CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — James Harden leaned into a microphone and deadpanned that he lost 100 pounds over the summer. Joel Embiid’s summer vacation — at least, according to the NBA scoring champion — was spent entirely in bed.
And what of that NBA investigation into the Philadelphia 76ers for possible tampering in offseason free-agency moves?
“The league office does an amazing job,” basketball President Daryl Morey said.
Well, that seems settled.
But for a franchise that has seen a smattering of tumultuous issues and confusing players over the last decade, the 76ers enter the season at peace. The Sixers enter training camp this week at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, without a significant injury or a holdout or a trade demand or any kind of distraction that could derail them from a serious championship run.
Harden has snapped out of the “tough times, lot of dark moments” that plagued him the last couple of seasons as he dealt with injuries. Embiid is recovered from hand injuries that cost him playoff games.
“I believe this, this is the best talent I’ve had since I’ve been here,” third-year 76ers coach Doc Rivers said at team headquarters in New Jersey.
Harden and Embiid can make a dominant pair. And Tyrese Maxey flashes smiles as wide as his potential, seemingly on the brink of a breakout season.
After the Sixers were eliminated in the second round by the Heat, Embiid said they needed more tough guys like P.J. Tucker. So Morey signed him away from Miami on a three-year deal. Tucker, though, did say Monday he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee about six weeks ago but was already cleared to return.
Harden, officially listed at 220 pounds, does look more in shape and doesn’t have the hamstring issues that bothered him for parts of last season. The 33-year-old is starting his first full season with the 76ers, and credits his physique transformation to a healthy diet, proper rest, strengthening his muscles and summer workouts with his teammates in Los Angeles.
And, yes, Embiid shook out of his so-called summer slumber and joined the pickup sessions.
“We know what we’ve got to do,” Embiid said. “We kind of know what it takes to win, so we’ve got to go out there and do it.”
Harden’s return triggered the only minor hiccup in the offseason. The 10-time All-Star declined his $47.4 million player option, instead agreeing to a new two-year deal that will pay him $32 million in 2022-23. Harden said his decision was meant to give the 76ers the flexibility they needed to go after other players, such as Tucker and Danuel House.
“Thanks to James for what he did. Without him it would not be possible, all these additions,” Embiid said.
So did Harden actually encourage the new teammates to join the 76ers?
“The role he played was nothing because he didn’t really call me,” House said.
The Sixers also added backup center Montrezl Harrell, the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2019-2020. Again, Harrell said he made up his mind to join the Sixers without any input from Harden.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, man,” Harrell said. “I think that’s called tampering.”
Mum’s the word these days in Philly, including from Harden about his mental state from dealing with injuries.
“You want me to tell you how I was feeling,” Harden asked. “I don’t want to tell you how I was feeling.”
But he was honest about what he wants to achieve in Philly.
“Win as many as championship as I can,” he said.