosed With Torn Left ACL, LCL]
  • Having eliminated the 76ers from the postseason, former Sixer Jimmy Butler rubbed salt in the wound, according to Rich Hofmann of The Athletic, who notes that the Heat forward said in his postgame interview he wishes he were still playing with Embiid. On his way to the locker room after the game, Butler also referenced the 2019 offseason, when Philadelphia invested heavily in Tobias Harris as Butler departed for Miami. “Tobias Harris over me?!” Butler yelled, as captured by Miami’s WPLG Local 10 Sports (video link).
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) and Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype both preview the Sixers’ upcoming offseason, examining some of the biggest questions facing the franchise in the coming weeks and months.

Nikola Jokic Repeats As Most Valuable Player

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has won his second straight Most Valuable Player Award, topping the SixersJoel Embiid and the BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo by a comfortable margin, the NBA announced in a press release.

Jokic received 65 first-place votes and 875 total points, putting him well ahead of Embiid, who finished second with 26 first-place votes and 706 points. Antetokounmpo came in third with nine first-place votes and 595 points.

Nobody else received a first-place vote, but Suns guard Devin Booker was fourth with 216 points and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic was fifth at 146 points. With 100 total voters, the balloting system awarded 10 points for a first-place vote, seven points for second, five points for third, three points for fourth and one point for fifth.

Other players receiving votes were the Celtics‘ Jayson Tatum (43 points), the GrizzliesJa Morant (10), the Warriors‘ Stephen Curry (4), the SunsChris Paul (2), the BullsDeMar DeRozan (1), the LakersLeBron James (1) and the NetsKevin Durant (1).

Jokic is the 13th player to win MVP honors in back-to-back seasons. He averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in 74 games and helped the Nuggets earn the sixth seed in the West despite the absence of Jamal Murray and  Michael Porter Jr. Jokic was named Western Conference Player of the Month twice this season and reached the All-Star Game for the fourth straight year.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported on Monday that Jokic would win the award.

Atlantic Notes: Kyrie, Nets Draft Class, Embiid, MVP

The Nets have a busy summer ahead of them. The futures of point guard Kyrie Irving, reserve guard Patty Mills, wing Bruce Brown, and center Nic Claxton, as well as the team’s coaching and chemistry, are among the big offseason issues facing Brooklyn, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Lewis wonders if the Nets will want to reward Irving with a long-term contract should he choose to opt out this summer, after what has been a challenging season for the point guard off the court. Lewis notes that Irving has been unavailable for 123 of 226 regular-season contests since signing with Brooklyn in 2019. The team also faces an intimidating luxury tax bill moving forward.

Mills and Irving currently have player options for the 2022/23 season. Claxton is a restricted free agent, while Brown is unrestricted. How many Nets under contract will even be available to start the year is in question, as both Ben Simmons and Seth Curry underwent postseason surgeries, while Joe Harris had two ankle surgeries during the season.

Lewis notes that the Nets, coached by Steve Nash, were swept by the Celtics, coached by former Broolkyn assistant coach Ime Udoka, in the first round. Lewis wonders if Nash can improve as a coach and if he might be willing to hand off the defense to an assistant.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The Nets used all five of their draft picks in 2021. Alex Schiffer and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic take a look at Brooklyn’s rookies for 2021/22: shooting guard Cam Thomas, small forward Kessler Edwards, power forward Day’Ron Sharpe, forward Raiquan Gray and guard Marcus Zegarowski. Schiffer and Vecenie then ponder the younger players’ fits with the club moving forward.
  • Sixers All-Star Joel Embiid has shown his historical greatness in his return to Philadelphia while nursing two injuries, writes Derek Bodner of The Daily Six. The center’s outstanding performance in the 76ers’ two home playoff victories in their second-round matchup against the Heat exhibited how his greatness could elevate a supporting cast of at-times ill-fitting parts, opines Bodner. Miami currently leads the series 3-2.
  • Following the Sixers‘ 120-85 Game 5 loss in Miami Tuesday night, Philadelphia All-Star big man Joel Embiid reflected on Nuggets center Nikola Jokic besting him for the 2022 NBA MVP award, per Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice (Twitter link). “Obviously, congrats to Nikola, he deserved it, he had an amazing season,” Embiid said. “There’s no right or wrong, there [were] a lot of candidates. It could have gone either way. Giannis [Antetokounmpo], Devin Booker being on the best team in the league by far, so I guess every year it’s all about whatever you guys decided, whatever fits the narrative as far as who’s going to win.”

