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Bryan Colangelo has been misleading, untrustworthy on injuries as Sixers GM

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The Sixers’ new GM has to answer for how he’s handled injuries with the public.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

When the Sixers hired Bryan Colangelo as the team’s president of basketball operations to replace Sam Hinkie, the promise made was a message of transparency. He vowed to be in the public eye, to repair relationships with teams and the media the previous regime had splintered, and most importantly, to be honest and forthcoming with the Sixers fan base.

Under Hinkie, the Sixers were not always upfront with information, especially when it pertained to the injured Joel Embiid. In the summer of 2015, the Sixers said there was “less healing than anticipated” in his injured right foot, only to announce a month later that he would undergo a second surgery to repair the navicular bone, which the Daily News later revealed had been re-broken.

The son of Sixers’ advisor Jerry Colangelo was expected to be the antithesis of that scenario, a beacon of sincerity. Thus far, he’s failed miserably on that front, and in light of a new Embiid injury situation, he’s doubling down on the worst traits straight from the book of Hinkie.

Colangelo has been out of sight for most of the season, but met with reporters right before tip-off on Saturday to announce that an MRI taken on Embiid’s bone bruise after the Trail Blazers game also revealed he had a “very minor” tear of his meniscus. This appearance only came after Derek Bodner scooped the team on the injury, forcing their hand.

Embiid injured his right knee in a nasty fall against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20 while attempting to land after a dunk. He left the game only to return a short time later, but it was clear the 22-year-old was not 100 percent. The Sixers allowed him -- despite knowing he had a torn meniscus -- to play in the team’s nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets. According to Colangelo, he hasn’t played since that game over two weeks ago because he’s been dealing with periodic swelling in that knee, and despite labeling him as day-to-day, it’s unlikely he’ll play again before the All-Star break.

There are multiple issues on this front.

For starters, the Sixers have been cautious to a fault in maintaining Embiid’s health this season. He’s been on a serious minutes restriction, one that forced him to miss the second overtime against Memphis in November, and hasn’t played in back-to-back games all year. The team put this plan in place to ensure Embiid’s longterm health, and allowing him to play in a game while knowing he had multiple knee ailments is counter-intuitive to everything they’ve tried to accomplish. It was naive and short sighted, and now the Sixers are paying the price because of it.

The most infuriating part of the whole situation is that Colangelo has known for weeks Embiid has a tear in his meniscus, yet refused to disclose it until right before tip-off on Saturday night, after Bodner reported the news.

Colangelo had appearances on both major sports radio stations in Philadelphia in the past week, and failed to mentioned the tear in either interview. On 94WIP Friday, Colangelo had this to say:

And as much as I would like to be forthright where we give all the information and all the detail of everything going on with respect to this particular injury, I can simply tell you that due to various constraints including HIPAA laws and privacy for the athletes, concern for people involved whether it’s agents, friends, others...I think you just need to be content with us doing everything possible to put him in the best position possible to return to the basketball court.

Twenty-four hours later, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act must no longer have applied. Allowing Embiid to play on a torn meniscus is a terrible look to begin with, but opting to hide that information from the people you promised to be completely honest with just 10 months ago is insulting.

Information like that will never be able to be kept quiet forever, especially when a player the team has listed as day-to-day will end up missing nearly three weeks. Fans and media members aren’t stupid, and eventually they’ll demand the clarity they deserve on a player who demands coverage.

For the sake of good “optics” the organization so desperately covets, it’s important to get out in front of a situation like that before it takes on a life of its own. Instead, they allowed speculation to gain momentum following each successive game Embiid missed, so when he decided to dance (read: rhythmically walk around on a stage) at a Meek Mill concert on Friday night, questions inevitably arose about his on-court availability.

Colangelo admitted he believed Embiid’s choice to dance for what was no longer than 20 seconds was “not the best thing to see”, but what he failed to realize (or at least acknowledge) was he is the one who allowed the media firestorm to ignite.

Any sort of outrage over what Embiid did is ridiculous to begin with, but like Hinkie before him, Colangelo failed to control the narrative. He failed to do his job, and because of that, he attempted to absolve himself from the situation by placing the blame on Embiid for choosing to dance, which was particularly peculiar considering the injury is supposed to only be minor.

Whether the meniscus tear is as much of a non-factor as Colangelo is attempting to make it out to be we will never know, but frankly, he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. The team has not been candid about any major injury since he inherited his job back in April.

Jahlil Okafor had surgery to repair his meniscus in March (another thing to keep in mind when the team describes Embiid’s injury as inconsequential), and was expected to miss just 4-6 weeks. Seven months later, Okafor wasn’t healthy enough to participate in preseason action, and as of a week ago was still dealing with soreness in that same knee. The situation was never addressed, and with Okafor likely being traded in the coming days, it never will be.

The Sixers listed point guard Jerryd Bayless as out with a “sore wrist” for nearly two months without providing any clarity, allowed him to play three games, then finally announced he would undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in December, which ended his season.

And most notably, a target debut date still eludes rookie Ben Simmons, who had surgery to repair a Jones fracture in October. Recovery time for that injury is typically 2-3 months, but it’s now February, and Colangelo is still stating that he won’t play until he’s cleared by the medical staff, four and a half months clear of successful surgery.

Embiid may be fine, and he could end up returning to action post-All-Star break on Feb. 24 against the Washington Wizards, but given Colangelo’s public track record for reporting injuries, his word should currently be met with a considerable amount of skepticism.

It was never supposed to be this way. Colangelo was brought in to open the curtains for an organization that preferred to keep everything in the dark. Instead, fans and media are dealing with the same problems they were forced to combat with Hinkie, and they have the right to be frustrated with their general manager’s lack of sincerity.

Hinkie’s departure taught us honesty and availability are coveted traits in a general manager, or at the very least key for keeping your job. Colangelo will be here for years to come, but displaying some of the very same traits that earned his predecessor the boot — particularly when his hiring was supposed to be a direct response to Hinkie’s reserved profile — calls the organization’s overriding message into question.

The mishandling of Embiid’s injury situation should hopefully serve as a lesson for Colangelo, but also for the Sixers organization as a whole. He was given the job because the team felt he was the perfect person to provide the accountability and openness the organization lacked, and thus far, he’s done absolutely nothing of the sort.