After three absolutely dismal seasons spent sinking to the bottom of the NBA in pursuit of a treasure trove of talent at the top of the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers finally have reasons to be excited this season. The biggest one — well, literally, at least — is 7-foot-2 center Joel Embiid, who has missed the first two seasons of his professional career with foot injuries but is now reportedly 100 percent healthy and on track to play this season.
As excited as the 76ers are to finally get the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA draft on the court, though, they plan to proceed with extreme caution as they set about knocking off all the rust that’s accumulated since Embiid last played a game as a member of the Kansas Jayhawks on March 1, 2014.
“We will learn more about the restrictions that will come his way,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters last week.
And now, thanks to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, we have:
Embiid was expected to be an elite player since the time the Sixers selected him third overall in the 2014 draft. However, two operations on the navicular bone in the 7-foot-2, 275-pounder’s right foot prevented him from playing in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
The Sixers will have him on a minutes restriction. Embiid also isn’t expected to play on back-to-back nights. They won’t know if he’ll start at center against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the season-opener until after consulting with the medical staff.
Rich Hoffman of PhillyVoice.com has more:
“I think we all know that parameters are coming,” Brown said. “We all know that less is more. We want to walk him down in a very responsible, thoughtful way where we continue to deliver him to the court in a calculated way.”
I mean, generally speaking, Coach, less is less. In this particular case, though, if less means “more than zero minutes of competitive basketball in a span of two-plus years,” then sure: less is more. Less is the most. Less is everything!
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In the short term, limiting Embiid’s minutes and holding him out on the back end of back-to-back sets serves two purposes. Most importantly, of course, it limits the likelihood that the 22-year-old big man will suffer the kind of injury or setback that could come with extensive wear-and-tear so soon after getting a clean bill of health from the Sixers’ medical team following stress fractures in his lower back and right foot. But curtailing Embiid’s minute and game count also provides a bit more breathing room in the claustrophobic confines of a Philadelphia frontcourt rotation that also includes incumbent big men Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and that this season will welcome rookie playmakers Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.
While new general manager Bryan Colangelo has made no bones about the need to break up the potential logjam of tall young talent with a trade at some point, that point hasn’t come yet, and if it doesn’t come before the start of the season, building in those “parameters” for Embiid could help Brown better and more equitably divide the playing-time pie among his bigs as he searches for combinations that could propel Philly out of the absolute basement of the NBA for the first time in years. A big slice of those minutes will go to Simmons, according to Pompey, who writes that the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft will likely “play 30-plus minutes a night while initiating the offense,” but beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess how the split will shake out.
What is clear: even though they’re committed to bringing him along slowly now, the 76ers view Embiid as a foundational piece for the long haul, with Brown even looking toward the never-played-a-second-in-the-NBA rookie for input in creating the culture that the coach hopes will direct Philly toward a fruitful future, according to Derek Bodner of Philadephia Magazine:
“You pull him up into an office and you talk freely,” Brown said about his discussions with Embiid. “Come in here and tell me about the teammates that you want to play with. Tell me what the standards, the accountability, the behavior you want in your organization.
“We need to grow this,” Brown continued. “I’ve said many times you don’t want it to be a coach-driven formula. Ultimately it needs to be a player-coached team, a player-driven formula. The players determine the behavior. The players determine the culture.
“Where somebody will say, ‘That’s just not good enough. That’s not how we act. That’s not how we guard. We show up on time. That’s not respectful.’ Whatever it is,” Brown continued. “Through discussions I have with Joel, I’m trying to achieve that.”
After waiting all this time to find out just what kind of an impact he can have on their organization, on and off the court, the 76ers seem intent on doubling down on their investment in Embiid, a player they hope can be the sort of transformational piece that will elevate the organization from the ranks of the also-rans to the rarefied air of championship contention for the first time in well over a decade. But the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step … and, considering how dicey Joel’s wheels have been these past two years, it makes all the sense in the world for the Sixers to step lightly.
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