As if we didn’t see this coming, as if we haven’t been down this path before with Nerlens Noel, and if we weren’t aware of Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie’s modus operandi. No. 3 pick Joel Embiid was originally slated to miss four to six months with a broken navicular bone in his right foot, but Hinkie revealed on Friday that the team’s second straight Big Man of the Future will actually be out five to eight months.
Or longer. Because we’ve seen this dance before.
"Timeframe -- I've seen reported some 4 to 6 months -- that's not the number that I've heard," Hinkie said. "The number that I've heard from the surgeon himself was 5 to 8 months."
"Guess what our approach will be? We will focus on the long-term health of the player," Hinkie said. "We've had this discussion before. ... It is all that matters, the long-term health of the player. Will we be smart about that? Of course. Will we be thoughtful about that? I hope so. Will we be patient? Yes. We will give him every chance to be as healthy as he can be."
Bad jokes aside, this is good.
Last season, we railed against the Sixers for not giving Nerlens Noel at least token minutes toward the end of the season, pointing out that Noel was in no danger of winning the 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year, and that his raw rookie game wasn’t going to get in the way of the 76ers losing as many games as possible on their way to the lottery.
Noel was returning from an ACL tear, though, and ACLs don’t exactly wear out. They just, sadly, snap. Embiid? He’s dealing with something different.
Infamously, he’s working with the sort of bad break that ended Yao Ming’s career far too early and limited Bill Walton’s pro career severely. Former Cleveland Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas managed to have a long and successful career after breaking his two different times, but he was never the same player athletically.
Embiid? He’s hardly a plodder working with the sort of massive frame that Yao and Big Z had to support, but unlike an ACL recovery, there are lasting complications that could result from a player being pushed back onto the court with tiny bones in the feet that just aren’t ready.
And, yeah, back the jokes – the Sixers don’t want to win next year, they spent another draft pick on a project in Dario Saric that is signed to play for a team in Turkey for the next two seasons, and Noel will still be as raw as they come despite the team’s dedicated approach to his rehabilitation and the restructuring of his jump shot.
Philadelphia should have played Nerlens Noel late last year. They shouldn’t have made it so that his NBA debut will come some 20-plus months after his final game as a collegian, if only to help him find his sea legs. He’ll feel like he’s attempting to cross a busy highway come the first few months of 2014-15, mainly because his in-game timing will be severely off in spite of a Summer League and exhibition season play. A brief run late in 2013-14 could have helped avoid that.
Players come back from ACL tears, though. All the way back. Putting two screws in a navicular bone is a different story, and nobody should be surprised if the Sixers decide in late February that eight months just wasn’t enough time off for the team’s newest high lottery pick.
Partially because they’re the tankin’ Sixers. Mostly, though, because you don’t want to mess around with an injury like this.
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