Joel Embiid issued a blunt statement on his Philadelphia 76ers co-star James Harden after being bounced from the playoffs on Thursday, saying he’s not the player he once was.
Outside of a 31-point Game 4 explosion, Harden disappeared for most of the Sixers’ Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Heat. The former MVP was especially invisible as Philly bowed out in Game 6, notching just 11 points in 43 minutes on 4-of-9 shooting.
Embiid was asked about Harden after the game and gave an honest assessment of his play.
“Obviously, since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that’s not who he is anymore. He’s more of a playmaker,” Embiid told reporters. “I thought at times could’ve been, as all of us, could’ve been more aggressive.”
Sixers fans likely would have rather seen Harden go down swinging but his lack of aggression — highlighted by his scoreless second half — was tough to watch.
“We ran our offense,” Harden explained after the game. “I felt like the ball moved and it just didn’t get back to me.”
Doc Rivers Shifts Blame From Harden After Loss
While there was plenty of blame to go around after the season-ending loss, head coach Doc Rivers did not want to point the finger at Harden for the result.
“I’m not gonna make this a referendum on James, OK?” Rivers said in his postgame press conference. “We just could’ve played better. The ball could’ve moved more. Did we have enough time to get our stuff in? I thought we did, honestly. I thought we really did, but clearly, we didn’t.”
It’s not the first time Rivers found himself defending Harden in the series. When Embiid was out for the first two games of the series against the Heat, more focus got put on Harden to pick up the slack. The Sixers were not competitive in either contest, with Harden notching 20 and 16 points — far from the MVP-caliber numbers Philly fans were hoping for when he arrived.
“It’s not about James,” Rivers said after the Game 1 loss. “It’s about all of them. We’re a team, and we have to play better as a team. … It’s not one guy who’s going to take up slack from not having Joel.”
Harden’s Future Uncertain After Disappointing Exit
The Sixers and Harden have some thinking to do about their future following the disappointing exit. That being said, Harden gave a very direct answer about his future following Game 6.
“I’ll be here,” Harden said. “Whatever allows us to continue to grow and get better and do the things necessary to win and compete at a high level.”
Harden has a player option for a whopping $47 million that he’ll likely pick up this offseason. The Sixers could also offer him an extension and he could decide to take less than the max to give the team more flexibility to build the roster.
Considering his latest playoff stinker and seemingly sinking stock, it’s unknown if Harden would be able to draw max-money out of another franchise if he were to hit the open market.