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Horford, Knicks, Raptors

Joel Embiid won’t be named MVP this season, but that might benefit the Sixers in the rest of the playoffs, writes Kyle Neubeck of After a Monday report stated that Nuggets center Nikola Jokic will win the trophy for the second straight season, teammate Georges Niang expects Embiid to be motivated to prove the voters wrong.

“I mean, obviously congratulations to the Joker. But obviously I think you know, Joel deserved it,” Niang said. “But like I’ve said before, now you guys get to see a pissed-off Joel. So, you’re welcome.”

Embiid, who finished second in last year’s MVP race, was a strong candidate again, leading the league in scoring at 30.6 PPG to go along with 11.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 blocks per night. Coach Doc Rivers was among Embiid’s most vocal supporters, but he admits there’s a strong field of candidates.

“Listen, his résumé was great, and not taking anything away from Jokic either because he’s a hell of a player,” Rivers said. “I do think this whole analytics-driven society, world is out of control at times. Some of the measures they use, like watch the damn game and decide is what I’ve always said. But at the end of the day, if Joel had won, which I thought he should have, there would have been criticism that way, if Giannis (Antetokounmpo) had won. Only one guy can win it, unfortunately.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Celtics big man Al Horford, who wanted to show after an unsuccessful stint in Philadelphia and a stopover in Oklahoma City that he could still play, certainly proved just that on Monday night when he put up 30 points (a personal playoff high) in a crucial victory over Milwaukee, as Andrew Lopez of ESPN and Jay King of The Athletic write. Horford’s big game came at just the right time for the Celtics, who were the only team last offseason that showed interest in trading for him without insisting that the Thunder give up an asset in a deal, says Chris Mannix of
  • In a discussion with colleague Fred Katz about the Knicks‘ offseason, John Hollinger of The Athletic says he’s not sure he trusts center Mitchell Robinson enough to invest heavily in him, and suggests it might be prudent for the team to delay its decision on RJ Barrett‘s future until 2023. Robinson will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, while Barrett will be extension-eligible.
  • It should be a fairly low-stakes summer for the Raptors, since all of their most important players are under contract, but there will still be some roster and contract decisions to make, Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes in his offseason primer.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Brunson, Rivers, Gobert

Sixers center Joel Embiid won’t win the Most Valuable Player award, but he’s got a bigger goal to chase, as he told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

“Winning a championship is the biggest thing,” the Sixers star said. “And I’ll be honest, I never thought I would be at this level. Coming into the league, I was always like, ‘I’ve got to get a Defensive Player of the Year.’ My defense was always my focus. I’m like, ‘Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year,’ and then, over the years, I’ve gotten (better) offensively.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Jalen Brunson‘s strong postseason is bad news for the Knicks, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. Brunson will be headed to unrestricted free agency and it’s unlikely the Knicks can open up cap space to entice Brunson to jump ship. One league source told Berman it would be shocking if Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t re-sign the fourth-year point guard.
  • There’s no reason for the Sixers to fire Doc Rivers if they don’t go deeper into the postseason, Joe Vardon of The Athletic argues. Rivers has three years and $24MM left on his contract. Under Rivers’ tutelage, Tyrese Maxey has become a budding star and Embiid has delivered the two best seasons of his career, Vardon notes. The Sixers kept on winning despite the Ben Simmons drama and needed to give up two key role players as well as Simmons in order to bring in James Harden.
  • Trading for Rudy Gobert and his hefty contract wouldn’t be worth the risk for the Raptors, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star opines. Gobert doesn’t present enough of an offensive threat, and his ability to switch and guard on the perimeter the way Toronto defends is also a legitimate question. His lack of positional versatility doesn’t fit the Raptors’ roster, Smith adds.

