April 10, 2019
Based on what the Sixers have told everyone publicly, there has been little reason to doubt Joel Embiid would be good to go by the time the NBA Playoffs started. That was, at least, until Elton Brand met with reporters for an end-of-season availability that cast doubt that otherwise wouldn't have existed.
In the interest of fairness to Brand (and Embiid, for that matter) I'm going to include the full exchange with reporters here so that nothing is taken out of context or framed in a way that is trying to make anyone look bad. I will give you my own thoughts below the transcription of the exchange.
REPORTER: Going into the playoffs, Joel will have missed 14 of the last 24 games. Where do you feel he's at as far as conditioning is concerned?
BRAND: I'm optimistic. I've seen him, he's doing everything in his power to be ready for this weekend. I was in Miami with him, we had a short meeting, he was on his way to Hydroworks which is an underwater treadmill. He's working his butt off to be ready. He's focused on his diet, he's focused on his body, so I'm optimistic.
REPORTER: To follow up on Joel, he only missed four [games] before the All-Star break. Why do you think there was such a difference in the amount he played in the first half vs. the second half, and in terms of load management and how he was used, do you think he [should] have been rested more in the first half so he'd play more in the second half?
BRAND: That's a fair question. He's a hyper-competitive player, he wants to win everything, and it's about how he presents (???). We work with Joel with load management, how does he feel? How do you feel today? Can you go out there and what do you want to do? So our athlete care and Joel work together side-by-side. So when he presents well, when he goes out there and he's dominating with 30 points, 20 rebound type games, five blocks, and no ill effects, you keep going with it. That's what he wants to do. He knows how important he is to the organization and his teammates.
REPORTER: In your mind, is his health a question at all, or is he as healthy as you could have hoped he would be heading into the playoffs?
BRAND: No no, I'm optimistic that he'll be ready this weekend and he's doing everything he can to get back. But you know, of course, he's the major key. We see the difference between when Joel is out there and when he's not.
REPORTER: So there's a possibility he won't be ready?
BRAND: Again, I'm optimistic he'll be ready this weekend.
REPORTER: So it's possible he won't be?
BRAND: It's possible.
There's one more exchange that came later on worth splicing in here:
REPORTER: Just to clear up what you said, that it's possible Joel won't play this weekend, are the days that he's missed more load management and rest, or something with his knee?
BRAND: Um, like I said I'm optimistic that he plays this weekend. But it's a combination of how he feels. I think he'll present well and he'll be ready, but you don't know.
I do think it is worth noting that Brand refused to put his foot down and say that Embiid was good to go, 100 percent, throw in any other cliche you want here. Embiid has not played a whole lot since the All-Star break ended, and the idea behind it all along was to buy him some rest to prepare for the team's final push.
If that's all it was, though, you'd think it would be easy enough to say, "Yeah, our franchise player is ready to rip for the playoff opener." Instead, Brand not only suggested it's possible Embiid wouldn't play, but he also evaded a question seeking to clarify why Embiid was resting/missing games in the first place. Another organization would perhaps deserve the benefit of the doubt, and maybe this one would deserve it for a non-Embiid player. But the history here is bad and the answers don't line up.
The Sixers have gone out of their way to shoo away any connection between the Greg Monroe signing and Embiid's health, and Brand said on Wednesday evening that bringing Monroe in was more about Justin Patton not being prepared to play playoff minutes. But let's hammer this home again in case I haven't made it clear enough: they acquired a fifth center in the month of April for no real reason.
Do I believe Joel Embiid is going to play and start in the playoff opener? 100 percent. I think Embiid's leg would have to be falling off to miss a playoff game, and I think this team is quite aware of how vulnerable they are when he doesn't suit up. There's motivation on both sides to have him out there this weekend.
(Before anyone goes there — if this is Philadelphia's idea of "gamesmanship" to throw off an opponent, they better have a better strategy. If they're expecting any opponent to leave Joel freaking Embiid off of the scouting report because of a media session, they're out of their minds.)
Brand slipped in another piece of potential injury news into his end-of-season availability, which almost slipped by once Embiid chatter took over. Jonah Bolden, who was removed from Tuesday's game against Miami with left knee soreness, was mentioned alongside Sixers bench players heading into the playoffs, but not in a good way.
"There won't be a time where we won't have Tobias, Jimmy, Joel, JJ, or Ben out there on the court, it'll be at least two or even three of those players," Brand said. "I believe in Mike Scott, I believe in Boban, I believe in [Jonathon] Simmons, I believe in the players that will come off of the bench. TJ, possibly Jonah — I'll have an update on him and his health before next practice."
That may end up meaning nothing, but it's another worrying message heading into the most important time of the year. Bolden has his shortcomings, but his ability to play a little bit of power forward at least gives the Sixers some lineup flexibility. This team does not have the depth or the cohesion to just shrug off injuries.
So strap in, I suppose, and wait to see what happens between now and Game 1 of the first round. My money is on Embiid being good to go, but as always, the Sixers have decided to make it interesting.
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