After the blockbuster trade on Feb. 10 that sent ex-Net James Harden to the Sixers for Ben Simmons, Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers gave a speech about staying focused on the present.
Sixers sophomore point guard Tirese Maxey listened closely. Then he adopted a “be ready” mentality in the latter half of the season.
“Coach Doc said something as soon as the trade went down,” Maxey told The Post at NBA All-Star weekend in Cleveland. “He was saying that we have new faces and we have opportunity, but we have a limited amount of time, so our focus has to be there through every shootaround, every practice, through every walk-through and every night that we step on the court to play.”
While at Ruffles and MTN DEW’s The Block activation — a three-day fan interactive experience with celebrities and NBA athletes — Maxey raved about the team’s chemistry just days into the 76ers having acquired Harden.
“The East is very competitive this season and we have one goal and that’s to be ready come playoff time, be healthy, be ready, chemistry going in the right direction and playing the best basketball we can possibly be playing heading into the playoffs,” he said.
The 76ers also traded away sharpshooter guard Seth Curry, center Andre Drummond and two first-round picks to the Nets in the Harden-Simmons swap. Maxey was just a few months into his rookie season when Philadelphia became embroiled in its saga with Simmons.
Last June, the 76ers became a constant headline after an early playoff elimination by the Hawks during which Simmons put on a historically poor offensive performance. After the second-round series, Simmons asked for a trade and cut ties with the team all together, raising questions about the culture and camaraderie in Philadelphia.
“I think the chemistry is extremely high, and our team morale is extremely high right now,” said Maxey, a Kentucky product that Philadelphia selected 21st overall in the 2020 NBA Draft.
“We have a great group of guys, guys that really like each other, guys that get along, guys that want to play with each other and guys that want to win. When you have those things that I just mentioned, you have great camaraderie, great togetherness and a team that wants to compete.”
Simmons, who skipped training camp last September, has yet to play a game this season. He previously informed the 76ers that he was not yet mentally ready to play — and that he was still working with a therapist to return to the court as early as last month, according to ESPN.
Nets coach Steve Nash said last week that physical conditioning has delayed Simmons’ debut.
Harden, meanwhile, made his 76ers debut last Friday in a win over the Timberwolves. He had 27 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds after returning from a hamstring issue — which the Nets said was the reason he missed his final games in Brooklyn.
Harden joined a Philadelphia team that entered the All-Star break third in the East, where they remain, just 2 1/2 games behind the Heat and Bulls.
Joel Embiid has kept the 76ers afloat with an MVP campaign-worthy effort this season, averaging 29.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. After Philadelphia’s 125-109 win over the Knicks on Sunday night, the All-Star center described the new duo as “unstoppable.”
Maxey went on to praise Embiid for setting a good example of leadership and communication — two things that Maxey said he personally has vastly improved.
“I think last year, just being a rookie, not going to training camp and being in and out the rotation, I didn’t talk as much as I normally do on every team I’ve been a part of, no matter how old I was,” Maxey said. “Now, probably being one of the youngest on the team… if not the youngest in the rotation, I feel like I’m very vocal. I can talk to every one of my teammates… And like I said, our off-the-court relationships and respect that we have to each other, we can demand the most out of each other, and that’s something that’s very special.”
One off-the-court relationship that’s been special for Maxey is his friendship with Embiid.
“He feels like he has the respect that he can criticize, help me and push me to be the best I can possibly be — and I think our entire team has that,” Maxey said. “We’re able to have tough conversations with one another… and we’re able to sit down and talk about it.”
Following back-to-back wins with Harden on the roster, the 76ers will host the Knicks on Wednesday.