Joel Embiid’s health has been a hot topic since he started playing basketball, and it will remain a hot topic for the rest of his career.
That’s what happens when a franchise player, prone to injury and sickness, has multiple bouts of both during the course of one postseason.
The sickness is more excusable and should not be held against Embiid. Any number of contributing factors beyond Embiid’s or the Sixers’ control could have caused his playoff illness, including such factors as inordinate travel, wear on the body, drastic changes in routine and conditioning, an individual’s immune system, temperature changes, and stress.
But — and this is a big but — the tendinitis in his left knee is concerning when looking at how Embiid’s playing time was managed this season.
“It’s tendinitis, it’s all about loading,” Embiid said Monday. “When you overload, that’s what happens.”
That’s not a ringing endorsement for how Embiid started out the 2018-19 campaign. Through the first two months of the season, he was in the top 10 in the NBA in playing time. He averaged 33.7 minutes a game before the All-Star break and played in 54 of the team’s 58 games heading into the break.
Heavy minutes and not taking off any games surely contributed to the left knee tendinitis that plagued and hampered Embiid through the latter part of the season and into the playoffs. He played in only 10 of the team’s 24 games after the break.
Embiid, who showed a more mature side this season, said that taking a different approach next season is definitely on the table, noting the careful approach that Kawhi Leonard, the man who ended the Sixers’ playoff run on Sunday night, followed this season with the Raptors. Leonard played only 60 games during the regular season.
“For sure, we’ve already talked about it,” Embiid said of taking things a little easier next season. “Looking at the way Toronto managed Kawhi last season, obviously I don’t want to miss that many games, but when you start thinking about back-to-backs and all that. ... Definitely got to take a better approach.”
This is a little bit of a different tune from what we’ve heard up to this point from the Sixers’ front office, which said throughout the past year that it took advice from the medical and training staff on how to manage Embiid’s minutes and that everything looked good.
That was often contradicted as Embiid continued to have knee trouble and as his conditioning declined with time away from the court in the latter part of the season.
It’s a good sign that the Sixers and Embiid are already discussing ways to give him a better chance at entering the postseason healthy, which all starts with having a healthy offseason.
Despite the illnesses and the tendinitis, Embiid is certain that this offseason will be one of health and growth. He said he looks forward to coming back stronger than before and more prepared for the grind of the 82-game season.
“I didn’t plan on my offseason being this long but since it is, I’ve got a lot of time,” he said. “It’ll be fine if I listen to what they’re telling me. ... I’m excited to go back on the court and just put in some work. Like I said, I have so much more to give.”
Having more to give but not being available to give it was a problem for Embiid, and it all comes back to a thoughtful plan on managing how much he plays through the regular season.
Embiid’s presence on the floor even when he’s not at his best is usually a net positive for the Sixers, and the team constantly reminded him of that fact, with numbers to back it up. Embiid often turned to those conversations and felt guilty if he wasn’t playing heavy minutes night in and night out.