Early in the Joel Embiid re-injury saga, the Sixers were abnormally aggressive in their confirmation of leaked news. On June 13th, after a report from Adrian Wojnarowski stating that Joel Embiid suffered a setback in his recovery from a foot surgery performed after the draft last season, the Sixers issued a press release from GM Sam Hinkie. All bold emphasis is mine and added for context.
"Recently, Joel and Sixers personnel traveled to Los Angeles for a series of routine exams with a number of physicians who have been actively involved throughout this process. During his visit with Dr. Richard Ferkel, a standard CT scan on Joel's right foot revealed less healing than anticipated at this point.
"Our priority remains providing Joel with every opportunity to ensure he has a long and successful NBA career, and as such, these findings cause us to pause and reassess his current activities. Together with Joel and his representatives, we will continue to consult with the experienced team of doctors who have been an integral part of his evaluations, while also engaging in dialogue with a broader set of experts and specialists.
"Discussions regarding the appropriate next steps are currently ongoing and we will share an update once it becomes available."
The Sixers (and I in bold) emphasized that Embiid, his agency, and the team were actively consulting medical professionals in search of figuring out what the ultimate solution to his foot recovery would this. This is important later.
The NBA draft came and went, with the Sixers selecting something of a replacement for Embiid's expected presence in Jahlil Okafor, a 7-foot post savant. That didn't bode well for a surgery decision.
On July 11th that decision was reached. The team issued a press release announcing that Joel Embiid would have a second foot surgery, confirming news initially reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. Below is another excerpted quote from Hinkie:
"As we previously communicated, we have spent the last several weeks working closely with Joel and his representatives to further evaluate Joel's foot following the results of the most recent CT scan.
...(A) group of experts unanimously agreed that the routine CT scan in June did reveal less healing than anticipated, an unexpected result since Joel was not experiencing any foot pain.
... After receiving the input of the aforementioned medical experts, as well as conversations with Joel and his representatives, there was careful consideration given to a number of options related to this particular situation. A collective decision has been made that the best approach to promote full healing would be to proceed with a bone graft of the fracture site. We anticipate the procedure will take place in the next 7-10 days and result in Joel missing the upcoming season.
That anticipation of a surgery in 7-10 days felt daunting, especially as sights like Embiid launching 30-foot, no jumping swishes during summer league pre-game warmups only served to make you more sad for his fate. The surgery would keep him out for another year and draw more comparisons to Greg Oden - another prodigious big whose injuries derailed what could have been a superstar career. Again, this was considered a collective decision.
But curiously, there has been no announcement of a successful surgery. It's been nearly four weeks since the press release on a Saturday night at summer league. And the Sixers are silent. Why? Sources told Liberty Ballers writer Jake Fischer that no announcement would be made this week, either:
Just checked with a team source. As of now, the Sixers have no plans this week to announce anything regarding Joel Embiid's expected surgery— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) August 3, 2015
The Sixers did not issue a press release when Embiid's first surgery occurred, so maybe we shouldn't expect that. (ed. correction: as pointed out in the comments, that would have been weird considering his surgery took place six days before the draft last year) But there's been no leak about successful surgery, no tweet from Embiid about recovery, no word from anyone regarding a status.
In many ways the active regime is taking the opposite road of their predecessors: on the court, on the bench, and in the front office on how the team evaluates players and performance and on what the team prioritizes. It seems hypocritical to criticize the team for being quiet when there's no news considering the scrutiny the previous front office received (especially from us) for weekly nonsensical Andrew Bynum bowling updates when they weren't necessary.
And I'd agree that the silence is okay...if the Sixers hadn't put the 7-10 day timeline on surgery.
When you set a timeline (and mind you: the Sixers are all about NOT having timelines, as front office members have said on- and off-record on numerous occasions related to just about any reason) you create an expectation that something will get done at a set point. Once it's not, people get anxious and ask questions. When people ask questions and get rebuffed, people begin to doubt the intentions of the people making decisions.
We don't think Joel Embiid has had a surgery, based on the team's denials of information and lack of confirmation of any kind. Given that, there's a few plausible scenarios as to why the surgery hasn't happened yet. We'll start with the least likely and move to the move likely.
Embiid's injury, originally thought to be an improper healing, turned out to be a break.
The Daily News' Bob Cooney reported that Joel Embiid's navicular bone, noted in press releases and press conferences as "healing improperly," had actually been re-broken at some point. It's possible that this was discovered after the initial diagnosis. There's little incentive for the Sixers to lie about the difference between an improper healing and a re-broken bone since both require surgery. A subsequent examination may have revealed a break, and the plans changed.
The Sixers haven't denied the report, though CEO Scott O'Neil stood by the initial press release. This scenario assumes that everyone is telling the truth when they open their mouths but are withholding information related to the delay.
But the context the re-break has been framed in makes it seem like a replacement of the improper healing rather than a supplement to it. The scenario above paints a neat picture, but it seems unlikely based on how it's been reported.
Something else happened to delay surgery
This is obviously less cause for concern, but the team should totally address the reasoning behind the delay regardless of how innocuous it is. A pair of reasons for that could be:
- No one can agree on which surgeon will perform the bone graft. There are many foot doctors out there.
- Embiid needed to undergo some other procedure before the bone graft can be completed. Maybe there was swelling in his foot or something?
But we don't think those reasons above are the cause for the delay. Let's move on to the most likely and problematic...
Joel Embiid doesn't want to undergo surgery again
This is the disaster scenario, even more than the re-break, and the thought of the majority of the Liberty Ballers staff conglomerate. He reportedly skimped on rehab and defied instructions from trainers and coaches before, such as when he put on a fantastic pre-game dunk display. Given the reports and public statements regarding this, Embiid may have been his own enemy during his rehabilitation process. Though impossible to determine the impact, it doesn't reflect well that after the deviations from rehab plans that he needs another surgery.
Maybe more importantly: Embiid does not feel pain in his foot. He may be refusing surgery because he does not understand what's wrong. He and his agent may have consulted doctors who believe he can play with the injury. And maybe they're right, but the Sixers have been so seemingly thorough with their solicitation of medical opinions that Embiid would be going against numerous top medical professionals and sports scientists in making the executive call.
But Embiid has the right to veto any surgery. Even if it's not well-informed, no one can or should force Joel to do something he otherwise wouldn't to his body, not even if they're paying him millions of dollars to not play. And that might be what we're seeing now. If this is the case, and while purely speculative let's assume that it is, then this whole unfortunate situation can turn ugly.
The only way to know this for sure, or to get this idea rebutted, is to get confirmation or even a leak from the Sixers. Instead, all we hear is radio silence.