March 02, 2019
Any time Joel Embiid's name pops up on an injury report, Sixers fans rightfully get concerned about what it all means. Embiid may be an elite talent, but he has already missed two full seasons and chunks of two more because his body has let him down.
So when Embiid was ruled out for at least a week after returning from All-Star break, that familiar feeling of dread returned once again. But this time, he says, is different. This process has been driven by Embiid, with an eye toward making sure he's fresh as can be when the games really matter.
"It's all about long-term preservation and making sure I'm ready, not just for the playoffs, [but] also for the next 15 years," said Embiid. "Knowing the team and what we've been through, knowing me and knowing that I like to push on everything, I like to play through anything, we just felt like it was better to preserve."
In a change of pace from how this normally works, Embiid claims he is the one who initiated the dialogue with the Sixers in order to buy him some rest with his body banged up. Learning to play through pain has been an important part of his maturation process — he has gone from a novice on a minutes restriction to a star with one of the heaviest loads in the league.
Being the competitor that he is, the Sixers have struggled for years to draw the line between empowering him and protecting him. That's what makes Embiid's recent assertion important — the person who can protect him the best is Joel himself.
"Game by game, I just felt like [the soreness] was getting worse, and I felt like me personally, I didn't feel comfortable," Embiid said. "Coming from me, if I don't want to push through anything, that means I really needed [rest]. But I'm glad it was nothing, the MRIs show nothing, so it was good."
"I went to them and obviously they respect me, we worked together. They felt like it was best for me because they have been looking at a couple of games to take off with our schedule and our position. Having this time off is helping me a lot, and I expect to be back soon."
Embiid put maturity at the center of his message to the media on Saturday night, noting that in years past, he may not have been as receptive to taking a seat midseason, and he certainly wouldn't have volunteered to do so on his own. His own head coach noted just how far he has come, reminding the assembled press of Embiid's injuries, his trip to Qatar to get his body right, and all the events that have changed his view of the world.
But if you think Embiid is prepared to suddenly and consistently bend to the whims of the organization, rather than the other way around, he made it clear that wasn't happening. He repeatedly said he would be back, "soon," before eventually volunteering that he expected to be back by next week, laughing hysterically when asked if there was any chance he'd miss the rest of the regular season.
Embiid's read on his return to play was welcomed by his head coach with open arms.
"It's hard to say, this is the day. He and the organization are working hand in hand. He came to us, we listened as we should," said Brown. "I think he feels like he's getting ahead of it and on top of it...I think he offered that he felt it was going to be this upcoming week [to the media]? That's good."
As Embiid slowly works his way back — he claimed that Saturday marks the return of contact drills into his repertoire — the Sixers continue to progress without him. In the past, Philadelphia often did not have enough talent to hold down the fort without him, and Embiid's sense of duty always seemed to put him back on the floor sooner than expected.
This time around, the Sixers have bigger goals and fish to fry. And so the Sixers, with Embiid steering the process, plan to wait until he is ready to come back in full force.
"No, It's all about making sure I'm 150 percent," Embiid said when asked if their play will alter the timeline, as he walked back to the locker room with a big grin on his face.
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