WILMINGTON, Del -- The 76ers’ case for a championship will require a lot of patience from Joel Embiid.
The All-Star center is used to being the most dominant player on the court on most nights. Yet, a misstep by him or some overuse might alter a season the Sixers hope ends with their first NBA title since 1983.
For now, Embiid and the Sixers appear to be aligned when it to comes to a load-management plan.
But what if his team is in a mini slump? Will the ultra-competitive Embiid still agree to take a night off knowing his presence increases the Sixers’ chance to win?
He said he expects to play 70 of the 82 regular-season games if everything goes according to plan. But what if the medical staff doesn’t think things are going according to plan?
Embiid’s goal is to win the league MVP and defensive player of the year. What if he doesn’t play enough games or minutes to draw serious consideration for those awards?
As balanced as the starting lineup is, Embiid doesn’t need to take over games for them to win on most the nights he’ll play. But can he live with taking a step back? Can he live with any of the above-mentioned scenarios?
“It’s hard, especially when you are as dominant as Joel is and can be,” general manager Elton Brand said Saturday before the Sixers’ Blue-White scrimmage at the 76ers Fieldhouse.
“He wants to play as competitive as he is,” Brand added. “But I think the setback last year, losing Game 7 of the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, it really hurt. He understood that I need to be the best in May and June that I can be.
"But I think that hiccup helped us [convince Embiid about the benefits of load management] a lot. He understands that.”
Embiid was distraught after that loss, breaking down in tears shortly after Kawhi Leonard’s 21-foot fadeaway jumper at the buzzer bounced four times on the rim before dropping in for a 92-90 Toronto Raptors’ victory.
People praised Leonard, who went on to lead the Raptors to the NBA title, for taking things easy in the regular season.
The All-Star swingman missed 22 games; 14 were for load management, six for a variety of injuries, and two for personal reasons.
The time missed stood in the way of him winning any regular-season individual award. But no one can argue against Leonard being the league’s best player in the postseason. He went on to win the NBA Finals MVP.
However, Embiid was far from being in optimal health and in shape at the conclusion of the season.
He was hampered with tendinitis in his left knee all season and missed 14 of the team’s final 24 regular-season games. Embiid then was a regular on the Sixers’ injury report in the opening-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, missing Game 3 because of the tendinitis. And he was ill in Game 4 and Game 5 of the second-round playoff series against the Raptors.
Embiid said that heartbreaking loss served as motivation.
“As far as planning my summer, I knew I had to be in better shape,” he said. “Meaning that I had to do a better job.”
Embiid said he’s feeling good and said he’s in much better shape.
He appeared to be gassed while only playing in the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage. That’s to be expected, considering Embiid said spent most of his summer rehabilitating his knee.
So it’s going to take him a little time to get into game shape.
The Sixers said they’ve have a load-management plan to keep Embiid healthy this season. They say it’s a partnership with him.
“He knows that I feel we are a championship-caliber team," Brand said. "For us to reach that goal, it has to start with Joel in the postseason being the best Joel possible.
“So he’s aligned. He’s working through it.”
The Sixers haven’t ruled out playing Embiid in both games of back-to-backs, according to Brand. The GM also thinks it’s possible Embiid does indeed play more games than the career-high 64 he played last season.
“It’s going to be a daily, strategic, thoughtful representation of where Joel is,” Brand said. “If he presents well and he feels good, we’re not going to hold Joel back. He knows what the goals are and he’s aligned. It’s a partnership.”
The Sixers could benefit from adding an established veteran sharpshooter to come off the bench. Right now, third-year guard Furkan Korkmaz is their best option.
“We are going to monitor, for sure,” Brand said.
But the GM said he feels the Sixers already have a championship-caliber team the way it is constructed.