Joel Embiid, too?
Are you kiddin’ me?
We saw this in Philadelphia just two months ago: Franchise player plays hurt, then disappears down the stretch. With the Eagles, it was Carson Wentz’s back.
With the Sixers, it’s Embiid’s left knee. Again. The same knee that cost him the last 27 games of the 2016-17 season and cost him a rookie of the year award. The same knee about which the Sixers were maddeningly secretive from the time he hurt it until the time reports forced them to acknowledge the extent of the injury.
Except Wentz did everything he could to get better. Wentz and the Eagles stumbled through pain tolerance and a series of missed diagnoses. And, they had Big Play Nick Foles, who led them to the playoffs and a first-round win.
Boban Marjanovic ain’t no Big Play Nick.
In 2017, Embiid forced his way back into the lineup for one game. This time, either he forced his way into the lineup, or the Sixers didn’t see this issue coming, or they mutually decided he should play on the knee leading up to the All-Star break.
Then — incredibly — they decided he should play in the All-Star Game itself.
And now he returns for the 24-game stretch run, except he’s unable to run. Won’t be able, for at least a week, according to a release from the team physician, Dr. Daniel Medina. He then will reevaluate the knee, which is sore from a chronic, worsening tendinitis condition.
It’s not as if Embiid has never been hurt before. He’s never not been hurt before. In fact, he entered the All-Star break with a sore back, and he was fighting some unspecified “illness:" Dengue fever, or beriberi, or whatever. They never said.
But, yeah, big guy. Go on down to North Carolina. Live it up. Go play in a meaningless exhibition basketball game.
You can take some time off when you get back. You know. When the real games resume. The ones fans have prepaid to see you play. The ones that will determine the playoff seeding, in which the Sixers now stand fifth, which could mean no homecourt advantage at all.
But hey, it was a helluva rendition of “Perfect.” Ed Sheeran wept. Now, Embiid limps (maybe).
Sixers coach Brett Brown said Wednesday, “It’s reached the stage where he just felt uncomfortable with it.”
Which means it’s something the Sixers had already diagnosed. Which means Embiid played 23 minutes, 11 seconds of the NBA All-Star game on Sunday on an injured knee. A knee that, during All-Star weekend, clearly became more injured.
A knee that carried the Sixers to 37 wins in 58 games for the first time since Wilt and Doc and Moses were in town. Yeah, those dudes knew how to party. They also played almost every game.
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Which means, even if the knee is completely recovered (it won’t be), Embiid will need more time to get back into shape. That’s always an issue for a guy who carries around 280 pounds.
It’s logical to suppose he’ll then need a week or so to reacclimate himself with the team — or acclimate himself. Remember, the team that was just reconstructed, around him — well, him, and his apparently aching knee. So that’s three weeks, realistically, before the team’s MVP candidate returns to MVP form.
They’ll monitor his load. They’ll err on the side of caution. There’s no problem with that. But you know what’s coming, right? Minutes restrictions! No back-to-backs! All those nostalgic terms of the Early Process Era. It’s like putting on a pair of old shoes. Old, worn-out, bunion-burner shoes.
So, realistically: Three weeks, minimum, until the Full Embiid Effect is realized again? Say, March 14? That’s 10 games; or, for pie-charters, about 12 percent of the season.
Could this have come at a worse possible time for the Sixers? Well, yeah. April.
Brown insisted, “Nobody needs to read into anything here." He said that resting the knee for three days before the All-Star game might have actually done it harm. He implied that nothing would have changed had Embiid not played.
That’s a bit rich.
If Embiid had declined the All-Star invitation, he would have been able to rehabilitate or a full seven days, and done so in that physiology factory they call a practice facility.
You know how long a week is? That’s right: seven days. So, if they shut him down after their last game, Embiid would have been reevaluated today.
He would be re-evaluated after not having spent three days dancing, and practicing, and warming up, and flying in an airplane, and staying in a hotel.
Charlotte has great nightlife — at least, it does these days — but Embiid is getting paid $25,467,250 this season to show up for work as often and as healthy as possible, not to sing Cardi B karaoke shirtless after Saturday night’s dunk contest.
He’s making $310,576 per game to play the 82 games on the schedule — not to play volleyball with Steph Curry before a useless, ugly 83rd game, in front of Meek Mill, Ludacris, and, of course the funkiest of them all: Robert Kraft.
This might be a bit easier to stomach — lesson learned for an irrepressible 24-year-old, yada yada yada — if there was a player who could compensate for Embiid.
He averages 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. The offense runs through him. Much more significant, the defense is built entirely around him: his size, his instincts, his athleticism.
No player compensates for Embiid. He is a generational talent.
He should be treated as such. He should act as such.
All-Star breaks are three days of tomfoolery. The NBA is a business.
The Sixers entered the All-Star break with a 3-1 record for the reconstructed roster that general manager Elton Brand assembled at the trading deadline.
Tobias Harris, a stretch-four professional scorer, arrived to ease the load on Embiid, who now attracts double-teams the way Mill attracts wannabes. Brand traded for Jimmy Butler in November largely for the same reason. Both Harris and Butler are playing on expiring contracts, possible one-and-dones as Sixers. Every game they can play with Embiid further enhances the argument for trying to keep them or for letting them walk.
Marjanovic, in his fourth NBA season, is a 10-minute backup. He has started 14 games.
Sigh. All right. Let’s look.
The Sixers play Miami, Portland, and New Orleans in the next week. They’re at Oklahoma City next Thursday. Maybe Embiid returns by then (eye-roll).
The next game would then be March 2, when the Warriors and his karaoke partner/volleyball setter Curry visit for an 8:30 p.m. game on ABC. You know Embiid will talk his way back for that lost cause.
Who knows. Maybe his knee will be all better by then. Maybe the lesson will be learned.
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