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." 

Four main issues to consider for Sixers with Ben Simmons to undergo knee surgery

Four main issues to consider for Sixers with Ben Simmons to undergo knee surgery

A rational response to the news Saturday that Ben Simmons will have surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee is that it’s time to recalibrate expectations for the Sixers. 

The notion of a championship run naturally dims with the loss of an All-Star. With four seeding games to go before the playoffs, the Sixers will have to address the myriad of concerns raised by Simmons’ absence.

Let’s dissect four main issues: 

Guarding stars 

When games this season have been on the line, Simmons has often helped the Sixers seize control with excellent defense on the opponent’s best playmaker. His versatility has also enabled the Sixers to give other players favorable matchups.

Who takes on the job of defending top scoring threats late in games? It will presumably be dictated by matchups — for instance, you’d think Joel Embiid and Al Horford would guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, while Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle would split time on Jayson Tatum. There’s no default answer anymore, and it’ll be a bigger challenge to “hide” players like Furkan Korkmaz.

Horford in the spotlight 

The instinctive reaction when a team loses a player of Simmons’ caliber is that everyone else needs to "step up." That’s fair enough, and yet much of the attention will shift specifically to Horford.

He started in Simmons’ place on Friday and played well, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds. His much-scrutinized pairing with Embiid is the only Sixers duo with at least 300 minutes together this year to have a negative net rating. In 60 Horford-Embiid minutes at Disney World, though, the Sixers have a plus-9.2 net rating. 

Notably, the presence of Simmons has had a negative effect on the Horford-Embiid pairing, at least offensively. The team has a 98.7 offensive rating when Horford, Embiid and Simmons have played together, by far the worst of any three-man group. Perhaps removing Simmons from the equation and losing another player whose preferred territory is near the rim in the process will help Horford-Embiid lineups score efficiently. 

When Brett Brown was asked what he found out about his team Friday night with Simmons sidelined, Horford was the first name that came to his mind. 

“You can’t help but feel an emerging Al Horford,” he said. “It’s clear that he understands we need him more than we ever have needed him.” 

Post-ups and 3s 

During the eight-game stretch in late February and early March when Simmons was out with a nerve impingement in his back, the Sixers fired up 35.8 three-point attempts per game and converted 42.3 percent. They’ve posted up far more than any other team and have the league’s best high-volume post player in Embiid. Without Simmons, a blend of Embiid post touches and more three-point attempts from players such as Richardson and Tobias Harris would make sense. 

Brown has requested throughout the year that Harris and Richardson “hunt threes." The Sixers, however, are 20th in three-point attempts per game out of the 22 teams in Florida. There has to be a collective willingness to shoot from beyond the arc, and a reduction in the low-efficiency plays where an open three turns into a contested two. 

Embiid’s averages at Disney World are 30 points, 13.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s attempted 11.4 free throws per game and facilitated for teammates well when powering through a double team isn’t the smart play.

“(He has) the willingness and unselfishness, born with the confidence of ‘I know where my teammates are coming,’ under a backdrop of a poise and a patience — it’s ball to chin, tuck it in stuff you’d teach young players — and he’s figuring stuff out quite quickly — like real quickly,” Brown said before Friday’s game.

“All of those things, when you add them all up, equal a team offense. Arguably the best play that J-Rich can have or Tobias can have is throw the ball into Jo and they’re probably going to double, and then it’s coming back out.” 

Creativity required 

The Sixers’ unofficial mantra this year has been “built for the playoffs.” They maintained faith that talent, size and defense would prevail in the postseason. 

Being down a star should change that. Against the Celtics, Bucks or Raptors, Brown may need to adopt unorthodox strategies if feeding Embiid, relying on the big man to protect the rim and asking Thybulle and Richardson to shut down perimeter scorers is ineffective. 

That could look like blitzing the pick-and-roll if Kemba Walker is giving Richardson trouble. It could mean calling some double drag actions with Embiid and Horford if the defense is denying the Cameroonian and Horford is knocking down jumpers and distributing sharply as a pick-and-pop guy.

Perhaps Brown could ask for spurts of full-court pressure with Thybulle on the floor in an effort to force turnovers, spark transition offense and boost the rookie’s disruptive abilities. If Alec Burks is hot and Milton is making poised, intelligent decisions, Brown could play the two ball handlers together, as he did Friday at the start of the fourth quarter.

Philosophically, Brown likes letting his players figure things out for themselves and setting them up in “environments” over calling a ton of plays. He may now have to embrace greater proactivity and innovation. 

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo surgery for loose body in left knee

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons to undergo surgery for loose body in left knee

Ben Simmons will undergo surgery to remove a loose body in his left knee, a source confirmed Saturday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

He'd been diagnosed with a left patella subluxation, an injury he sustained in the Sixers' win over the Wizards on Wednesday. A source told NBC Sports Philadelphia the loose body resulted from the subluxation, and that surgery was decided as the best option after consultation with the Sixers' medical staff and several specialists. Simmons will leave the NBA's campus at Disney World and further updates will be provided after the procedure. 

This news clearly makes things much more difficult for the Sixers, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference with four seeding games remaining. Simmons made his second All-Star team this year and has immense value as an ultra-versatile defender, passer and transition playmaker. 

Without him Friday night, Al Horford started and had 21 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Magic. Guard Alec Burks also had a strong game with 22 points. They're two of the players who will be asked to elevate their games in Simmons' absence, while an even heavier burden will fall on Joel Embiid. 

We reviewed several of the big questions posed by the 24-year-old's injury here while he was evaluating his treatment options. 

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: 
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.