“It’s unfortunate winning was not the biggest factor,” Embiid said of Simmons, his former Philadelphia 76ers teammate. “It’s unfortunate that for him having his own team and, I guess, being a star was more his priorities.”
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 12, 2022
That Nets-76ers game on March 10 should be a spicy one.
That is, if Simmons even plays in his professional homecoming. The player he was traded for? Well, Embiid said he talked to James Harden since the trade that landed Philadelphia the 2018 NBA MVP and they are raring to get going.
“It’s James Harden. One of the best players in the league. MVP,” Embiid said Friday night. “It’s pretty exciting. You add someone like that, your chances to win the championship are bigger.”
The Sixers expect Harden’s arrival to be worth what they paid in talent, salary and draft picks – things needed to shoot them toward their first NBA championship since 1983. The question is, when?
Harden did not play in Philadelphia’s win over Oklahoma City on Friday night and won’t play Saturday against Cleveland. His debut is on hold until he’s evaluated this weekend by the team’s medical staff.
The earliest that Harden, who is being paid $44.3 million this season, could play for the 76ers is at home Tuesday against Boston. The Sixers also play Thursday at NBA champion Milwaukee before the All-Star break.
Embiid, who said his wrapped right wrist felt sore following Friday’s win when he scored 25 points, had no love lost for Simmons after his trade ultimatum broke up what had been a successful All-Star pair.
“It’s unfortunate everything happened,” Embiid said. “We didn’t get it done as far as winning in the playoffs. But look at the history of being on the court, what we did in the regular season, we were dominant.”
Sixers coach Doc Rivers was once recruited by Harden to coach the three-time scoring champion when he played for the Houston Rockets. The duo talked three times since Thursday, when the Sixers acquired Harden from Brooklyn for Simmons, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, but none of the conversations involved his potential debut.
Harden has been out with a hamstring injury.
“I want to make sure he’s right before we get him on the floor,” Rivers said.
The Sixers wasted no time decluttering team headquarters in New Jersey – the oversized Simmons magazine cover that hung inside the 76ers’ training complex was gone – and at the Wells Fargo Center, well, goodbye, Curry banners.
Harden’s 76ers jerseys were stitched to order on the concourse for fans who could not wait until he had even played a game. They also plunked down $164.99 for Harden’s No. 1 jerseys in red and in blue that lined racks next to Embiid’s No. 21 inside the team store.
The Harden jersey price is a steal compared to what the Sixers will pay the real deal to wear the uniform this season.
Another new era is set to begin soon with the superstar pairing of one-time MVP Harden with Embiid, this season’s MVP front-runner. Embiid leads the league in scoring at 29.4 points and has scored at least 25 points in 30 straight games.
The pressure was on in Philly not to waste a season of his prime. And the clock is ticking for Harden to win a championship. He has averaged 25.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists in his career with Brooklyn, Houston and Oklahoma City. But none of his 12 seasons ended with a championship.
Rivers plans to quickly catch Harden up to speed.
“He literally just said the practices and the shootarounds now are going to be more intense just because we’ve got a limited amount of time to figure it out,” guard Tyrese Maxey said.
Harden and Simmons were both unhappy with their roles with their old teams. Simmons demanded an offseason trade as the pressure of playing in Philly got to him, and Harden has now forced his way onto a new team for the second straight year.
Harden could have left this summer as a free agent. The Nets decided it wasn’t worth the risk to wait, ending their Big Three experiment of Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving after the trio played only 16 games together.
And Simmons had few fans left in Philly after he decided to sit out the season. Philadelphia’s local ABC affiliate opened Thursday night’s broadcast with the top story, “The man who refused to make a layup, and then refused to play a season, is now a Brooklyn Net.”
The Simmons saga is over for the Sixers, and Rivers said: “I’m glad it’s behind us.”
Maxey, the second-year player who took over for Simmons at point guard, was close with Simmons but had yet to speak to his former teammate. He’s ready to get going with Harden.
“It’s kind of crazy, just because he’s one of the guys you play as in 2K when you’re a younger kid,” the 21-year-old Maxey said. “One of my best friends that I had throughout high school, he’s like the biggest James Harden fan when we were growing up. So I texted him last night, we talked about it a little bit, and he’s like, it’s crazy.”
Sixers President Daryl Morey made the deal with a championship this season in mind, and now it’s up to Rivers to make it work after he failed to get the top-seeded Sixers out of the second round last year.
“I think the reason we did this deal is so we could jump into the fray,” Rivers said.