Atlantic Notes: Jones, Embiid, Sixers-Heat

Grizzlies reserve guard Tyus Jones might be a consolation prize for the Knicks if New York strikes out on Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson in free agency this summer, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post.

Jones has a history with Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, as he was the backup point guard during Thibodeau’s three seasons with the Timberwolves. Berman notes that league sources project Jones to net a deal in the range of the full non-taxpayer midlevel exception, worth $10.2MM this season.

“I love him,’’ one NBA coach said to Berman. “He has to be one of the best backup point guards in the league, if not the best.’’

The 25-year-old out of Duke set a league record for the best assist-to-turnover ratio ever this year of 7.4-to-1 across 73 regular season games. During 21.2 MPG this season, Jones averaged 8.7 PPG on .451/.390/.818 shooting splits, plus 4.4 APG. Though he is not a consistent interior scorer, Jones has proven himself to be a good shooter and effective ball handler.

Jones and the Grizzlies are currently locked into a hotly contested second-round matchup with the Warriors. Golden State leads 2-1.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Sixers center Joel Embiid may be able to will his club to a series victory against Miami thanks in large part to his terrific defensive effort, writes Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Heat made just 35.1% of their field goals in a blowout 99-79 Game 3 Sixers victory Friday. In his first healthy game of the series, Embiid rendered center Bam Adebayo largely ineffective — Adebayo went just 2-of-9 from the floor and was a game-worst minus-22. “What I pride myself on is, really, defensively,” Embiid said. “That’s really one of the reasons why, (by) playing, I thought I could have a huge impact.” David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that Embiid’s return has reinvigorated the Sixers on both ends of the floor, and gives them a real shot to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Though Embiid proved the driving force behind the Sixers‘ Game 3 win against the Heat, the team is aware it still needs to focus on the road ahead in its second-round series, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Embiid scored 18 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the floor and pulled down 11 rebounds. “We’re down 2-1, so we got a long way to go,” Embiid said. “We can’t go down 3-1. So we really need this game on Sunday.”
  • In case you missed it, the Celtics are frustrated with the way referees called a late foul during an eventual 103-101 Game 3 loss to the Bucks on Saturday.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Fine, Maxey, Harden

Joel Embiid never had any doubts about playing Friday night as long as he received medical clearance, writes Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice. Embiid didn’t clear concussion protocol until Friday morning and had to wear a mask to protect his broken orbital bone, but he logged more than 36 minutes as the Sixers picked up their first win in the series with Miami.

“It was a struggle,” Embiid said, “really because of the concussion and dealing with a bunch of symptoms. But I’m glad it went away and I’m glad that I’m back. I really want to win, and I feel like we have a big chance to win it all. Obviously, we got to stay healthy and we all got to play well at the same time. … Down 2-0, I had to do really everything possible to be out there no matter, how much I was feeling. I’m just glad that we got the win.”

Embiid wasn’t dominant on offense, scoring 18 points and making 5-of-12 shots from the field, but he made a bigger difference on defense, providing a mobile rim protector that Philadelphia was lacking in the first two games.

“He’s the anchor, he knows all the coverages, and he’s talking to us,” Tyrese Maxey said. “He’s seven-foot one, he’s a big body down there, it’s hard to go in there and drive into him, and he makes it difficult for the opposing team. We really do appreciate him for that.”

