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November 28, 2016

Despite frustration, Sixers still choosing to proceed cautiously with Embiid

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With 7:33 left in Sunday’s game, the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers had made their move. They were on a 10-2 run and had just taken a 90-86 lead over the young Sixers.

And what did the Sixers do? They sent their best player to the bench for four minutes, and when Joel Embiid checked back in, the deficit was eight points. After the game, which the Sixers ended up losing by four, Brett Brown was asked about the temptation to blow past the rookie’s minutes limit in an effort to win the game.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “I think about that sitting down on the bench too sometimes.”

How could he not?

With Embiid sitting out tonight’s game against the Toronto Raptors, that will make it 12 out of 18 games played for the Sixers’ “third-year rookie” on the young season. And while the Kansas product is lapping the rookie field with gaudy per-minute and efficiency numbers despite limited time on the court, he still is only on pace to only play in 55 games.

So, when he plays, Embiid is already really good. Even better, he looks healthy after sitting out two years, though it would be nice if he fell down a few less times. The only problem is that Embiid doesn’t play all that much.

Does the head coach want to play his promising young big man more?

“That is not my place, it really isn’t,” Brown said. “I’ve said this to everybody: I’m a steward of our business, our organization. I need to do what’s right for the team and organization. That’s the bottom line. And that’s what I try to do, always. And you come up with some really hard decisions that maybe don’t favor me or us or whatever. But for the long-term lens that we all have, we have to be responsible with Joel Embiid and our players.

“We all get what we got in Joel Embiid. And so winning a game in the middle of November in 2016 for what really matters, sometimes that takes a backseat.”

The frustration is understandable. The Sixers had just played a game in which LeBron James (42 minutes) and Kyrie Irving (41 minutes) both logged heavy minutes, but Embiid could only play 25. The rookie clearly wants to play more (as evidenced by the ol’ chair kick), but he is also respectful of the Sixers medical and sports science departments.

“Those guys care about me,” is the gist of what Embiid usually says.

Brown has repeatedly said that the team will reevaluate Embiid around Christmas, so you have to figure that any increased activity will have to take place after then. His focus on long-term winning is the right note to hit.

What would have happened if Embiid played 30 minutes yesterday and the Sixers eked out a win? Well, it would have been very exciting, that’s for sure. But then after that initial celebration, the Cavs would have hopped on a plane to Milwaukee, still the overwhelming Eastern Conference favorites. And the Sixers would have hopped on a plane to Canada, very excited but still bound for the lottery.

There is going to be a time in the not-too-distant future when Embiid will need to play more minutes and take fewer games off. That isn’t up for debate. For now, though, playing for the first time in two years and on a team still in rebuilding mode, it’s understandable that the Sixers are choosing to err heavily on the side of caution.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann