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The NBA and the Sixers are failing Joel Embiid

Injury management has been the Sixers’ Achilles heel for years now. And it doesn’t sound as if Daryl Morey and Nick Nurse have the best plan to keep Joel Embiid healthy. New NBA rules and stupid media discourse aren’t helping either.

Philadelphia 76ers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Gutted. Mad. Disappointed. Fed up.

Our own Paul Hudrick put it best: “There’s no other way to say it: it was an organizational failure that Joel Embiid took the floor against Golden State. Nobody should escape blame for what we all witnessed.”

Before the season began, I hosted Embiid’s trainer Drew Hanlen on a pod and he revealed that on the night Joel won his MVP last spring, Joel told Hanlen “man, to be honest with ya, I’d give back this MVP just to have a healthy postseason.”

Now this.

Joel Embiid has an injured left meniscus and we don’t know much more than that.

The whole thing is an absolute, unnecessary, all-so-Sixers disaster.

There’s blame to go around. (Cracks knuckles)

The NBA made a big mistake implementing the 65-game minimum rule

So you’re telling me a superstar who plays in 64 games can lose an MVP trophy to a player who has appeared in 65 games? Even if the dude who played one less game logs more total minutes? Voters already factor games played in heavily when making All-NBA and MVP selections.

You’re telling me a guy like Tyrese Haliburton can lose $41-$54M because of this rule? And what? He should just play while injured to avoid this ludicrous loophole?

What an absolutely “stupid rule,” as the Pacers’ All-Star put it:

Golden State Warriors’ legend Draymond Green is also rightfully disgusted with Adam Silver’s new rule which is backfiring badly:

So hopefully the league reassesses this bizarrely dumb rule as soon as this season wraps.

The NBA’s media and talking heads simply don’t do enough homework

I couldn’t have made this point better than our Bryan Toporek did the other day. The fact of the matter is simply that the recent Embiid discourse, and how he’s supposedly “ducking” Nikola Jokic has been absolutely shameful.

It only took me a bit of research to suss out the truth on that joke of a matter.

LeBron James is pissed as well:

Adio Royster and I had a lot to say about this subject in this pod below, and trust me, you won’t want to miss Royster go scorched earth on some names like ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Kendrick Perkins for not doing a little homework.

The NBA’s networks should force-feed their pundits some facts and context before they hop on air to spout disparaging nonsense:

Joel Embiid’s own responsibility

I’m just gutted for Joel and his fans. Embiid probably deserves a portion of the “blame” here, for pushing to suit up and pushing to continue playing when he probably shouldn’t have. This is ultimately his own legacy being written.

Sure, we’ve seen him fly into the stands at MSG, then appear in an All-Star game before missing 10 games with knee tendinitis in 2019. Sure, we’ve read the reports suggesting Joel may have wanted to prove a point when he hurt himself in Washington back in 2021. We’ve seen him limp around in garbage time on a bad knee chasing 30-and-10 streaks this season.

But I just can’t really bring myself to put too much blame on the big fella. Not today.

In Golden State before Jo got injured, the team was down All-Star Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, Sr., Robert Covington, Mo Bamba, plus they’d lost three straight. Of course he’s going to try to help as the team’s leader.

The 29-year old reigning MVP who turns 30 this March admitted before the season that he senses his own career mortality and therefore wants to play in every single game, and well... if you’re lucky enough to have a superstar this good, who happens to have this Jordanesque or Durantesque mentality, it’s a luxury!

If he’s out there, he’s going to take risks, he’s going to chase blocks and dive for loose balls, because he’s simply not a player who is overly cautious with his body like a Jokic or a Tim Duncan.

So the onus has to fall on the team to help protect him from himself.

The buck simply needs to stop someplace.

Reports like these from The Athletic’s Sam Amick — that there are folks within the Sixers’ org. who think that Embiid tends to push himself too hard because of chirping from media scrutiny — are not helpful.

So the media thinks he’s ducking Joker and some within his organization are anonymously telling reporters they think he cares too much about the haters?

Dude, if someone here, within my OWN team, thinks I let the media background noise (!?) and NOT THE FACT THAT WE WERE DOWN SO MANY KEY GUYS WHEN I’M THE TEAM LEADER, tempt me to play, come TALK TO ME, NOT THE PRESS!

But here’s where I come down....

The Sixers’ org. deserves the biggest slice of our blame pie

Let’s start with the coaching staff and med staff

Before the season, head coach Nick Nurse made some of us a bit nervous when he addressed load management on media day:

“I think that we are looking at it maybe a little different than people think we might be,” Nurse told Sixers Wire. “We’re trying to get [Embiid] to play more games. Our goal is that it’s going up for him, not the other direction...

