Joel Embiid Gives Hope During Rough Time for Sixers
When a team struggles through an 82-game season, for the third year in a row, it’s easy to overlook the possibility that there has been some positivity around the team with an impact on its future. While this season can be written off, there is some indication and hope for a brighter future.
While both Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor both appear to have long and solid NBA careers ahead of them — 2014 first-round pick Joel Embiid continue to sit out, but is the player that has the chance to change the fortunes of the Sixers franchise.
It’s not often a player of Embiid’s skill level falls to the third spot in the draft, he would have likely been the consensus top pick if healthy, but news of a stress fracture in his right foot caused his draft stock to plummet in a draft that included plenty of top level talent like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
The original plan was for Embiid to miss four-to-six months of his first season, but like Noel before him, he missed his entire rookie year, having his work ethic and maturity level questioned by some inside the 76ers' organization.
The player who Sixers coach Brett Brown once referred to as "the center of their universe" and admitted there were times when he was disappointed with his work ethic last season has made a change for the better.
What’s changed the dynamic in regards to Embiid is his mind-set and how well he is handling missing a second straight season.
"I think that Joel Embiid this year verses last year, just in his mind and his approach to his situation, is night and day," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said as a guest of the Sports Bash. "When you go to someone who is 19, 20 years old and say there is a chance that you could not play basketball again - he has a group of people around him that have been exceptional, led by himself. He is in a completely place."
The Sixers were hopeful that Embiid was going to be able to play during the summer league, but in June, general manager Sam Hinkie announced that a CT scan on Embiid's injured right foot "revealed less healing than anticipated at this point." In July, it was announced that Embiid would undergo bone graft surgery on his right foot, making it likely he would miss the entire 2015-16 season.
Back in November, Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil said Embiid was ahead of schedule, by December he was seen doing some light shooting without his protective boot and was recently doing some on- and off-the-court work during the 76ers' West Coast road trip. Embiid appears to have turned a corner and has to hope his foot remains healthy so he can finally make his presence felt on the floor next year.
"I think all over the place, things are positive," Brown stated. "I'm very, very confident we're going to see a healthy Joel Embiid soon. "
So when is soon?
"I think that will be determined at the start of next year," Brown explained when asked if Embiid could be expected to return at any point this season. We expect to get him back on the court and playing good basketball and that's where our mind has been set."
He’s proven to be extremely polarizing guy when discussing the Sixers, many believe Embiid will never step on the floor for the Sixers, others cling to his potential when trying to see the Sixers out of these difficult times - and its hard for Brown not to get excited about that potential as well.
"Obviously the program is still fluid," Brown admitted. "We've got a lot of work to do. But you start wondering about Joel Embiid and (Dario) Saric, and maybe as many as four first round picks and a free agency market that we can tap into - how can you not get excited for that situation, for that opportunity."
From Brown’s perspective, its about becoming something special, not just another NBA team stuck in NBA mediocrity, which is so easy to find, and Embiid is a big part of making that happen.
"Ultimately the goal of the program, my goal has always been, we want to win and we want to win big," Brown admitted. "We feel a real responsibility to this city to ultimately deliver something that they are very proud of and that wins on a regular basis. The timeline if that, who knows, I just feel good about the direction we're going and the base we've established."
As the days and months peel off the calendar, this is the type of attitude that can help set the correct tone for this organization going forward. How good Embiid ends up being is not yet known, but it sounds like he’s on the right path.
So maybe one day we will see Embiid on the floor, paired with Okafor, Noel, Saric and some of the three or four first round picks the Sixers have this off season and it’s becomes hard for fans not get excited about where this all eventually ends up - just like Brett Brown.
(Listen to Sixers coach Brett Brown discuss Joel Embiid and more)