Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Ominous sign

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 21

Fisher column logo2Uh-oh.

That’s the immediate reaction to the news that Joel Embiid still hasn’t been cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball.

This is the year the 76ers were supposed to turn the corner. This is the year in which wins and losses were supposed to matter. This is the year they were supposed to make a run at the playoffs – if they’re healthy.

If they’re healthy.

The likelihood of that three-word caveat coming into play seems much greater after hearing the news about Embiid.

“If they’re healthy” really means “if he’s healthy.” And “he” refers to Embiid.

Aside from Ben Simmons, the Sixers don’t have any lingering injury concerns except Embiid. And the gregarious center has been an injury concern since before the Sixers drafted him.

Embiid probably would have been the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft if not for injuries. He fell to No. 3, where the Sixers scooped him up.

Embiid sat out his first two seasons with the Sixers. He made his NBA debut last season, his third season, but there were minutes restrictions and Embiid didn’t play in back-to-back games. Despite the attempts to protect Embiid, he sustained a mysterious injury that was finally revealed to be a meniscus tear.

He played in 31 games last season. 31. That’s less than half a season. Yet the Sixers are hitching their wagons to a player who has appeared in 31 games in his first three seasons.

Embiid had surgery in March to repair the meniscus in his left knee. According to the Sixers, the surgery was “minor.” According to the Sixers, the surgery was “successful.” According to Embiid, the surgery revealed that the injury wasn’t as bad as the initial diagnosis.

Minor, successful and not as bad should not, however, add up to not being medically cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball six months later. Either the Sixers once again had difficulty with the truth when characterizing Embiid’s injury or he is such a slow healer that if he were a televangelist, his show would need to be a mini-series.

Regardless of how general manager Bryan Colangelo tried to spin it this week, the news that Embiid hasn’t been medically cleared for 5-on-5 basketball less than a week before the Sixers open training camp (Tuesday) and less than a month before their season opener (Oct. 18) is an ominous sign.

The Sixers could be better this season without Embiid, but they probably won’t challenge for a playoff berth. Even if the Sixers challenge for a playoff berth, Embiid’s health raises questions about the team’s future.

Embiid is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The deadline for extending Embiid’s contract is Oct. 16. The latest injury news raises questions regarding how much money the Sixers are willing to commit to a player whose excellence and exuberance are on display on social media far more often than they are on the court. If the Sixers decide not to commit a lot of money to Embiid, he will probably be able to find a team willing to take a risk and sign him to a contract for close to the maximum amount allowed.

If he’s healthy – and that’s a big “if” – Embiid would likely make the Sixers regret not re-signing him. On the other hand, if they re-sign him to a maximum deal, the Sixers are taking the risk that Embiid will never be healthy enough to come close to playing a complete season.

Embiid has picked up the nickname, “The Process,” as in “Trust the Process.”

Well, with Embiid not medically cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball six months after his surgery, The Process looks pretty darn fragile these days.

And, in turn, so does the Sixers’ future.

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