CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid has tried to keep the ruse alive — that he was nothing more than a 7-foot couch potato this summer. To hear Embiid tell it, every day was easy like a lazy Sunday morning.
His biggest offseason accomplishment?
“Sleep,” he said with a laugh Thursday.
Perhaps, though, the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise center wasn’t exaggerating about his desire for some R&R.
Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend share a 2-year-old son. That can tucker out even the biggest of big men. He was put through rigorous workouts this summer by his long-time personal trainer in Beverly Hills. Tiring, for sure.
And there was a pressing personal process: A native of Cameroon who also holds French citizenship, Embiid was sworn in two weeks ago in Philadelphia as an American citizen.
“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press on Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”
The 28-year-old Embiid graduated from a Florida high school and played a season in college at Kansas before the 76ers drafted him No. 3 overall in 2014. The natural question raised is, which country could Embiid potentially represent in international basketball? Embiid defused speculation and said it was way too early to think about the Olympics or other international tournaments.
“I just want to be healthy and win a championship and go from there,” he told the AP.
After missing his first two seasons with injuries, Embiid has been every bit the dominant force in the NBA over the past six seasons. Once the poster child for load management, Embiid set career highs in games (68) and minutes (33.8 average) and his 30.6 points made him the first international player ever to win an NBA scoring title. He’s a five-time All-Star and was runner-up two seasons ago to Denver’s Nikola Jokic in MVP voting.
Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and P.J. Tucker might form the Sixers’ most potent lineup since 2019 and they have a legitimate shot at contending for an NBA championship. Coach Doc Rivers, in his third season, knows the scoring load isn’t a democracy — it starts with the Big Man. And even Embiid has room to grow.
“It’s just keep getting better at being a teammate and making everybody else better,” Rivers said Thursday. “That’s the next step, dominating. Giving room for James to dominate. Giving room for Tyrese to dominate. Giving room for Tobias to have a great game. I think he’s actually doing that right now.”
Embiid also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping the 76ers reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with an orbital fracture. He had offseason surgery to repair the torn ligament in his right thumb suffered in the playoffs; he also had a procedure to repair an injury to his left index finger.
Embiid said his thumb “is still not the same.”
“You can’t control freak accidents,” Embiid said. “I need to keep on going. I’m only doing this for 20 years. I need to get it all in while I can.”
With a commitment to durability, Embiid spent his summer again with trainer Drew Hanlen — an unaffiliated NBA guru for many stars — and watched countless hours of film and worked on techniques that could shore up his deficiencies. Embiid was known early in his career for sucking down Shirley Temples but has worked with sports dietitians to develop healthier eating habits and streamlined his workouts to keep him fresh for the 82-game NBA grind.
And yes, Hanlen said, Embiid does have improved sleeping habits. When he’s awake, Embiid puts in the work.
“We know that teams can’t guard him 1-on-1 anymore. They have to send multiple defenders and they have to send them fast,” Hanlen said by phone. “That’s the biggest thing, we’ve tried to expand his game and grow his game to kind of counter that.”
Hanlen and Embiid have analyzed film on the NBA careers of former stars such as Kobe Bryant, Hakeem Olajuwan and Dirk Nowitzki. When Embiid wanted to study more of those NBA greats during the playoffs, Hanlen laughed as he recalled that was nothing more he could give his prized pupil. Embiid had every single made field goal from Nowitzki and others on a folder on his computer. But there was plenty in Embiid’s postseason performance to scrutinize.
“One of the things we saw was that when teams were fronting him and he wasn’t able to catch the ball in favorable spots, he wasn’t able to dominate the game like he did in the regular season,” Hanlen said. “The biggest thing we wanted to do was find a way to counter that so he could generate his own offense without having to rely on post entries and play calls.”
Hanlen also wanted Embiid to “feel more comfortable driving from the perimeter and finish around the basket.”
Embiid wants it all now — the ring, the parade, the MVP, defensive awards. Sixers fans can enjoy him for years. Embiid’s four-year, $196 million contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season and takes him through 2026-27.
“I feel like there’s a reason why I was fortunate to be the leading scorer last year,” Embiid said. “I feel like I’m good enough to be put in any position to score the ball. At the end of the day, when I get the ball it’s not about me scoring the ball. It’s about me making plays for myself and my teammates.”
Embiid became the face of the 76ers’ rebuilding effort more commonly known as The Process. He embraced the nickname and is introduced before every home game as Joel “The Process” Embiid. He was also introduced as playing out of Kansas until he switched it to Cameroon around midseason last year. Embiid’s triple-threat nationality might give PA announcer Matt Cord a mouthful this season.
“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” Embiid told AP with a laugh.