Joel Embiid aims for championship with 76ers’ new big three

LAS VEGAS — A year ago, the Philadelphia 76ers were looking at a very uncertain future.

James Harden had demanded a trade. Tyrese Maxey had yet to prove himself as a full-fledged All-Star. And both the 76ers and Joel Embiid, then the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, were coming off disappointing second-round playoff exits.

The message from the franchise — specifically 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey — to its star at the time was clear and consistent: Be patient and we’ll build you a championship-caliber team. But while Morey and the 76ers did acquire Paul George in free agency this offseason — something Philadelphia was only able to do by spending its resources wisely over the past year to create the maximum cap space needed to sign the nine-time All-Star — Embiid admitted to ESPN that he wasn’t always sure that plan would work.

“I’d be lying if I said my patience hasn’t been tested,” Embiid told ESPN. “Because I’m at the point where there are no awards, no regular season, no All-NBA, no All-Stars, my legacy is going to change. Well, there’s a few things that can change it, but the biggest thing is the championship. So when you start thinking about how you want to be remembered, you want to be remembered as someone who won.

“When you get a plan, sometimes it goes wrong, sometimes it goes right. We still have a long way to go. On paper it looks great. But we still have to get out on the field and make it work.”

The plan Morey presented to Embiid was simple: the 76ers would eventually agree to Harden’s trade request, but only if it either brought back a star player in return or gave Philadelphia the resources to acquire one. The 76ers ultimately sent Harden to the LA Clippers, along with P.J. Tucker, and received expiring contracts and draft capital in return, creating the cap space needed to sign a max free agent.

And while Embiid said he’ll leave it up to the media to decide whether he, George and Maxey (all All-Stars a year ago) make up the NBA’s best “Big Three,” he wasn’t shy about how well he thinks the three will work together on the court with the 76ers.

“Yeah, I think it looks great as far as the fit,” Embiid told ESPN. “It’s great, especially when you have a big … I don’t like to call myself a big, but when you have a player that posts up and gets a lot of ISOs, you need willing shooters and guys that are not afraid to pull the trigger. PG, great shooter, 40%, 45 catch and shoot; Tyrese, we know great shooter, off the dribble, catch-and-shoot.

“On paper and in terms of fit, it looks fantastic. You have two guys who can play well with the ball, who can play well with the ball, who can shoot well, who can handle the ball well. And then you have me,” he added with a smile.

“So yeah, it looks great.”

Embiid used the phrase “on paper” a few times during the interview before describing where the 76ers stand right now. He praised the retention of Kelly Oubre Jr. and the signings of Caleb Martin, Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon, among other things.

But the same phrase has been used frequently in discussions within the league and in the media about the 76ers since Embiid signed, due to the lengthy injury histories of both Embiid and George in their careers.

What makes Embiid especially excited about this team is that he believes the arrival of George and the emergence of Maxey can help alleviate the pressure of his day-to-day dominance.

Embiid is coming off a season in which he averaged 34.7 points in 39 games, missing much of the season with a knee injury, and was on track to become the second player (joining Wilt Chamberlain) to average more points than minutes played in a season.

“It excites me because I think it can actually keep me healthy,” Embiid said. “I don’t have to exert myself and make sure I have 30, 40 every night to win, and I can let them do their thing.

“There will be nights when they get it done and that’s fine… but if I have 10 or 15 [points]Yeah, that’s fine. But there’s going to be some nights like that, and then there’s going to be some nights where I get it done. So it’s all going to be good at the end of the day. But I think the goal is to just let those guys be themselves, so I don’t have to … in the playoffs, that’s a different story. Now we can get going. But in a regular season, just let them feel good about themselves and just play well.”

Only time will tell if Embiid and the 76ers can finally make a playoff run with him fully healthy and ready to go. In the meantime, though, Embiid and his teammates will be preparing for a new season with a much different roster around him — albeit a very talented one. And while he’s excited about the fit, he admitted that it’s going to take some time for everything to fall into place.

“It feels like you’re starting all over again,” he said. “And I know there’s going to be a lot of growing pains. But you just have to keep going.

“The goal is always to win a championship, but that doesn’t just happen overnight. And hopefully it doesn’t take us as long as it should, when you’re trying to get everyone on the same page and make sure everyone knows what their role is and what they need to do to make sure we achieve that goal.

“But we will do our best.”

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