There’s more from Philadelphia:

  • The Sixers were fined $50K for failing to follow the league’s reporting rules on injuries, the NBA announced (Twitter link). Embiid was listed as doubtful going into Game 3. The Suns were fined $25K last week for a similar offense involving Devin Booker.
  • After turning in a scoreless first half for the first time all season, Maxey responded with a record-setting performance in the second half, notes Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia. He made five shots without a miss, which is the most ever in franchise history for a second half in the postseason.
  • Danny Leroux of The Athletic examines the possibilities that James Harden and the Sixers have available for his next contract. Harden holds a $47.4MM player option for next season, and Leroux notes that his best financial option would be to opt in and extend the current deal, giving him potentially $270MM+ over five years. However, there are plenty of other options if Harden is willing to accept less than the maximum.

Joel Embiid Clears Concussion Protocol, Active For Game 3

5:38: Embiid intends to return to action tonight, sources tell Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Head coach Doc Rivers said Embiid might not play his normal amount of minutes due to conditioning, but he’ll be back for Game 3, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirms (via Twitter).

10:54am: Sixers center Joel Embiid has cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol and is hoping to play in tonight’s Game 3 against the Heat, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Embiid participated in today’s shootaround, and although he is officially listed as out, his status could change before game time.

The team is currently optimistic that Embiid will be able to play, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Embiid is still dealing with a fractured orbital bone as well as a torn ligament in his right thumb. The team has prepared a mask that he will wear to protect his face if he’s able to resume playing.

Tonight’s game will tip off at 7:00 pm Eastern Time, so the Sixers have a few more hours to make a final determination on Embiid’s availability. If he’s not able to play, he’ll likely target a return in Game 4, which will take place Sunday night in Philadelphia.

After earning a spot as an MVP finalist during the regular season, Embiid continued to dominate in the first round against the Raptors, averaging 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per night in the six-game series. The Sixers will need him back on the court to overcome a 2-0 deficit against Miami.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Rivers, Thybulle, Harden

Sixers center Joel Embiid suspected that he had a concussion and a broken bone in his face immediately after being struck by Pascal Siakam‘s elbow in the closing moments of their first-round series, writes Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Embiid went through a similar injury four years ago in a collision with then-teammate Markelle Fultz. That resulted in a break of the opposite orbital bone and forced Embiid to have surgery to relieve pressure in his eye. It appears he will avoid surgery this time, and he’s hoping to be able to return for Game 3 or 4 against Miami.

After several days of concussion symptoms, Embiid’s sensitivity to light improved enough by Wednesday that he was able to FaceTime with coach Doc Rivers and watch the Sixers battle the Heat in Game 2, sources tell Shelburne. The team has a mask ready for Embiid in case he’s able to play, but he probably won’t need goggles like he did in 2018, according to Shelburne’s sources.

Embiid remains determined to play as soon as he clears concussion protocols, Shelburne adds, and his return may be Philadelphia’s only hope of climbing out of a 2-0 hole.

There’s more from Philadelphia:

  • Rivers credits Heat president Pat Riley with getting him interested in coaching, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Their relationship dates back to 1992, when Riley was coaching the Knicks and the team acquired Rivers to be its point guard. “I’ve been around some pretty good guys,” Rivers said. “But Riley, clearly, had the biggest impact. It’s not even close. I mean, I had no thoughts of coaching until I played for Pat Riley and the way he did it, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.’”
  • The Sixers must dramatically improve their shooting to have a chance at a comeback, observes Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice. While Matisse Thybulle‘s defense has been valuable, Philadelphia’s offense suffers when he’s on the court, especially with Embiid unavailable. “We needed Matisse on the floor,” Rivers said. “I thought he did an excellent job overall on Tyler Herro, but now you got Matisse and [DeAndre Jordan], or Matisse and Paul [Reed] on the floor, and they’re really just playing a two-man zone off of those two guys. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
  • James Harden has been the target of a lot of criticism since arriving in Philadelphia, but he and Embiid have been incredibly efficient as a pick-and-roll combination, notes Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (video link). That’s one of the factors the team will have to consider this summer as Harden becomes eligible for a four-year extension worth more than $220MM.