Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers and the arduous task of building around a superstar

INSIDE MCALISTER FIELDHOUSE on The Citadel’s campus in Charleston, South Carolina, all eyes are mounted on a dialog between Joel Embiid and P.J. Tucker.

For the moment instantly day of coaching camp in overdue September, the new Philadelphia 76ers teammates engaged in a lengthy — and loud — dialogue over basketball ways. Among as of late’s subjects: How Tucker and the Miami Heat suffocated Embiid in the put up all the way through final season’s Eastern Conference semifinals.

Tucker gestures how he fronted Embiid in the paint — doing the whole thing he may to make his lifestyles tough sooner than he even were given the ball in his arms — and techniques Embiid may counter.

“Every day [we work on] ways to combat everything he does,” Tucker mentioned. “And me guarding him now and trying to help him out, understand the reads of what people want to do, that’s what it’s about.

“It’s figuring out that, and being in a position for all of it.”

Tucker’s not alone. For the past several years, the 76ers have tried to optimize Embiid’s prime with hopes of deep postseason runs. But each time, flawed roster constructions have prevented the kind of breakthrough that normally follows a perennial MVP finalist.

There was Embiid’s ultimately doomed partnership with Ben Simmons, a point guard whose lack of a reliable jump shot forced the 76ers to build offenses in which pick-and-rolls — the lifeblood of the modern NBA — were rare occurrences.

There was the disastrous yearlong pairing with fellow big man Al Horford, the player who gave Embiid fits for years with the Boston Celtics and gave him almost as many as a teammate.

And there has been a series of one-way players over the years, from Matisse Thybulle and Seth Curry to Marco Belinelli and T.J. McConnell, who have helped win plenty of regular-season games but are the kinds of targets — at one end of the floor or the other — that Eastern Conference playoff teams routinely exploited.

This summer, the 76ers were determined to change that. They re-signed superstar and elite pick-and-roll partner James Harden at a discount big enough to also land free agents Tucker and Danuel House Jr., two rugged defenders who can knock down open 3-pointers.

Philly traded injured guard Danny Green and a first-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for De’Anthony Melton, adding another high-octane perimeter defender to a roster that lacked them last season.

Philadelphia enters its first full season with one of the best pick-and-roll tandems in the league, quality 3-point shooting to give Embiid ample space to operate and enough versatile defenders to attack opponents.

Put it all together, and the 76ers — despite a rocky first impression Tuesday — are deeper, more balanced and better constructed around their 7-foot anchor than at any point in The Process era.

“There’s no susceptible hyperlinks around the horn,” Tucker said. “You wish to [pick on] someone? Go forward. We were given everyone.”

SIMPLY BREAKING THROUGH to the East finals — a feat the 76ers haven’t accomplished in more than 20 years — means nothing to Embiid.

“The complete perception of attending to the first spherical, moment spherical, convention finals, Finals, that do not subject,” Embiid said. “If you do not win all of it, it’s not relevant why you misplaced. It most likely makes it even worse … you’re feeling such as you simply frickin’ wasted time.

“‘Congrats, you made it to the conference finals. Congrats, you made it to the Finals.’ Did you win anything? Nope.”

Some of the ones screw ups will also be attributed to premature accidents to Embiid: an orbital bone fracture colliding with a teammate in 2018 and facial fracture and thumb accidents suffered final spring. One playoff defeat will also be blamed on the Toronto Raptors and Kawhi Leonard, whose miracle four-bounce buzzer-beater in Game 7 shocked the 76ers in the 2019 East semifinals.

But a lot of the burden falls on a deficient design — specifically, more than a few roster buildings surrounding Embiid: the awkward suits with Simmons or Horford, the accumulation of too many restricted function avid gamers and even the determination to transport on from Jimmy Butler after that heartbreaking loss to the Raptors.

No subject what formulation Philadelphia attempted, the end result used to be the similar: an early playoff go out. Changing the have compatibility around Embiid, and in flip converting the 76ers’ playoff fortune, has been president of basketball operations Daryl Morey’s project since he used to be employed through the franchise two years in the past.

