Joel Embiid, of all people, was at a loss for words.
The 76ers center was asked Thursday if he would be interested in playing with LeBron James next season.
“Um …well … um. Is this tampering?” the all-star starter responded.
Embiid didn’t answer the question when speaking to reporters after his end-of-the-season exit interview. He did, however, say he’ll answer that question on July 1, when free agency begins.
For now, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals for the second straight season. The Celtics advanced to the series by defeating the Sixers, 4-1, in the conference semifinals. Boston clinched the series with a 114-112 home victory in Game 5.
But even though Embiid didn’t want to answer the question, all one has to do is follow him to social media to get the answer.
A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on
After the Sixers beat the Cavaliers on March 2, the big man posted a photo of him and James on Twitter with “Summer2018Goals” in the caption.
The post read: “Trust The Process??? Always a great time playing against one of the best to ever play the game #summer2018goals.”
And serious or not, Embiid’s recruitment of James to the Sixers goes back to July 1, 2014. That was five days after Philly selected the Cameroonian third overall in the draft.
@KingJames hey bro hope you're having a good day…… Want to join us in philly?? Peace
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) July 1, 2014
The Cavaliers superstar will become a free agent July 1. The Sixers, Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets, and Cavs are believed to be on his short list of teams. The Sixers are expected to have enough cap space available to go after an A-list free agent who could propel them to an NBA title. Josh Harris, the team’s co-managing partner, said he would even pay the luxury tax if need be to sign the right player.
“I’ll do whatever this team needs me to do,” Embiid said of attracting free agents. “I feel like I’m the leader. If the team needs me to recruit somebody, I’ll be here. I’ll be doing that.
“I want to win. I feel like any of those guys that they want to go after that’s going to help us win, I’ll be right here helping them.”
Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Paul George (free agency) and San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (via trade) have also been mentioned as potential Sixers for next season.
The hope is that the Sixers will contend for a title after adding an elite player.
Embiid was under the impression that the Sixers were close to contending for one after beating the Miami Heat, 4-1, in the opening round. That came after the Sixers went 52-30 in the regular season and locked up the conference’s third seed.
“I think we thought that it was going to be a little too easy,” he said of the Celtics series. “I won’t lie. But you can’t underestimate Boston. Boston was really good this series. You got to give them a lot of credit. I thought we were better.”
Embiid talked about how the Celtics were well coached and did everything right. They made shots and made the Sixers work for everything.
“So you got to give them a lot of credit,” he said. “But that was our first time being here, and it’s definitely going to help me in the long run.”
The taste of the postseason might have also made Embiid eager to start next season.
“I love being in the gym,” he said, “and I already miss basketball.”