Make no mistake: The 76ers are still Joel Embiid's team.
Coach Brett Brown made that proclamation last Wednesday when he referred to the two-time second-team All-NBA selection as the Sixers’ “crown jewel.”
On paper, this is arguably the most talented team Embiid will be a part of.
All-Star point guard Ben Simmons gained confidence in his shot this summer. Forward Tobias Harris is primed to have a big season after re-signing for $180 million over five years. And the Sixers added five-time All-Star power forward/center Al Horford and standout two-way shooting guard Josh Richardson, making up the NBA’s biggest and arguably the best starting lineup.
But Embiid’s play could be the difference between an NBA title and another disappointing second-round postseason exit.
At media day Monday, the 7-foot-2 center talked about a variety of things, including his goals for this season.
Embiid said he’s 20 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last season. He said he wants to be the league MVP and defensive player of the year.
The 25-year-old intends to play more than the career-high 64 games he played in the last regular season. He also wants to help the team finish the regular season with at least 60 wins as a way to ensure getting the postseason’s top seed.
He also compared his relationship with general manager Elton Brand to that with former GM Bryan Colangelo. And Embiid acknowledged he’s going his miss his former teammates from last season’s 51-31 squad, especially JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler.
“JJ was my guy,” he said, “Jimmy was my brother. We still talk a lot. I’m going to miss them a lot, but I don’t think anything changes.”
The Sixers are expected to improve on last season’s win total and contend for the NBA title with the addition of Horford, Richardson, and an improved bench.
“Going into training camp, I’m excited," Embiid said. "A pretty new team with some guys, we got to work on that chemistry. But it’s going to be a great season.”
A hot topic Monday was Embiid’s weight loss.
But when asked his weight going into training, Embiid responded, “I don’t want to say.”
Embiid did say that he has not done anything differently to lose the weight.
“I just tried to eat the right way,” Embiid said. “... I’ve just been extremely focused for what I have to do. I still have a long way to go. I’m not at my goal, yet.”
He said his target weight loss was 25 pounds.
Embiid said he lost that, but added five pounds of muscle.
In addition to losing weight, Embiid said, his left knee feels fine. The two-time All-Star was hampered with tendinitis in the knee and missed 14 of the final 24 regular-season games. The knee also forced him to miss Game 3 of the opening-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets.
As a way to keep him fresh for the postseason, the Sixers talked to Embiid about, once again, implementing a load-management plan. The Cameroonian, who has an injury history, wasn’t always been supportive of previous plans for him.
“One thing we’ve done this summer was I always tried to make them understand me," Embiid said. “They do understand me. They’ve created, especially Elton, they’ve created that relationship with me where we can trust each other. In the past with the past GM, it wasn’t all that.”
“But this summer, I tried to make then understand we got to stay consistent.”
He doesn’t think it’s a good idea to miss a game right before the team has two or three days off. He believes going three or four days without playing doesn’t benefit him.
“Maybe because it’s just my body type or maybe it’s because I’m African, but it basically takes me about a day or two to kind of like lose [his conditioning] a little bit,” Embiid said. “So we just got to stay consistent and with the plan we have this year.”
The Sixers had a load-management specialist come up with some analytics that will help him get though the season in optimum shape. Embiid and team collectively figured out what’s best for him.
A year ago, Embiid played a lot of minutes at the start of the season. He said that might have affected him, and he was mostly unable to go following the All-Star break.
“So this year, we got to have a different approach,” he said.
Embiid chose not to get specific when asked if he and the Sixers came up with a number for back-to-backs and overall games he will play this season.
“I mean, I can talk about it,” he said. “But if everything goes right, it’s definitely going to be way better than I did the past three years. Last year, I think ... [was] 64 games. It’s definitely going to be over that.”
But his main focus is helping the Sixers get the No. 1 seed. He believest that team success will help him obtain his own goals of being defensive player of the year and NBA MVP.
“So my whole mindset is focused on winning,” Embiid said.