Joel Embiid counters James Harden: Sixers let him 'do his thing'

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Friday, November 3, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Speaking for the first time since James Harden was traded to the LA Clippers,Philadelphia 76ers starJoel Embiid said he didn't agree with Harden's assessment that he was held back by the 76ers the past couple of years.

"I don't think so," Embiid said after Thursday's 114-99 victory over theToronto Raptors, in which he finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists in 35 minutes. "I think he did a lot of great things for us.

"But in my opinion, we gave him the ball every single possession, because he's really good. He's an amazing player. Obviously, being that great of a passer, I think we gave him the ball ... we'd give him the ball every single possession to just go out and, you know, do his thing. And from there he had to make decisions as far as getting guys open or looking out for himself.

"But I thought he did a pretty good job of getting us into an offense and just passing the ball, getting guys open. That's the reason why he won the assist title last year."

Harden, speaking at his introductory news conference in Los Angeles earlier Thursday, said he felt like he was on "a leash" playing with Philadelphia last season, adding, "I'm not a system player. I am a system."

But, as Embiid said, Harden did lead the league in assists with the 76ers last season, while Embiid was tops in scoring and captured his first MVP award. The season ended with the 76ers losing in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics, marking the fifth time in six seasons Philly fell in the second round of the playoffs.

After Harden ultimately opted into his $35.6 million player option for this season in June, he requested a trade from Philadelphia to the Clippers -- a request that was granted early Tuesday.

Embiid said he was pleased Harden got what he wanted.

"I'm happy that the situation got resolved, and I'm happy for him," Embiid said. "I hope he has a chance to succeed, make a lot of money, play good basketball and be able to win. And I hope we both make the Finals, but he's on the losing side of it and we are on the winning side of it.

"But I think when you're looking at the situation, from where it probably came from, we couldn't do nothing. It was out of our control. So in that situation, you've just got to go with it.

"But I still believe we had a chance [to win together]. We were right there, especially with the team that we have right now. What he is able to add and what he has done, what we've allowed him to do, which, we gave the ball every single possession. ... It's unfortunate, but we've got to just move on and we've got a good group of guys that can grow and keep getting better."

After a season-opening one-point loss to hostMilwaukee, Embiid and the 76ers (3-1) picked up their third straight win against the Raptors. In addition to Embiid's dominance,Tobias Harris andKelly Oubre Jr.each scored 23 points.

While Embiid said that he didn't believe the Harden situation ever served as a distraction for the 76ers, he added that it wasn't up to him to discuss what potential moves could occur, or what Philadelphia got back in the deal -- a combination of two draft picks, a swap of draft picks and forwards Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington,Marcus Morris Sr.andKJ Martin.

Instead, he said that was for the front office to worry about.

"That's not my job," Embiid said. "My only job is to try to win. I just want to make that clear. I just want to be in the best position to win.

"I'm always going to believe in myself anyways. It doesn't matter who I play with. I love the guys that we have. We're going to go and fight every single night like we've been doing, and we always going have a chance to win. But as you see in the league, when guys have been winning, it takes a lot and it takes everybody to contribute. And I believe in our guys.

"But the only thing I care about is winning. That's my focus. I hope that we're all on the same page. because that's all I want. The moment we're not on the same page then that's a discussion for another day. But these guys want to win and we're going to do our best."

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