Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had a painful night on 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. To add insult to injury, Embiid was then asked by reporters about his reaction to reports that the Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic will be named MVP.
Embiid said that he wasn't surprised about the news, and had been expecting the result ever since a straw poll by ESPN's Tim Bontemps towards the end of the regular season showed most voters were leaning towards Jokic. As a result, he was not particularly upset.
Still, Embiid shared some broader thoughts about the voting process and who gets a vote. It's worth going through the latter part of his response.
"Obviously, congrats to Nikola, he deserved it. He had an amazing season. There's no right or wrong. There was a lot of candidates. It could have gone either way. Giannis, Devin Booker being on the best team in the league by far, so I guess every year it's all about whatever you guys decided, whatever fits the narrative as far as who's going to win."
Embiid is correct in that there were a bunch of deserving candidates. It ended up turning into a two-man race between him and Jokic, but Giannis Antetokounmpo easily could have won his third trophy and you could easily make a case for Devin Booker as the best player on the best team.
And while it's never explicitly acknowledged, there is a narrative aspect to the award. Team success, players' career arcs and past results matter; it's 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 narrative aspect is why Embiid is probably going to win it next season as long as he stays healthy.
"But to me, the only thing I'll say about these awards is that, until, I don't know how to explain it. I go back to what I heard on a podcast. Bill Simmons basically saying 'f--- Jalen Green.' If you're going to allow these type of people to vote on these awards, that's not fair. What if Jalen Green was in a position to earn a supermax, or I don't know, an All-Star appearance? You've got someone sounding like that and has a lot of power. He can sway a lot of other media members and you got someone saying that type of stuff, I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's OK."
This is only somewhat related to the actual MVP discussion and seems like a general shot at the media. It's also worth noting that this specific Simmons quip that keeps being referenced was a (perhaps ill-advised) joke that has been taken completely out of context. But Embiid's larger point about the problems with award voting having financial implications for players is widely shared.
"That's really the only thing I'll 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 about it, this year I answered questions when I was asked, and the next, you know, 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 just whatever. It's all about -- not that I wasn't focusing on the bigger picture but it's really time to really put all my energy into the bigger picture which is to win the whole thing."
Embiid wondering what he has to do to win MVP is certainly fair, as he was more than deserving 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 playing this well during the same season as two other historically great players.
The more interesting aspect of this quote is Embiid acknowledging how much he had been thinking about MVP. He may not have been upset about the actual result, but it's clear the whole process was weighing on him to some extent. Perhaps a weight will be lifted from his shoulders if he can stop worrying about it next season.