“I think that’s just what our people believe here that he can play...There’s always things that can come up with that stuff, but I don’t know. I believe in the guys playing as much as they can and let’s see what happens.”

That was scary enough but at the time we also got this bit of intel from Kyle Neubeck of the PHLY Sixers pod:

“And — I know in [Embiid’s] case that the Sixers believe in many cases that load management can actually work against him because of how he gets in and out of shape quickly and that playing him as much as possible and keeping him in that groove where he plays a constant 34, 36 minutes a night is actually better than ‘hey, he played 38 tonight and then we’re gonna give him off and then he doesn’t play ’til Saturday....”

So... they have perhaps the most injury-prone superstar in the league and want him to play more regular season games as he enters his 30s?

Nurse would describe in more detail the team’s process for allowing Embiid to suit up (and continue to play while visibly hobbled) postgame in Golden State:

“...it’s kind of unrelated to what’s been bothering him...” Nurse told reporters in attendance after the loss in San Francisco.

“Obviously, medical cleared him. Joel obviously is a big part of that. He said he was feeling good. He said he’s more - a little rusty and he hadn’t been on the court for five days, but he said he felt good....

Yeah, I mean listen, we discussed it a couple times, he continued to say he felt good so we went with that, yeah. Medical said he was good, Joel said he was good so we just kept going with that.”

Something is missing here, right? If Embiid knows he’s rarely 100 percent, and always wants to play, then he’s going to say he’s feeling good, even when he may not be.

And so if Embiid plays “obviously a big part” in the medical staff’s decision to let him suit up they’ll be more likely to clear him when they shouldn’t.

And once cleared, Joel has every reason to trust the team’s doctors.

See the problem?

MVP says ‘I’m fine,’ so the med staff factors the MVP saying ‘I’m fine’ heavily into their decision to clear him, then he trusts the doctors and plays his ass off, and the coaching staff trusts the doctors and lets him play no matter how banged up he appears.

Something vital is missing in this process.

As Neubeck would add on another pod:

“Somebody needs to look at that fucking guy walking around like that and say ‘you are not healthy enough to play.’ I could tell you [Embiid] wasn’t healthy enough to play within three minutes of that game starting.”

Do the Sixers have no Minister of Common Sense to simply see what the entire basketball-watching world can see and pull the plug?

After the game Nurse didn’t even sound like he thinks this process (which hasn’t worked for nearly 10 years now) needs tweaking:

“I can’t speak for that,” Nurse admitted. “I just think that again, we’re gonna do all the things that are necessary and that [the Sixers] have been doing for the whole time that [Embiid] has been playing here, right? Like he’s got these checks, he gets to this point, the medicals good, they check him again, he says he’s feeling good, he even said he felt good in the game tonight.”

I suppose the team’s position is essentially that this was a freak occurrence that happened “unrelated” to the preexisting injury Jo was managing:

Front office’s role

So if an elite coaching staff is really this helpless to spot a gimpy superstar and pull him from a game before he really hurts himself, maybe the front office can help?

Can Daryl Morey or Elton Brand or Ned Cohen or someone sit somewhere nearby and like give Nurse the “kill it” gesture on Joel’s availability before disaster strikes?

We once got a bit more insight from Morey himself, appearing on “The Ricky” in the winter of 2023, answering what role if any the front office has in allowing the then 37-year old P.J. Tucker to play with a “dead hand:”

It sounds like Morey “preaches” for his vets to keep the big picture in mind. But that hasn’t been nearly enough. Ballers wanna ball!

Are his hands really this tied? Does he fear an Embiid trade request if he played a bit of load-management hardball?

This issue has not been limited to Embiid or Tucker either.

Last season the 76ers allowed Harden, fresh off back-to-back seasons dealing with hamstring issues, to chase the NBA total minutes lead long before the calendar year even turned to 2023.

They witnessed the 33-year old Beard limp to the locker room for treatment on an achy foot then return to play another 30 minutes or so on a sprain that would cost him more than a month!

Why didn’t anyone on Doc Rivers’ staff make the executive decision to pull James from a game in early November?

Months later in March, Harden, who had been managing a sore Achilles since mid-January ‘23, would strain it and still hobble around another 30-minutes or so on the issue. Harden would log 47 minutes in total before missing the team’s next four games.

Just before the playoffs began, the 2018 MVP would admit he didn’t think the issue would resolve. I could go on and on but I won’t.

Joel isn’t an innocent victim in all this but it’s clear the NBA and the Sixers are letting him down.

To paraphrase Lane Pryce from Mad Men “if this is where we wanted to wind up, then we all did everything perfectly.”

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