The Philadelphia 76ers routed the Indiana Pacers by a score of 120-96 on Thursday night, but that was hardly the main story of the game. The center of attraction was Joel Embiid, and it had nothing to do with his 22 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks. It had to do with the star big man playing through a back injury.
Remember: the main reason why Embiid did not go No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft was because of a back injury, as the seven-footer suffered a lumbar stress fracture during his lone season at Kansas.
He then proceeded to sit out the first two years of his NBA career because of back and foot problems and then played in just 31 games during his “rookie” campaign in 2016-17 due to a torn meniscus. Now, here the 76ers are in January with the playoffs still three months away, and they are allowing their franchise player to play through an injury that played a significant role in costing him two seasons.
Are they serious?
Former Sixers star Charles Barkley said at halftime that the 76ers are “the stupidest organization in the history of sports” for allowing Embiid to play in what was otherwise a meaningless regular-season contest, and while that statement may be a bit harsh, he is on the right track.
I understand that Philadelphia wants to nab home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but it’s January. January. Losing one game would not have been that big of a deal.
Wouldn’t you rather your best player be healthy for the postseason? Home court isn’t going to mean anything if Embiid isn’t there. Not only that, but what about the future? Embiid turns 25 in March. There will be plenty of time to try and win titles with him as your centerpiece. So why risk damaging his back because you wanted to beat the Pacers in January?
Embiid really wanted to play. Of course he did. He’s an athlete. He’s a competitor. But Brett Brown and the 76ers organization hold the final say in matters such as these. They held him out of a couple of playoff games against the Miami Heat last year because of a facial injury. That they’ll do, but they won’t keep him in street clothes for a regular-season game due to a back issue? It’s beyond the laws of comprehension.
It didn’t help matters much that Embiid also looked a bit uncomfortable at times against Indiana, and he played 35 minutes, 1.5 minutes above his season average. You couldn’t even limit him to 25-30 minutes in a 24-point blowout? Really?
Philadelphia is playing with fire right now. Back issues are certainly nothing to mess around with, especially for a seven-foot, 250-pound man who has a history of back injuries.
Clearly, Philly’s thought process is in the now rather than the future. The Sixers understand that they may very well need home-court advantage to make it out of the first round, as there seems to be a good chance they will get matched up with someone like the Pacers or the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the postseason.
That is understandable, but it just shows how incredibly myopic this organization is being at the moment. How many more risks are the 76ers going to take before they realize enough is enough?
The Jimmy Butler trade was a risk in and of itself, and while Butler has played well, there have already been reports that he has clashed with the coaching staff.
Embiid put up big numbers on Thursday night, but what if he woke up on Friday with his back on fire? What if he tries to go through a practice or a shootaround and his back seizes up because he didn’t rest it enough?
The 76ers are desperate when they don’t have to be. Again, Embiid is 24 going on 25. Ben Simmons is 22. They will have cap space this summer. There is absolutely no rush for them to try and go all in right now when they could simply play the waiting game like they did under Sam Hinkie for several years.
They’ve waited this long; what’s a couple of more games of sitting Embiid?
It could very well be that Philadelphia is still smarting from this past summer, when it struck out on LeBron James and Paul George in free agency, missed out on Kawhi Leonard and lost some of its best shooters to other teams.
But this is no way to handle it.
Embiid doesn’t know any better. His only mindset is to go out there and play. It’s not on him. This is on the 76ers’ organization for simply not seeing the forest through the trees.
The Sixers will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday afternoon. If they are smart, they will sit Embiid, especially with the rough and rugged Steven Adams in the building.
But this is the 76ers we are talking about, so would you be surprised in the slightest if Embiid suits up and plays another 35 minutes?