“The Process” says he will be a different man come September. He will commit to fitness and diet and rest and the development of his skills. He will embrace his new personal chef, and stop playing video games until dawn, and plunge headfirst into whatever exotic conditioning plan his handlers determine is best to prepare him for his sixth NBA season, which would be his first full NBA season.
I buy it. Every bit of it. The humility. The accountability. The resolve. Even the crying.
It will make all the difference. If Embiid arrives in September fit and focused, then the Sixers will be championship material. He realizes that now, after a last-second loss knocked him out of the playoffs.
Embiid has been fortified with a personal chef and will be delivered strict training strategies that will accommodate trips to his Brazilian girlfriend’s homeland and film shoots — Hulu Has Live Sports, after all. Embiid will be the first significant project for Dr. Annelie Schmittel, a former college high jumper who was hired in January as vice president of player development. She has attended every shootaround, practice and game. She knows her man, and so she should know this:
Between the humiliation after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal and the anguish at losing his first Game 7 to Kawhi Leonard’s quadruple-doink buzzer-beater in Toronto, Joel Embiid grew up. I think he’s ready to lead the Sixers to perennial title contention, the way Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets and Tim Duncan led the Spurs. I think he will stop celebrating every great play like he’s a punk 15-year-old boy, and I think he will stop trolling other players on Twitter like he’s a mean 15-year-old girl.
I think Embiid’s tears were real when he cried in Marc Gasol’s arms on the court Sunday night.
I think his anguish was real when, moments later, he sobbed outside of the locker room while his model girlfriend, Anne de Paula, consoled him.
I think Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley shamed him with withering remarks about toughness and professionalism after he acted like a diva in Games 4 and 5, when he had a cold, then persisted in their criticism when Embiid complained.
I think, at the end of Game 5 when he saw Toronto hip-hop megastar Drake — a friend of Embiid’s — mocking his airplane celebration, Embiid said, “Never again.”
After Game 5, I think Embiid looked with dismay at his 7-foot-2 frame and the mass of ill-defined flesh that covers it; about 280 pounds of flesh, which is probably 10 more than ideal. I think Embiid considered the knee tendinitis and the viruses that diminished or excluded him from four of the team’s 12 playoff games, and — to quote teammate Mike Scott — he decided to “Man up” and “Grow some [guts].”
I also believe every self-deprecating, well-intentioned word Embiid uttered in the past week.
“If there was someone to blame, put it all on me,” Embiid said in Monday of the team’s second straight second-round exit. “I take it all. You can put this loss on me; you can put it all on me. Don’t just put it on the coach, or anybody else.”
That absolved Brett Brown from blame after the Sixers turned a 2-1 series lead into a 4-3 series loss.
“It’ll be fine if I listen to what they’re telling me," Embiid said Monday. "I’m excited to go back on the court and just put in some work. Like I said, I have so much more to give.”
That means adhering to the salmon-and-salads diet that he and general manager Elton Brand (himself a beefy NBA big man for 17 years) negotiated as the team entered the playoffs. That diet did not include the 5,640 calories of Chick-fil-A Embiid routinely ordered for team trips.
“I don’t give a damn about The Process,” Embiid said after Game 7.
If this sounds startling, it’s because three seasons ago Embiid anointed himself The Process. According to trademark lawyer Josh Gerben, Embiid was issued a trademark on the phrase for apparel Tuesday — one of his 21 trademark applications.
The trademarks will make him lots of money, but that wasn’t his point. His point: He’s done with courting the Cult of Hinkie, a small group of zealots who worship former general manager Sam Hinkie, whose deconstruction of the Sixers’ roster began in 2013 and included the drafting of Embiid in 2014 but whose reign ended in 2016.
“I am maturing,” Embiid said after Game 6, when he put up a stone-faced plus-40.
He hadn’t celebrated. He hadn’t taunted. He hadn’t played to the immature crowd that helped make him a phenomenon. He had, finally, acted like an adult. As a result, the 76ers are, finally, a viable NBA franchise.
Embiid now needs to develop a fuller arsenal of post moves (Brown keeps mentioning a jump hook); needs to study how to defeat double teams; and needs to become a more consistent shooter from 15 to 27 feet.
Most of that hinges on his ability to run from rim to rim and on his ability to wear down opponents on the low block; and that hinges on his conditioning and his durability.
So, Brett, what’s the plan for the summer? What is The Process going to be?
“I’m not going to get specific, but will tell you that it will be money,” said Brown. He insisted that Embiid understands “his health dictates a significant amount of our success. It comes with lifestyle. He understands the responsibility. The pieces that need to be put in place around him to help him — especially over the summer months — will be in place. I have faith in Joel Embiid.”
So do I.