Sixers' Daryl Morey says he's 'hopeful' Joel Embiid will return this season

The Philadelphia 76ers' season is in limbo after Joel Embiid's knee surgery, but their top executive is optimistic the reigning MVP will return.

Sixers president of basketball operations told reporters Friday that Embiid's rehab is going well enough that he thinks the team can regain contender status in the Eastern Conference:

"We're hopeful. Feedback has been more good than bad since first we heard about what led to his procedure. So we're hopeful, and we're building the team to make it better this year. Obviously, it's not at 100 percent. But we felt like with Joel playing at an MVP level, where hopefully he could get back to that, this is a year that we have a real shot.

"Eye test, data, whatever shows that we were beating great teams. We were really, really beating up bad teams, but we were also beating good teams and really only one or two teams you can argue are right there with us."

Embiid went down with a knee injury on Jan. 30, when Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga landed on his leg during a scramble for a ball. He was later diagnosed with a displaced flap in the meniscus of his left knee, which required surgery.

The Sixers announced Tuesday that Embiid would be reevaluated in four weeks. The NBA playoffs begin in approximately nine weeks.

Joel Embiid's knee will be reevaluated next month. That day could decide the Sixers' season. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Joel Embiid's knee will be reevaluated next month. That day could decide the Sixers' season. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

At 30-21, the Sixers sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and are only 2.5 games ahead of the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, who are tied for the top spot in the play-in tournament. Despite Embiid's injury, the Sixers were still active at the trade deadline, acquiring sharpshooter Buddy Hield. They also made the curious move of swapping Patrick Beverley for Cam Payne and a second-round pick, as well as sending away Danuel House Jr. and Jaden Springer.

Those moves seemed to be something of a hedge on the Sixers' title chances, but Morey painted the larger picture as a bet on Embiid's recovery:

"If the hope wasn't there in Joel, I think it would have changed things dramatically. We're very hopeful. For sure, it's not 100 percent. It's something unfortunately probably a good chunk short of 100 percent, but we thought it was the right thing.

"There are a lot of ways to not win the title. Winning a title is hard, a lot of ways you can not win the title. Joel not coming back at the level we hope will be one of the ways we can't win a title this year, most likely. But other teams, their reason they can't win is they're just not good enough."

Hield made his Sixers debut a few hours later Friday, posting 20 points on 8-of-21 shooting in a 127-121 loss.