“Troel” Embiid could not keep a straight face while trying to explain his latest internet shenanigans.
When asked about the meme he posted shortly after the blockbuster Ben Simmons-James Harden trade — a man in a black suit who went to the funeral of one of his “haters” just to make sure they had expired — the 76ers’ All-Star center said, “Honestly, I don’t even know what the tweet was about” with a sly smile.
“I just tweeted a random person,” Embiid added following the Sixers’ victory Friday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I just saw the picture on the internet and I thought he was well-dressed. He had a nice suit on. Good-looking. He had some swag, so I just thought it was a good picture.”
Embiid has not been short on candor throughout the Simmons saga that has hovered over the Sixers for the past six months. Now, he is happy that it will no longer be a topic that constantly pops up during what has been a dominant season for Embiid and largely successful one for his team.
“I didn’t mind answering questions [about it],” Embiid said. “I was always honest about what I thought. But I was more relieved for the whole organization — whether it’s Daryl [Morey], Coach [Doc Rivers], my teammates — that subject always coming up.
“Some people are wired differently. Me, I enjoyed it. It never bothered me. For some other people, it might have bothered them.”
Embiid was perhaps most transparent about the Simmons situation during a media session following a training-camp practice in late September, when he gave a nearly four-minute, wide-ranging answer to a question about a report that Simmons’ team believed the partnership between the two players had run its course. Embiid called Simmons’ absence “weird, disappointing, borderline kind of disrespectful to other guys that are out here fighting for their lives,” and also highlighted the ways the Sixers had tried to build a team that would complement Simmons’ skill set as a defender, facilitator, and non-shooter.
A couple of weeks later, after Simmons had been kicked out of practice for not participating in a defensive drill in his brief return to the team, Embiid said “I don’t care about that man” and that it was not his job to “babysit” the disgruntled All-Star. And when asked Tuesday if he would reach out to Simmons if he remained on the roster following the trade deadline, Embiid said he would welcome anybody who wanted be an engaged participant with his team but that he did not plan to make any special appeal to Simmons.
Embiid reiterated some of those points late Friday, and shared that he had not talked to Simmons following the trade.
“I honestly don’t care, honestly,” Embiid said. “Like I’ve always said, it’s unfortunate how everything happened. … Obviously, we didn’t get it done as far as winning in the playoffs. But you look at the history, being on the court, what we did in the regular season, we were dominant. So it’s unfortunate that winning was not the biggest factor.
“It’s unfortunate that, for him, having his own team and I guess being the star was more of his priorities. But I always thought that everything was great, the fit was great. But unfortunately, Ben thought that it wasn’t, but we all move on.”
Embiid acknowledged he has used the strange circumstances as motivation to “prove everybody else wrong” this season. He has put up MVP-caliber numbers, leading the NBA in scoring at 29.3 points per game entering Saturday while adding 11.1 rebounds (ninth in the NBA), a career-high 4.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He has also played in 26 of the Sixers’ past 27 games, with durability an issue in the past for the oft-injured Embiid.
The Sixers, meanwhile, entered Saturday’s game against Cleveland with a 33-22 record and 2 1/2 games out of first place in a tight Eastern Conference. Now, they add Harden, a dynamic scorer with the ball in his hands who provides Embiid with an intriguing pick-and-roll partner who will also command double-teams from opposing defenses.
Unprompted, Embiid said “it [stinks] to lose” the departing Seth Curry, who he said “did such a great job for us,” and Andre Drummond, who Embiid called “as good as any backups that we’ve had in Philly since I’ve been here.”
Embiid did not include Simmons in those public goodbyes. But he did “wish everybody the best, in whatever they want to accomplish.”
“[My] focus [is] on winning games here, and trying to win a championship,” Embiid said.