Sixers' Joel Embiid gives update on his return

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Photo credit Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We finally got answers about Joel Embiid’s left knee tendinitis Saturday night before the Sixers lost a back-and-forth game to the Golden State Warriors at Wells Fargo Center 120-117. The soreness has cost him the last five games, including losses to Portland and the Warriors at home.  

Embiid has been playing through multiple minor injuries throughout the season, such as back discomfort and issues to his knee and ankle. He also recently battled through the stomach bug. That’s why it was head scratching that he wasn’t playing through this with only 24 regular season games left once the All-Star break ended. But, this is a different Embiid than we’re used to. 

The franchise’s “crown jewel,” as Brett Brown often describes him, went the 76ers and initiated the decision to sit out. 

Embiid went to the 76ers and initiated the decision to sit out. 

“I went to them and obviously they respect me,” Embiid told reporters. “We work together and they felt like it was best for me because they have been looking at a couple of games to take off too with our schedule and our position. Having this time off is helping me a lot and I expect to be back soon.”

Embiid said the soreness was getting worse game by game and didn’t feel comfortable continuing to fight through the discomfort. 

“It’s all about long term preservation and making sure I’m ready, not just for the playoffs and also for the next 15 years, knowing that I like to push on anything, everything.” Embiid said. 

So if it was getting worse, why did Embiid play in the meaningless All-Star Game? 

“It wasn’t bothering me,” Embiid said. “I went through about a couple games where I was playing, and after the game icing it, and all us we have it. NBA players, you sore. You sore. It’s just soreness. Your whole body is sore. It happens and, you know, every game, you know it was happening. Not just (my knee), my whole body, everything. So, I just felt like going into every game I was good. All-Star Game I was good. That has nothing to do with playing in the All-Star Game. Nothing was bothering me.”

Basically, it seems like Embiid was fine before games, but not during and afterwards. He hopes time off will help eliminate this soreness, and so far, he feels good. Embiid said he’s getting better and started doing contact work as he tries to get back into shape. As far as when he intends on returning, after being pressed multiple times, Embiid revealed he hopes to be back next week. 

“I think he offered he felt it was going to be this upcoming week,” Brown said with uncertainty shortly after Embiid spoke. “Did he say that?”

Once being told yes by reporters, Brown said with a smile, “Well that’s good. I’m glad to hear that.” 

It remains a mystery why Embiid couldn’t share this information  directly after the All-Star Game considering the widespread belief outside Sixers headquarters was he would return this past Thursday against Oklahoma City. Brown echoed most of Embiid’s thoughts initially, but it’s better for the fans to hear it form the player himself. 

Maybe the bad optics of playing in an All-Star Game is what prolonged Saturday night’s information. Who knows? That’s pure speculation. Even Embiid’s knee “wasn’t bothering” him heading into to the All-Star Game, he still shouldn’t have played. That was a poor decision by him and the Sixers, medical staff included. If this was a collaborative process, as Brown put it, then someone should’ve recognized, especially Embiid, that going through the motions in an exhibition was too risky, and not worth any potential consequences. Also, if the soreness “was getting worse,” it’s not wise to suit up in a game that doesn’t count. No matter what anyone from the Sixers, including Embiid, says, nothing will make playing in that All-Star Game seem like a good idea.

That being said, it’s encouraging to know that Embiid is thinking about his long term health. It’s endearing to see him fly into the stands and make certain plays that put his body at risk. Going forward, he should do that when appropriate, and not against the Knicks. But, as mentioned, he’s Philadelphia’s “crown jewel.” The Sixers need him for the postseason, and years to come. Not to mention, they’re playing pretty good without him. It’s intriguing to see how far they can go once he returns. 

“From where he was to where he is is fantastic,” Brown said. “It’s fantastic. And that journey has produced, for sure, a far more educated and mature adult. A growing player, responsible player. He’s still Joel and he’s playful and he’s going to have fun.  But that evolution is fact. It cannot be denied.”​