Is the Sixers' Joel Embiid injury-prone or just injured?
The Sixers desperately need to find out if standout rookie center Joel Embiid is injury-prone or just injured.
With Embiid having missed 17 of the last 18 games with a bone bruise and torn meniscus in his knee, the Sixers are still on the "treat him like a Ming Dynasty vase" approach to his health.
It was smart to put him on a minutes restriction and not play him in back-to-back games while easing him into NBA game shape after missing two seasons because of foot surgeries.
Embiid quickly established that he had the raw ability to develop into a transformational player, so it became easier to justify an overly cautious approach to dealing with any kind of injury concern.
The Sixers want Embiid, 22, around for 10-15 years not 10-15 games.
But come October, Sixers ownership is going to have to make the kind of financial decision on Embiid that can make or break a franchise.
The end of October is the deadline for teams to grant multi-year extensions to first-round draft picks that have had the fourth-year team option exercised on their original rookie scale contract.
In the case of Embiid, that would be players from the 2014 NBA Draft.
If the Sixers don't extend Embiid, they could give him a qualifying offer for 2018-19. He would then become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Yes, they would have the ability to match any offer, but what if Embiid signed a deal with the option to void years and then become an unrestricted free agent?
If he played with solid health, you can bet that 29 other teams would cook their books to set up salary cap space for whenever he became unrestricted.
On the other side, the cost to extend Embiid in October is likely to be more than the 4-year, $100 million extension the Milwaukee Bucks gave first-time All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo – the 15th pick in 2013 – last October.
Antetokounmpo, whose salary will jump from $2.9 million to $22.4 million next season, missed only nine of a possible 246 games before getting paid.
Embiid has only played a little more than three times that number since being drafted in 2014.
Logically, the Sixers do not have enough information about the reliability of Embiid's health to make that kind of commitment. However, the potential he has shown even in limited action basically demands it.
Most Sixers fans would revolt if owner Josh Harris refused to lock up Embiid based on questionable medical concerns.
That's why the Sixers cannot prematurely shut down Embiid. The Sixers have only 23 games remaining and the goal should still be to get Embiid as much court time as possible.
The Sixers need to see if Embiid can hold up physically through 20, 15 or even 10 more games.
Management needs as much additional information as it can get about Embiid's durability before reaching "Green October."
Crunch time is approaching and the stakes will be super high.
If the Sixers extend Embiid and he is mostly healthy going forward, it could end up being like the Moses Malone transaction before the 1982-83 championship season.
If they extend Embiid only to find out he is destined for a career of season-impacting injuries, the effect could be equivalent to the disastrous 2012 trade for Andrew Bynum.
Embiid's injury status is complicated.
This would be less of an issue if the current injury were related to Embiid's foot. The Sixers could justify not committing that much money to a guy who has missed 192 of a possible 223 games with the same injury.
Embiid, however, has not been bothered by his foot. A knee bruise is a common injury that could easily happen to any fully healthy player. Recovery time varies from player to player.
Still, the amount of time Embiid has missed because of it, combined with the two surgeries to the foot, combined with the stress fracture in his back that prematurely ended his lone collegiate season at Kansas, raises red flags about fragility.
The Sixers have taken every precaution possible yet he still got injured in a different part of his body. That needs further exploration through games played.
Instead of continuing to be overly cautious with Embiid, the Sixers need to push the envelope with him down the stretch.
Obviously, if it is determined that there is any kind of medical risk, you don't play him, but there is no reason to rule Embiid out for the season at this time.
It could simply be coincidence that Embiid got hurt or it could be the case that he is injury-prone.
The countdown to a franchise-shaping decision is on the horizon and the Sixers don't have enough data about Embiid to make an informed decision.
Still, it is one they have to make.