Harden, Rivers look shaky as 76ers crash out of second round yet again
Embiid will stay, but jury's out on who'll help him take shot at a championship
Trust the Process? Joel Embiid doesn't even trust his teammates. At least the ones not named James Harden, just the players — ones like Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey that he's won a lot of games with over the years — that he deemed didn't rise to the occasion for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Yet, when the 76ers truly needed Embiid to play like an MVP, where was he?
Embiid scored just 15 points in Game 7 against Boston in a landmark defeat that thrust the franchise into its most pivotal off-season since 2013, when it launched the decade-long program toward a championship.
Doc Rivers might not come back. Harden, too.
Embiid will return, though, saying all the right things about how much he cares and wants to win it all while the stench of a third Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals since 2019 lingers over Philly.
Jalen Hurts led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Bryce Harper took the Phillies to the World Series. Embiid's legacy in Philly is quickly getting stamped as a second-round kind of guy.
Embiid is smart enough to realize that if he has any shot at a championship, he needs Harden — or at least another star — by his side. Harden has a player option for next season.
“I'm gonna stay out of it. But I still believe that me and him, we got the chance to win,” Embiid said. “It's going to take more than us. We've all got to look at ourselves. I got be better and I will be better. That's what I'm focused on. All of us, we got to come back and find ways to just keep improving and help the team. We can't win alone, I can't win alone, me and James, we just can't win alone.”
Embiid's critique was quickly ripped by fans, media, even fellow NBA players, who questioned why the all-star needed to drag his teammates into the muck after his disappearing act the last two games was a huge reason for the early exit.
So now what?
Harden, who played the last few months with nagging left Achilles soreness, has a player option of US$35.6 million. He was vague on what he might do this summer.
“I just want to have a chance to obviously compete,” he said.
Asked to describe his relationship with Rivers and if he'd like Rivers to return for a fourth season, Harden said “our relationship is OK” and didn't answer the second part of the question.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Rivers, who is 6-10 in Game 7s, said he expected to return next season to finish the final two years of his contract. But he understood the reality of the NBA, where coaches such as Nick Nurse (Toronto) and Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee) have been fired already after winning championships since 2019.
“No one is safe in our business and I get that,” Rivers said.
Embiid turns 30 next March — just as another gruelling post-season run awaits — and his bangedup body likely can't survive too many more legitimate attempts at winning it all.
Team president Daryl Morey heads into the summer trying to figure out how to get Embiid that championship parade, and if Harden and Rivers are still part of the plan to get him there.