The Philadelphia 76ers won’t play on Christmas this year because, well, why would they?
The team is still stuck deep within The Process, losers of five straight to begin the season after winning just 47 combined games in the three previous seasons while gathering the sort assets that only losing can provide. The NBA doesn’t usually like to schedule teams boasting a 47-199 record to work on the league’s showcase slate of day and evening games on the holiday, especially the sort of 47-199 team that can start a season 0-5 without a blown synapse in the house. The Sixers, as usual, are playing as expected.
What will improve, reportedly starting on Dec. 26, is the team’s ability to field its best players. “Rookie” center Joel Embiid and scoring pivotman Jahlil Okafor will see their playing time restrictions (currently stuck at around 24 minutes a game) lift following that unofficial demarcation point, placed nearly two months following the start of the 2016-17 season.
Sixers coach Brett Brown, prior to his team’s close loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday evening, confirmed the idea. From Dave McMenamin at ESPN:
“As I understand it, [the minutes] will not escalate until Christmas and then it will only be judged,” Brown said Saturday before the Sixers lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-101. “It may stay the same then, too.”
“There is always a judgment, a decision in relation to back-to-backs, but as a sort of a cut-off minute restriction, I believe that it’s going to stay at 24 until Christmas,” Brown said. “And then we’ll judge that second third [of the season] after that first third ends. We’ll judge that second third accordingly.”
“I think as I watch them and we judge their fitness, I think at times going beyond four five-minute segments is not good for them,” Brett Brown said. “I feel like fatigue sets in given the amount of time that they’ve been able to play and practice, etcetera.”
This would be wonderful news for any team, as Embiid clearly looks like a franchise center to begin his career, and Okafor remains an intriguing prospect despite some on and off-court setbacks from 2015-16.
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If we’ve learned anything from the myriad significant injuries that can befall pro talents, meniscus tears in the knee and Jones fractures in the foot are certainly worth minding in ways that even ACL tears or (if Paul George is any indication) broken legs are worth fretting over.
Okafor, who slightly tore his right meniscus late in his pockmarked rookie season, is averaging just 19.5 minutes in four games thus far with Philly in 2016-17. He’s averaged 10.5 points and 4.3 rebounds, in work off of the 76ers’ bench.
Embiid has not only impressed Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who behind closed doors referred to Joel as the league’s most talented center recently, but also anyone else who doubted that a solid two-year break placed during his precocious years would get in the way of his significant development and potential.
It’s early, of course, but Embiid has played marvelous basketball through four games, averaging 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and three blocks in only 22 minutes a contest.
On Saturday night, during his team’s loss to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the center took the time to properly introduce himself to Finals MVP LeBron James:
“It’s great to just see him healthy on the floor,” James said Saturday before the Cavs’ shootaround. “But I don’t know, I’m no GM … I’m not a GM. They picked him for a reason. He’s a huge body, can shoot the three, great footwork. It’s just good to see him out on the floor for the 76ers’ franchise. But I don’t get paid right now to scout guys right now. Maybe a few years when I’m done.”
How’s about a few hours?
The rest of Embiid’s 22-point, four-block performance (save for the six turnovers and sustained rebounding worries) was just as delightful:
The Sixers will spend Christmas out West, stuck in the middle of a four-game road trip, with the team’s first restriction-free contest (presuming the hope holds up) coming against the Sacramento Kings on Dec. 26. By then, it is very possible that the team will be out of playoff contention.
Which is just fine.
The Sixers were never going anywhere anyway despite the New Leadership’s “look at us!” fake move to distance itself from the bottoming-out process initiated by the well-intentioned but unsatisfactorily-executed term of former general manager Sam Hinkie. Philly made a show of chasing down Manu Ginobili in an attempt to make a stir in free agency prior to signing the injured Jerryd Bayless to add some working flip-phone knowledge to the roster, and they’ll be just as settled with potentially two upcoming high-end lottery picks (one pilfered from the Lakers a year and a half ago) as the previous administration was.
This won’t mean Embiid and Okafor will be fully let loose, either. Jones fractures and meniscus tears can put a prospect in danger far, far following any return to full health and shape, as the league comes to a better understanding of the fact that 7-footers running and jumping as called-upon in the modern era just ain’t normal. At least for the same sort of extended minutes that slighter players are expected to play.
The revelation also begs for more patience from 76ers fans, but they’ll have Jerryd Bayless soon enough to help out with the wait.
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