After the cave in towards the Atlanta Hawks in 2021, and the next industry request through Simmons, Morey bided his time sooner than transferring on the Simmons-Harden switch in the ultimate hours sooner than the February industry closing date.

It did not take lengthy for the two stars to start to in finding chemistry.

Embiid and Harden ran the moment maximum pick-and-rolls in the league after the All-Star damage, with most effective Hawks duo Trae Young and Clint Capela accounting for extra. Philadelphia’s celebrity tandem averaged 1.15 issues in line with direct choose on the ones performs, in line with ESPN’s Stats & Information analysis — the fifth-best mark amongst the 39 pairings that ran a minimum of 150 such performs.

Harden’s arrival raised Philadelphia’s ceiling, but it surely wasn’t sufficient by itself to switch the franchise’s playoff destiny. Harden, who has infamously flamed out in a lot of playoffs, had his struggles for the 76ers, together with a 4-for-9 stinker in Philadelphia’s season-ending Game 6 loss to Miami final season.

Morey recognized any other factor: 76ers trainer Rivers used to be hamstrung through too many experts surrounding his stars.

“[What] we saw in the playoffs was our inability to play both ends,” Morey mentioned. “Like when Doc had to go to the bench, it was choosing all offense, no defense or all defense, no offense.

“That will get beautiful difficult in the playoffs.”

It turned out, however, that both Morey and Embiid had a similar solution in mind. Enter Tucker, a versatile lockdown 3-and-D wing who had been part of the Houston Rockets with Morey and Harden for several seasons. After that Game 6 loss, Embiid said he’d never played with someone like Tucker before, citing his defensive energy and toughness.

Tucker, Melton and House have supplanted Thybulle, Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz — three players who got significant minutes during the playoffs last year — in Philadelphia’s rotation.

“I do assume Joel set the tone very helpfully for my negotiations [with Tucker],” Morey said with a laugh. “Asking for a explicit participant … I’d ask all long term 76ers to thrill do not do this.”

EMBIID HAS ECHOED a similar retort whenever referencing the hype surrounding the 76ers’ revamped roster in the lead-up to the season.

“We have a lengthy technique to cross.”

Tuesday, when Philadelphia opened its season with a 126-117 loss inside TD Garden against the defending East champion Celtics, Embiid’s words of caution proved prophetic.

The Celtics, playing without injured starting center Robert Williams III, beat the 76ers with the quickness created by their smaller lineups. Boston outscored Philadelphia by a 24-2 margin in fast-break points — a disparity so staggering that Embiid double-checked it on the box score during his postgame news conference.

“It begins defensively,” Embiid said. “Really, it is all about protection. We scored, no matter, 117 [points], and we weren’t excellent offensively as of late.

“We didn’t get any stops all night. So, that’s where it starts. I think we’ve got potential. But every possession we’ve got to play hard, and have each other’s backs.”

There had been flashes of optimism for Embiid and Philadelphia. Even with the elite defenders Boston can throw at groups — together with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart — Harden and Embiid discovered good fortune running in the pick-and-roll.

Late in the moment quarter, Harden got here around an Embiid choose and dropped a pocket go that Embiid stuck and completed over a fouling Celtics ahead Noah Vonleh. On any other play halfway via the 0.33, Harden got here around any other display and expertly faked the protection into giving up a wide-open floater.

“We’ve got to find ways to get into that action more,” Harden mentioned postgame.

Embiid bemoaned the ball sticking an excessive amount of and the 76ers falling into previous conduct. He used to be proper to: According to Second Spectrum, Philadelphia had a 3.5-second reasonable contact period towards Boston, the group’s third-highest mark in a sport since the get started of final season.

Still, in spite of how unpleasant issues regarded for Embiid and the 76ers Tuesday night time, he and Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all had the similar message: It used to be the first of 82 video games.

But whilst it used to be the first of 82 for a battle-tested Celtics core coming off an NBA Finals look, it used to be the first regular-season motion for Philadelphia’s made over roster — an revel in hole Embiid mentioned most effective time can shrink.

“That’s a team that just went to the Finals, and they’ve been together for so many years,” Embiid mentioned postgame. “We still felt new, with a lot of new guys trying to find the right fit and the right way to play.

“We’ll be nice.”

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