With veteran Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love hurting, it would seem that precocious Philadelphia rookie Joel Embiid would have the fastest track at earning an All-Star Game gig as an injury replacement. On Sunday, it was announced that Love suffered a knee injury and setback …
The Cavs announced Sunday that Love complained of soreness during their 125-109 win over the Nuggets Saturday night. He underwent an MRI Sunday. The team did not announce the results, but said Love would not play against the Timberwolves in Minnesota Tuesday night.
… one that might keep him out long enough to force the 28 year-old from playing in his fourth All-Star Game. Embiid, who missed out on the fan and reserve ballots despite a strong on and off-court push, would appear if healthy to be the next in line.
There might be a line, but Embiid ain’t in it. The 76ers center has missed nine consecutive games already with a left knee bone bruise, and the team on Saturday evening confirmed that the 22 year-old has a meniscus tear in the same knee.
A small tear. Take solace at the suggestion that has the Sixers declining to line Embiid up for an operation on the aching knee. Derek Bodner was the first to break the news:
Joel Embiid has a torn meniscus in his left knee, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
The tear was discovered after Embiid underwent an MRI following a 93-92 victory on January 20th over the Portland Trailblazers. Embiid left the game in the third quarter with a left knee contusion after landing awkwardly following a drive to the basket.
Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo addressed the media on Saturday:
“A lot of players do play with minor tears,” Colangelo said. “Once again, the injury is thought to be mostly about the bone bruise and that’s what he’s being treated for. If he can show he is healthy and able to play, there is no reason he shouldn’t play. This is not thought to be a severe injury.”
A meniscus tear can significantly alter a career’s arc, as repeated tears can lead to bone-on-bone situations that severely limit a player’s athleticism and dexterity. Still, a “tear” isn’t an either/or pitch as you would see with knee ligaments, and we don’t doubt Colangelo when he says that players have worked before “with minor tears.”
Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen, as Philadelphia’s season rattles on. Players have played on ACL tears before, too. Adonal Foyle once played with what was basically a jai alai scoop on his arm. None of these are good things.
Philadelphia is a surprising 20-34 on the season, with none of Colangelo’s hoped-for offseason acquisitions contributing significantly to the cause. The squad is 13-18 with Embiid but only 7-16 (after Saturday’s inspiring victory over the Dion Waiters-less Miami Heat, snapping Miami’s 13-game winning streak) with the center out of the line.
Five games out of the final playoff spot in the East with 38 contests left to work, there is still a chance (even considering his minutes limit) that Embiid could lead Philadelphia to its first postseason trip since 2012. What’s his status moving forward?
“It’s more than likely we’ll hold him back until the end of the All-Star break,” Colangelo said.
That diagnosis comes on the heels of the semi-viral video that dashed around Saturday, showing Embiid dancing onstage at a Meek Mill concert on Friday night after being invited ashore by the hip-hop artist:
For Sixers fans, still mindful of the way former washout center Andrew Bynum chose to exacerbate his own (surgically-repaired) knee woes by going bowling during his surgical rehab, the clips were met by some with a growl, which is understandable. Just as we shouldn’t chide Embiid for doing as 22-year olds do on their nights off, understand that the biggest part of Joel Embiid’s job is the ability to stand, run and jump (hopefully) without pain.
The answer for our anxiety somewhere in the middle. Maybe save it for a summer scratch, Joel, and not during a multi-game injury sabbatical. Here is Embiid’s Saturday reaction:
“Meek invited me to the stage,” Embiid said. “I had fun. That’s what I’m about, just enjoying life.”
“Being at the concert was not disappointing,” Colangelo said. “Probably being on stage and dancing was a little bit given the circumstances and given the potential reaction.”
“The conversations I had with Joel after I saw the video included a lot, some of which you mentioned,” Brown said. “By and large, I’d probably prefer it was a private conversation.”
Asked if he was disappointed by Embiid’s actions, Brown said: “I’m not going to go there anymore. I’ve spoken with Joel privately and I’ll leave it at that.”
The Sixers are choosing silence, which is best for them in the sense that the matter remains in-house, while all sensible 76ers fans will know what was addressed and encouraged behind closed doors.
What of the knee, though?
Recall that it was foot woes, and not knee setbacks, that kept Embiid on Philadelphia’s bench for two full professional seasons following his selection in the 2014 NBA draft. In the Sixers’ case, “pre-existing” only refers to the timing of the MRI used to find the meniscus tear, nobody is trying to drop a dime on since-so’long’ed members of the Philadelphia front office, but that doesn’t mean this should worry observers.
All-Stars and near-stars like Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe have undergone multiple surgeries after suffering a torn meniscus, and while both are playing at standout levels in 2016-17 (unlike another former two-time meniscus tear sufferer, Derrick Rose), the full return isn’t always the point. Both re-tore the meniscus, both had to go back (and sometimes back again) under the knife, and both missed significant time with no guarantee that they would ever return to their full, explosive pre-tear form.
Athleticism wasn’t the biggest worry for 76ers teammate Jahlil Okafor, who was originally supposed to be sidelined for a month and a half after undergoing his own meniscus surgery last March, though it was clear months later in the fall and winter that the second-year big man still wasn’t fully healthy after his setback.
What’s there to trust this time around? Some 76ers observers aren’t high on Bryan Colangelo’s work as the go-between thus far, especially after the team was more or less forced to admit to the meniscus tear on top of the bone bruise after Derek Bodner’s report.
Jake Pavorsky at Liberty Ballers questions just how far the Sixers have come with their attempts at transparency, especially in comparison to the legacy of Colangelo’s predecessor in Sam Hinkie:
Embiid injured his right knee in a nasty fall against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20 while attempting to land after a dunk. He left the game only to return a short time later, but it was clear the 22-year-old was not 100 percent. The Sixers allowed him — despite knowing he had a torn meniscus — to play in the team’s nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets. According to Colangelo, he hasn’t played since that game over two weeks ago because he’s been dealing with periodic swelling in that knee, and despite labeling him as day-to-day, it’s unlikely he’ll play again before the All-Star break.
It was never supposed to be this way. Colangelo was brought in to open the curtains for an organization that preferred to keep everything in the dark. Instead, fans and media are dealing with the same problems they were forced to combat with Hinkie, and they have the right to be frustrated with their general manager’s lack of sincerity.
Take that as you will. Embiid on Saturday admitted that he remains unable to play, but there is hope waiting just around the bend:
“I’m not healthy,” Embiid said. “Got to take care of my knee, this bone bruise. It’s been on and off. Work out and then swells up a little but and then got to slow it down. Like I said, it’s all about patience. But no, I’m not healthy … I’m not able to play right now.”
“I would say today’s the best day I felt in the past two weeks.”
Embiid, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, two assists and nearly a steal per game in just 25 minutes per contest, nearly earned an All-Star bid despite a minutes restriction that will last all season. There is a sound chance, with just two games (Monday at Charlotte, Wednesday in Boston) before the All-Star break, that he will miss out on his chance to participate in Friday’s Futures Game, or the Saturday Skills Competition.
And, if Kevin Love sits, he probably won’t take his spot on the All-Star Game bench. We’re more worried, with every reason to tank in a season that could offer two significant high-end lottery picks in a loaded NBA draft, about this minor tear being used as the eventual instrument to sit Embiid time that reflects the usual rehab length for a meniscus tear.
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