Sixers’ Joel Embiid says he’s not mad he’s not MVP, but doesn’t know what he has to do to win it

Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had a painful night Tuesday, as he hurt his back and re-aggravated his orbital fracture during a Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat in their second-round playoff series. Adding insult to injury, Embiid was asked by reporters about his reaction to reports that the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic will be named MVP.

Embiid said he wasn’t surprised by the news., and had been waiting for the result ever since a poll by ESPN’s Tim Bontemps toward the end of the regular season showed most voters leaning Jokic. As a result, he wasn’t particularly upset.

Still, Embiid shared some broader thoughts on the voting process and who gets a vote. It’s worth reviewing the last part of your answer.

“Obviously congratulations to Nikola, he deserved it. He had an amazing season. There’s no right or wrong. There were a lot of candidates. It could have gone either way. Giannis, Devin Booker are on the best team in the league so far, so I guess every year it’s about what they decide, what fits the narrative as to who’s going to win.”

Embiid is correct that there were plenty of deserving candidates. It ended up becoming a two-man race between him and Jokic, but Giannis Antetokounmpo could easily have won the third trophy from him and you could easily defend Devin Booker as the best player on the best team.

And although it is never explicitly acknowledged, there is a narrative aspect to the award. Team success, player career arcs, and past results matter; it is not strictly a “best player in the league” designation. That’s why LeBron James doesn’t have 10 MVPs and no matter how great Jokic is next season, he has zero chance of winning. Ironically, the storytelling aspect is why Embiid will likely win him next season as long as he stays healthy.

“But for me, the only thing I’m going to say about these awards is, until, I don’t know how to explain it. I go back to what I heard on a podcast. Bill Simmons basically says ‘f—Jalen Green. If you’re going to let this kind of people vote for these awards, that’s not fair. What if Jalen Green was in a position to win a supermax, or I don’t know, an All-Star appearance? He’s got someone who sounds like that and has a lot of power. It can influence a lot of other members of the media and you have someone saying that kind of thing, I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s right.”

This is only somewhat related to the actual MVP discussion and seems like a general media opportunity. It’s also worth noting that this specific Simmons joke that keeps being referenced was a (perhaps ill-advised) joke that was taken completely out of context. But Embiid’s biggest point about the problems with prize voting that have financial implications for players is widely shared.

“That’s really the only thing I’m going to say about those awards. I’m not mad. The last two years in a row I’ve put myself in that position. It didn’t happen. It’s almost like at this point, it’s whatever. Whatever happens, happens. Last year I campaigned on it, this year I answered questions when they asked me, and the next year, you know, a few years before I retire, it’s almost like I don’t know what else I have to do to win it. To me, it’s whatever. It’s about, not that I wasn’t focusing on the big picture, but it’s really time to put all my energy into the big picture, which is to win everything.”

Embiid wondering what he has to do to win MVP is certainly fair, as he more than deserved it this season. But in truth, he did what he was supposed to do and controlled what he could control. The only thing he did “wrong” was play this well during the same season as two other great historical players.

The most interesting aspect of this quote is that Embiid acknowledges how much he had been thinking about MVP. He may not have been bothered by the actual outcome, but it’s clear that the whole process weighed on him to some degree. Maybe a weight will be lifted from his shoulders if he can stop worrying about it next season.

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