The Philadelphia 76ers held Media Day at their practice facility in Camden, N.J. on Monday morning. The introductory press conference proved to mostly be uneventful after James Harden failed to show up. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey, head coach Nick Nurse and the entire roster took questions from the media. Here are three takeaways from the team’s Media Day (for the full video click here):
The Harden saga took its next natural step: The 33-year-old guard elected not to show up to Media Day, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This will likely result in a fine, something Harden and his camp likely is expecting moving forward. Harden’s no-show likely is a better outcome for the Sixers compared to what it could have been like if he had showed up and created more problems.
Despite Harden’s non-attendance, he remained at or near the center of conversation throughout Media Day. Morey addressed the Harden situation in the opening few minutes of the press conference.
“He continues to seek a trade and we’re working with his representation to resolve that in the best way for the 76ers and, hopefully, all parties,” Morey said.
Throughout the offseason, Morey has been adamant publicly in the Sixers’ stance on what they want as a return in any Harden trade. On Monday, he reiterated that same stance to reporters:
“Either a player that we think can help us in a significant way. Or draft pick type things that we can then go turn into something that will help us in the short run. One of those two things.”
Until or unless something changes either in Morey’s stance or the minimal Harden trade market, not much is likely to change on this front. In another sign of the deteriorated relationship between Morey and Harden, Morey said they have not spoken personally to each other since the trade request was made earlier in the offseason. At that time, Harden requested for the team to work through his representation.
For the rest of the roster, Harden was like the elephant in the room. Embiid called the situation “unfortunate” and said he would be thrilled to have Harden back playing with them. P.J. Tucker, who is immensely close with Harden both on and off the court, received a lot of questions about the Harden situation.
“That’s my brother, no question,” Tucker said. “Our relationship goes way beyond basketball and the years we spent together. That aside, he has his own thing, and it is what it is … but the rest of us have to go to work, get ready to play.”
The commonality that kept being repeated by every player on the roster is their desire to have Harden return to the court in a Sixers uniform. Time will tell if they get their wish. Morey said the organization expects Harden to show up to training camp and participate in team activities like any other player. It remains to be seen whether Harden will show up to training camp. Sixers’ training camp begins on Tuesday out west at Fort Collins, Co.
There were a lot of questions bubbling up throughout the offseason about Joel Embiid’s long-term commitment to the Sixers. His latest tweet added to the concern about the reigning MVP’s desire to stay in Philadelphia. Donning a Phillies “Red October” beanie, he tried to downplay that tweet on Monday morning.
“I thought it was fun. I was just saying, the interactions around the league, guys getting traded left and right, teams getting better and better, making it tougher for every other team. I thought it was fun, just looking at the back and forth between fans. You know, you got Miami fans that are mad, and you got Milwaukee fans that are happy, and now you’ve got Boston fans that are happy, so that’s what I saw,” Embiid said, before turning to some personal things that happened to him this summer. “Getting married was cool. It was fun to spend time with my family. So, to me, it was an A+ summer. I had a lot of fun.”
It does not take much inference to see there was likely some frustration behind that tweet. The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, two of the Sixers’ biggest rivals, went out over the last few days and made major moves to improve. Meanwhile, the Sixers are dealing with a disgruntled star player and made minimal moves to improve this offseason. This is the second time in the past three seasons Embiid is dealing with his co-star wanting out. That situation combined with other championship contenders getting significantly better is resulting in Embiid admittedly getting a bit frustrated.
“It’s all about consistency,” Embiid said. “If every year is going to be the same thing, then that doesn’t push you closer to winning a championship. So that gets frustrating, but I also believe that no matter, like I said, it doesn’t matter who’s on the team. I’m always going to believe that I have a chance of winning. So it’s all up to me willing to just go out there and try to do whatever it takes.”
Despite the admitted frustration, Embiid is coming into the season ready to do whatever is necessary to win a championship. On Monday, he also committed, at least for now, to his intent on winning a championship in Philadelphia.
“I’m here in Philly. I love Philly. I’ve been here my whole career. It’s all about win a championship. Mostly, really, honestly, if I gotta be honest, if we were to win a championship, it’d be for the city and the fans because they deserve it.”
Embiid at Media Day also made some news about his desire to play in the Paris Olympics next summer.
“I have three options,” Embiid said. “My goal is to play in the Olympics. I love all three options. Cameroon, I’m born there, I’m from there and I always want to represent my country. But the goal is also to play in the Olympics. If we had a chance or if we were qualified for the Olympics, that would be an easy decision, but that’s still up in the air — and I really do want to play in the Olympics.
“And then the USA, obviously they’ve been struggling the last couple of years, trying to get back on the top. And you’ve also got France, who’s up and coming. I’m just thankful that I’m able to be in that situation. It is a tough choice, but I’m probably going to make that decision in the next few days.”
There has been a lot of attention paid towards the Sixers this offseason for the off-court drama surrounding the Harden situation. However, there is still a lot of optimism from within the Sixers organization heading into this season. Morey led off the organization’s Media Day press conference by listing out reasons for excitement going into the season.
“There’s a lot of optimism and excitement about the season here in this building … We have the MVP of the league [Embiid]. We have one of the great, up-and-coming players in this league in Tyrese Maxey. We’ve got winning players in Tobias [Harris] and [De’Anthony] Melton. We’ve got additions we love in Pat Beverley, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mo Bamba. We’ve got young, great players like Paul Reed. We come in here every day and feel like we are going to show the league that this is a team that can win … I left off one big reason for optimism, and that is coach Nurse. I love what he is going to bring and our players are excited to work with him.”
There is unanimous excitement throughout the organization about the potential that new head coach Nick Nurse can unlock. One of the players Nurse spoke about specifically on Monday was Tyrese Maxey.
“The first thing is Tyrese gets the ball in his hands a lot more, so that automatically is going to give him opportunities for pace, offensive creation for both himself and his teammates and experience reading defenses. He will have to go through a learning curve with that because he will see different schemes, defenses and matchups. I think the short answer is he’s just going to get more chances.”
With the uncertainty around if Harden is going to show up, Maxey might be thrusted into the lead guard role this season. He is confident in his ability to excel in that role, telling reporters he is prepared for both an on-ball and off-ball role. He also mentioned doing situational drills this offseason in order to improve his ability to read defenses in the pick-and-roll.
In addition to Maxey, Tobias Harris is another player Nurse is looking to get more involved in the offense. Harris said he had conversations during the offseason with Nurse centered around using him more in the pick-and-roll with Embiid, getting him to play at a faster pace and having him take a ton of 3-pointers to space the floor. He also talked about watching old film of Nurse’s Toronto Raptors teams to see the types of plays and sets they ran.
The excitement the roster has about Nurse was palpable throughout Media Day. Mo Bamba and Paul Reed both talked with excitement about the potential of being used in two-big lineups. De’Anthony Melton, a defensive specialist, said he had multiple conversations with Nurse about how to best utilize his skillset. Danny Green, Patrick Beverley and Kelly Oubre Jr. all mentioned Nurse having a strong role in attracting them to sign with the Sixers during the offseason.
The Sixers had a quiet offseason in terms of making moves to the roster. However, the Nurse hiring is likely to pay dividends in multiple ways going forward.