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Inside the Sixers: Questions surround Embiid's conditioning, maturity

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - So, who is Joel Embiid, really? The 76ers rookie appears to be a likable person. The 7-footer always speaks to reporters in passing, even though he's off-limits for interviews.

Joel Embiid. (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)
Joel Embiid. (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)Read more(Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports file photo)

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - So, who is Joel Embiid, really?

The 76ers rookie appears to be a likable person. The 7-footer always speaks to reporters in passing, even though he's off-limits for interviews.

He displayed a fun-loving personality on Twitter and Instagram by unsuccessfully recruiting LeBron James to the Sixers and asking out Rihanna and Kim Kardashian on dates.

Yet there appear to be some concerns.

Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn't disclose his weight, a source said he's close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season.

His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization.

And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team's recent West Coast road trip.

So, who is Embiid?

"He's a young, 20-year-old kid who is trying to figure his way into being a professional basketball player and learning life," Sixers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said.

Mbah a Moute knows more about his fellow Cameroonian than anyone here in the United States. He spotted Embiid at a basketball camp in their homeland several years ago. The 28-year-old has mentored Embiid ever since.

"Obviously, you can see some of his immaturity [in] his tweets sometimes," Mbah a Moute said. "But you can also understand how mature he is in certain situations the way he handled himself. . . . He's a good kid, man.

"At the end of the day, it's tough for him being in a situation where people can't really see who he is as a person."

So true.

Reporters are not permitted to interview Embiid until he participates in a full, five-on-five scrimmage, a league policy the Sixers follow. Based on his rehabilitation program for predraft foot surgery, that time may not come until late April or May, if at all this season.

Instead, the public perception of him comes from his fun-loving Twitter pranks, or whether you believe what others say about him.

But here are the definite truths.

Embiid came to the United States as a high school junior to play basketball. Now, for the first time, he has to deal with not being able to play the sport he learned to love.

On top of that, the former Kansas standout is about 6,000 miles from home. Having the support of teammates, especially Mbah a Moute, is good. But there's nothing like having your family around during tough times.

And it has been tough for Embiid, who's still dealing with the loss of his younger brother Arthur. The 13-year-old died in a car accident in October in Africa.

Playing in actual games would be a good way to help him cope. However, the closest he has gotten is participating in pregame shooting drills.

Because of the foot injury, his conditioning has been limited. Embiid can only do things such as use the antigravity treadmill and take long walks to generate a rapid heart rate. In the process, he has become noticeably heavier than the chiseled 250 pounds he carried in college.

The Sixers are trying to address the added weight. Embiid, however, hasn't always been a willing workout participant, according to sources. He's even blown off conditioning drills, one source added.

An altercation with Davis during the West Coast trip, coupled with Brown's wanting him to be in "more of a structured, stable environment," pushed the Sixers to send him home, the sources said.

Because he's not practicing, Embiid is unable to give his side of the story. Maybe that's all for the best. Brown said Embiid "has been good trying to get back on track with his conditioning."

The Sixers don't want to rush the third overall pick onto the court. It's also believed they would be content if he missed the entire season, as Nerlens Noel (knee surgery) did last season. That's understandable.

Embiid was a health risk even before the Sixers drafted him.

A stress fracture in his lower back kept him out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments last winter. Still, he was projected to go No. 1 until a stress fracture in his right foot was diagnosed the week before the draft. He had surgery June 20 and was expected to be sidelined up to eight months.

So, the Sixers are being cautious.

"He's boxed up in a big man's frame," Brown said. "He is frustrated at times when he isn't playing. He can't play. And I just feel like there are a lot of things going against him."

The Sixers are hoping he sheds the weight and is 100 percent healthy by next season.

He'll be happy to be back on the court contributing for the Sixers. At that point, we'll finally learn just who Embiid actually is.