Embiid says he plans to return this season, discusses injury and next steps

Embiid says he plans to return this season, discusses injury and next steps originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid wore a Sixers sweatshirt, held a basketball in his hands, and sat down in front of microphones on the final day of February.

Though absent from all games in the month because of his left lateral meniscus injury, Embiid has been rehabbing and confirmed Thursday that he plans to return this season.

Beyond that, he didn’t offer any specifics on a timeline.

“It’s all about how I feel,” Embiid said. “Rehab is going pretty well. Ups and downs, but you manage it. The goal is just to try to get as healthy as possible and come back.”

Why is the reigning MVP aiming to make a late-season return for a team currently sixth in the tight Eastern Conference standings?

“The same reason I was pushing the last couple games,” Embiid said. “I just love playing basketball. I want to be on the floor. I only have about 20 years to do this so every chance I get, I want to be on the floor.

“It doesn’t matter where we are (in the standings) — four, five, three, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11. It doesn’t really matter where we are, I just want to play as much as I can and try to help us.”

As far as that emphasis on pushing through, Embiid said he wouldn’t have handled the stretch before Jonathan Kuminga landed on his left knee any differently.

Embiid missed five January games because of his bothersome knee, including the two prior to that painful, nightmarish game against the Warriors.

“It wasn’t (only) about those last couple games,” he said. “It was the same thing that was happening a couple weeks before, where I just felt like I wasn’t myself but I was still good enough to go out there because I know that 60 or 70 percent of me can still help the team a lot on both ends of the floor.

“At the time, we had just lost two, three games in a row and guys were going down. Like I said, my mindset is to play, so I’ve got to do whatever it takes to help the team. Sometimes it helps me, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Embiid called the injury “super annoying” and “extremely frustrating,” though he smiled as he described his recent shift to being more of a stay-at-home father.

“Other than rehabbing, family time,” he said of his last few weeks. “Honestly, this is probably the best time … my family, just being around them — my wife, my son. He’s loving it right now. I’m not going anywhere, I’m not doing anything. He’s getting too used to it. He doesn’t want me to leave the house anymore.

“It’s fun, just playing around. Obviously he goes to school, but all day just hanging out and doing a bunch of different stuff. Family time has been great and I’m sure they’re enjoying it, too.”

The Sixers went 4-8 without Embiid in February. While they’d been trending up health-wise after the All-Star break, De’Anthony Melton re-injured his back in a loss Tuesday night to the Celtics and KJ Martin’s been sidelined by a right ankle impingement. Martin is not yet back to 100 percent, though his injury doesn’t appear serious. At a minimum, Melton won’t play Friday night vs. the Hornets.

“KJ went through about three quarters of practice today,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “Still not quite cleared to go all-out. That could change at any time, though. He’s getting a little bit better every day. And Melt is out, and we don’t know how long for.”

Though available, Tobias Harris has played poorly over the Sixers’ four games since the break.

Without prompting, Embiid mentioned the veteran forward on Thursday.

“What I’ve learned being around is that my presence helps a lot,” he said. “I just talked to Tobias for almost an hour the other day, just trying to help him.

“He’s a good player. We all go through rough patches and I’m sure he’s going to come out of it. But I think just my presence — being around the team. Obviously traveling is a little different because I’ve got to focus on my rehab. But as much as I can be around, that’s what I’m going to do.”

As an on-court presence, Embiid knows he’d be immensely valuable if he indeed came back this season.

“I still believe that as a basketball player, I can do way better than the level I was playing at,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in myself and I also feel like I can bring a lot of things to the team as far as my impact on both ends of the floor.

“So I always believe. It doesn’t matter who’s on the roster, it doesn’t matter who’s coaching. I still believe that I have a chance to win, no matter what the situation is.

“We were playing at a high level, especially when we had everybody healthy. I believe that the way Tyrese (Maxey) has been playing and the couple guys that we added … and then obviously everybody else needs to follow. I still think we’ve got a pretty good chance.”