Caution has been the name of the game for the Sixers medical department, but a recent report from the Courier Times' Tom Moore is making some waves for a sourced detail regarding the timeline of Joel Embiid's second foot surgery.
Moore's column primarily discusses the unique scenario of expecting greatness from a player who missed his first two seasons, but buried toward the bottom is an interesting inclusion (bold emphasis mine):
Two sources expressed surprise that the Sixers don't plan to let Embiid first experience NBA ball in a more controlled atmosphere during July's summer leagues like they did with Nerlens Noel in July 2014 after Noel was sidelined for his first year with a torn ACL.
Sixers management has said Embiid will skip summer leagues in part because it'll only be 11 months since his second surgery. Two sources noted the Sixers permitted Embiid to delay the most recent operation from late June until Aug. 18, apparently because he wanted to enjoy himself for more of the summer.
A curious note if in fact it's true, but let's circle back to last summer and parse through what we knew at the time.
In mid-August, Sixers GM Sam Hinkie spoke to reporters on a conference call the day after Embiid's foot surgery, addressing the timeline, discovery/recovery process and a gaggle of other tidbits. In his opening remarks, Hinkie made sure to note that discussing options with the young center was an important part of the process:
I gave him a chance to ask questions. I said, ‘Do you have other questions? Where can I help?' We talked through it.‘Do you understand? What's unclear? What are you not sure about? What do you not trust? What do you trust?' So we talked through that.
That was a good conversation; and at the end of that I asked him, ‘Joel, what do you want to do? We've told you what we think is best. What do you want to do?' He said, ‘I want to have the surgery.' I said, ‘Okay.' I said, ‘Who should do it?' And he said, ‘I'm not sure yet. I'm not sure.' And that made total sense. I said, ‘Why don't we do this... why don't we go out tonight and send out a release that says you're going to have the surgery?' And he said, ‘Fine. That seems fine to me.' So, we agreed then that we would do some more work and we would get to it.
As it turns out, Embiid had some due diligence of his own to do before a final medical team and date was set, according to Hinkie:
From that point, Joel had some additional diligence that he wanted to do. Part of which was the kinds of things we hadn't done a lot of yet, which were I thought, in hindsight, quite reasonable things like talk to players.
He's talked to a number of the players, I think some of which were from Wasserman and some of which were from other places that had had first-hand experience as a patient with the various surgeons we were looking at. I thought that was a really reasonable approach and a good way to think about it if you're a patient. So, we did that and the decision at the end was to put together this group of doctors that we all feel comfortable with and everybody needed to feel comfortable with to do it.
Letting a player who already went through a year of rehab do some exploratory work is completely reasonable, and frankly to be expected.
The search for the correct surgery team also matches up with what the Sixers said publically earlier last summer. In Hinkie's July 11th statement formally announcing Embiid would undergo another surgery, he claimed the team was, "still in the process of determining the doctor who will perform the procedure, which should be finalized in the coming days."
Of course, when a team of surgeons is involved, coordinating high-quality doctors for a single procedure is no small task, and Hinkie admitted to botching the timeline:
There is a little bit of scheduling to make that happen. If you think our lives are busy, you should see these doctors that are in such high demand to perform surgeries for people all around the globe. So, to get all their schedules together and to do it we grew comfortable during that period that there weren't particular risks to waiting. I think time is on our side here.
I said at the time and we put in the release is that we expected the procedure to take place in the next 7-10 days. I think my estimate stunk there. But at the same time, within a few days we kept doing more and more research, some of which Joel was doing on his own, some of which we were doing on his behalf. I didn't particularly care, honestly it's not about me. It's about getting the answer right. It's about getting everybody comfortable with where we're headed because of the gravity of the decision.
The optics of the situation were such that they may have given the impression Embiid was loafing around and jet-setting all summer. Noted in the call was the fact that Hinkie's meeting with Embiid took place in Las Vegas, and that his trip to Vegas was at least in part to meet with the GM. Embiid's presence in Vegas was presented as a point of contention in last fall's hit job by The Cauldron when in fact all indications point to the visit being used as an important launch point for the surgery process.
A delay in Embiid's surgery date appears to have made complete sense when all factors are considered. Perhaps the more interesting question is this -- if they did delay for the sake of letting him enjoy his summer, is that inherently bad?
A hallmark of Sixers criticism since they've undertaken the rebuild is framing the franchise as a cold, calculating machine ignorant of the "human" side of basketball. Hinkie's reputation as a number-cruncher, the team's exploitation of salary rules and a flippant attitude towards winning games in the short term have combined to cement this reputation publically.
Loads of evidence exists to the contrary -- career journeymen like Ish Smith or the departed Thomas Robinson have raved about how different it is in Philly compared to outside perception -- and attention to detail on an individual level appears to be a strength, not a weakness.
Would it be really so terrible even if the Sixers allowed Embiid to get his mind right before undergoing another surgery? It's easy to forget, but he dealt with family tragedy and losing the ability to play the game he loves the year before, all while adjusting to a new, unfamiliar area. Faced with another year's worth of rehab, I think it would show extraordinary patience and awareness for the Sixers to allow their brightest talent a break before beginning the road to physical recovery.
It would certainly appear Embiid had a hand in his surgery being pushed back deeper into the summer. The nature of that pushback, however, is up for debate, and it appears this is simply another case of the Sixers crossing their t's and dotting their i's.