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How will another year off the court affect Embiid?

Once the news came down like a hammer early Saturday afternoon - a second surgery, a second lost season, and maybe a lost career for 76ers center Joel Embiid - the only thing to do was to start making phone calls.

Once the news came down like a hammer early Saturday afternoon - a second surgery, a second lost season, and maybe a lost career for 76ers center Joel Embiid - the only thing to do was to start making phone calls.

The phone calls were not about the Sixers' future or the wisdom of their decision to take Embiid with the No. 3 selection in last year's NBA draft. The former is unknowable, and the latter is immaterial. People have dug in on the Embiid pick. Either you recognize that the Sixers took a calculated risk in drafting Embiid - that the potential reward of his talent was worth the chance that a 7-foot, 250-pound man who already had broken the navicular bone in his right foot might have additional foot problems - or you believe that general manager Sam Hinkie should have been more conservative, that he should have drafted a lesser, healthier player or traded out of the No. 3 slot altogether.

Me, I'd have taken the risk. But again, that opinion doesn't matter now. The Sixers drafted Embiid. They have been honest that, in trying to acquire transcendent players, they might make the wrong decision or decisions. They'll deal with the basketball-related consequences of this particular decision. They already have, in a way, by drafting Jahlil Okafor this year.

But Embiid is the one who matters most here. He's the 21-year-old from Cameroon, alone in America, whose career appears in peril, whose younger brother died in October, whose dream might be dying before he had an opportunity to fulfill it. He, and only he, was the reason for the phone calls.

There were two. One was to an orthopedist who has treated world-class athletes. Having never examined Embiid, she was willing to speak in general terms about his situation. She raised a pertinent question immediately, wondering whether Embiid had a metabolic disorder - a vitamin deficiency, perhaps - that might render his bone brittle and more susceptible to fracture. The question was pertinent because a year ago Sunday, in an interview after completing the surgery that was supposed to repair Embiid's foot, Richard Ferkel discussed that very topic: whether Embiid's bone density might play a role in his injuring or reinjuring himself and how Ferkel and the Sixers might strengthen Embiid's bones through improved nutrition.

"We do very intense metabolic screenings of players, including [Embiid], to make sure there are no vitamin deficiencies, no hormonal issues, or anything that would prevent healing," Ferkel said. "If there is anything, we address to try to promote quicker and better healing of the bone. . . . In terms of the metabolic and nutritional status, we're still looking at that."

At the time, Ferkel said that he and the Sixers would probably have Embiid's nutritional and metabolic test results within a week. What those results were, 365 days later, only they know. But the circumstances of Embiid's setback last month were not encouraging: the revelation that his navicular bone was not healing properly, the whispers from within the Sixers' organization that they had been optimistic about Embiid's progress and were taken aback by what a standard CT scan of Embiid's foot had shown, the late-night statement from Hinkie that left so much open to interpretation.

Hinkie released another statement at 8:57 on Saturday night. After consulting with doctors from five states and four countries, the Sixers had determined that "the best approach to promote full healing would be to proceed with a bone graft of the fracture site." Nevertheless, if there is an underlying problem that is endemic to Embiid's genetic or physiological makeup, then everyone has to consider the possibility that no surgery and rehabilitation, no matter how cautious and thorough, will ever be enough to keep him on the court for long.

That prospect led to the second phone call, to a psychiatrist who specializes in treating post-traumatic-stress disorders. He follows the Sixers closely as a fan, and he fired off a succession of questions that got to the heart of how Embiid and the Sixers might respond to this development. Is there a support system in place for Embiid? Who will he talk to? Who will he lean on?

In December, the Sixers' concerns about Embiid's maturity and work ethic grew so strong that the team sent him home from a West Coast road trip. It was easy to dismiss that episode and others like it - the weight gain, the sophomoric social-media posts - as the product of a bored kid, a new millionaire with nothing to do, acting out. But here comes another year for Embiid of waiting, of pushing through another long and demanding rehab, of wondering whether he'll play at all, his family far, far away.

None of what has happened here is good, for the Sixers or Joel Embiid. That is the icy, sharp truth. And if he's to have any hope of taking the floor in a basketball game again, he will have to overcome a body that continues to betray him and the fears and demons that might haunt his mind and heart. Here's hoping he can - not for the Sixers, not for Philadelphia, just for him.