76ers

Joel Embiid sets realistic expectations for season as contract situation lurks

Joel Embiid sets realistic expectations for season as contract situation lurks

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Joel Embiid’s ideal situation, he would play 48 minutes in all 82 games.

His reality is different than that, however. As he works his way back from left knee surgery, he understands he won’t be on the court as much as he would like. 

“If I could play 82 games, I would,” Embiid said Monday at Sixers media day. “But I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll play 82 games. That’s not happening … I’m just focused on my path to being back on the court.” 

Embiid underwent a procedure in late March to repair a torn meniscus, ending his standout rookie year after just 31 games. He has not been cleared for 5-on-5 and it remains to be seen if he will compete in any preseason contests. 

Embiid said if the Sixers were in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals situation, he would play. But they’re not. Their push for a playoff berth is just beginning. 

“I think the timetable, we’ve been focusing on the first game of the season,” Embiid said of the Sixers' Oct. 18 opener against the Wizards. “We’ve got a couple preseason games, might play in those. But if I’m not 100 percent, they’re not going to put me out there. It’s not just about rehabbing. It’s also about being in the best shape possible, which I’m not yet at that level.” 

Embiid has undergone multiple scans since his surgery and said of the results, “Everything looks perfect.” Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said the recent scans showed the joint to be “intact and structurally sound.” The Sixers expect Embiid to participate in drills during training camp. 

“All in all, I believe our medical team feels good about where things are,” Colangelo said. 

Embiid is honed in on improving and maintaining his health by working on his landings to avoid further injuries. He threw his 7-foot-2, 250-pound frame around the court last season, including flying out of bounds into the stands. 

“I fell a lot last year,” he said. “I think it was also because I was flopping.” 

The uncertainty of Embiid’s health during training camp likely will factor into an important decision that has to be made in only a few weeks. The Sixers and Embiid have until Oct. 16 to sign a contract extension. 

“I still remain cautiously optimistic that something could get done,” Colangelo said. “That’s not to say it will, but I’m cautiously optimistic that remains a possibility.” 

Embiid firmly debunked a report by 94WIP's Howard Eskin he has not been participating in 5-on-5 because a deal had not been reached. He noted his love for the game and how difficult it is to get him off the court, let alone him refusing to get on it at all. 

“No,” Embiid said, chalking the report up to starting controversy. “At the end of the day, I don’t have the leverage. I’m going into my fourth season and I’m going to be a restricted free agent, so there’s no leverage, they can do whatever they want. There’s been discussions about it. Hopefully, something does work out. 

“I’m worried about getting back on the court and that’s all I care about. If it happens, it’s going to happen. If it doesn’t, just got to keep focused on the fourth season and after this year I’ll be a free agent and we’re going to see what comes of it.” 

Training camp begins Tuesday, when Embiid will have the opportunity to return to basketball with his teammates, even if it is in a limited and closely-monitored role. 

"I've got to check a couple boxes before my first game of the season," he said. "That's what I intend to do." 

Joel Embiid thinks his minutes restriction is 'f---ing BS'

Joel Embiid thinks his minutes restriction is 'f---ing BS'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is letting it be known he is unhappy about his minute restrictions to start the season.

"That's f---ing BS," he said after practice Tuesday. "I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I'm ready for more than I don't know whatever number they have."

The Sixers are eyeing 16 minutes for Embiid on opening night on Wednesday. He played nearly 15 minutes in his two preseason games and feels he can handle more, adding his previously-injured left knee and ankle "felt great." 

He has expressed his feelings to the team. 

"I always think I have a voice so I'm sure they're listening to what I have to say too," he said. "But they're making a decision based on what they think. But I think that's BS."

Embiid's desire to play more minutes likely will be an ongoing situation this season, or at least early on. He expected to be cleared for 24 minutes at this point. (In comparison, he logged 22:25 last opening night.) Embiid feels the best way to get his body in game shape is to actually be in the game, not training on a cardio machine. 

"I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated," Embiid said. "I don't think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it's reacting." 

The Sixers, however, are continuing to proceed with caution with the injury-prone big man. After missing his first two years because of his foot, he underwent season-ending knee surgery in March. Embiid also sprained his left ankle in the preseason finale. He has not played in a regular-season game since Jan. 27. 

Add that to the fact Embiid is a centerpiece of their future after inking him to a five-year, $146.5 contract extension last week.

"They know that I'm frustrated, but once again you've got to trust the doctors," Embiid said. "They care about me. It's all about the long-term view." 

The coaching staff is faced with the tricky task of managing Embiid's allotted minutes over a 48-minute span. Brett Brown is considering using up his playing time in the first half instead of spacing it out to have him available in the fourth quarter. 

Embiid estimates if he started the third, as an example, he would be resting for 16 minutes before he got the nod late in the final quarter. He said that is "tough" on both his body and on the coaches. Brown agrees after trying to balance his playing time last season. 

"You think it's smart to save four minutes to end a game with him, but the canyons in between where he just sits there and sits there and then he's got to come in and save the day, I don't know if I like that," Brett Brown said. 

"It's on my mind, do we just spend our money and we'll get you more money the next game and so on, and just play him regularly and grow it from that base versus he sits forever and then he's just got to come in and save the day. Or oops, it goes to overtime and, 'Sorry, you can't play against Memphis in overtime.'"

The Sixers will have to balance the medical staff's minute guidelines with Embiid's intense desire to be on the court and the team's record. They are looking to make a significant push in the win column, and Embiid is the driving force behind that jump.

"I think this is a big year for the whole team and me personally," Embiid said. "I feel like I've got something to prove, too. So I want to be out there with my teammates and win some games."

If it were Embiid's call, he would play until he didn't feel like he could anymore. It's not up to him, though. And so there's just one thing left for him to do.

"Like I always say," he said, "you've got to trust the process."

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic as in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said.