Sam Hinkie Doubts Joel Embiid Will Be Ready for Summer League

Sam Hinkie says that he doubts Joel Embiid will be ready when the Sixers play summer league basketball in July.

Joel Embiid practices before the Sixers played the Los Angeles Clippers on February 8th, 2016 | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid practices before the Sixers played the Los Angeles Clippers on February 8th, 2016 | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie met with members of the media today at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine to discuss yesterday’s trade deadline activity.

With the Sixers making just one, very minor, move, the discussion naturally veered off to one centered around the future of the team.

One of the biggest — if not the biggest — question marks about the Sixers’ future is center Joel Embiid, who has missed each of his first two seasons because of multiple operations to recover from a fracture in the navicular bone of his right foot.

Hinkie gave an update on Embiid, who is currently training at Aspetar, an orthopedic and sports medicine hospital in Qatar.

The update on Embiid’s progress was, for the most part, a positive one, with Hinkie saying he “has a real chance to have a fantastic NBA career”.

“He’s at this facility called Aspetar in Qatar that is an interesting place, and one we’ve been looking at for six months,” Hinkie explained. “[It’s] world-renowned and known for having some of the best sports medicine doctors and rehab specialists, and orthopedic surgeons, and sports psychologists and dieticians and the whole gamut [of professionals].

“He’s there on a fairly intense program for a few days and will be back maybe by the end of this week,” Hinkie continued.

The recovery from such an injury naturally focuses on the physical aspect of it – the integrity of the bone, the rehabilitation of the ligaments around it, ensuring adequate blood flow to the injured area – but a big part of the reason for Hinkie’s optimism surrounding Embiid seems to be from the improvement in Embiid’s approach to his rehabilitation, something which the team has readily admitted wasn’t always ideal during his first rehab.

“He’s done a great job. He’s been super professional,” Hinkie said. “He’s brought a whole new level of maturity to the game and to his rehab, and a day-to-day approach, which, honestly, I think is like the key to life. Perseverance and the day-to-day approach, and how to be resilient, and how to focus on what you can control and how to make the best decisions you can about how to spend your energy every day.”

The update did, unfortunately, contain one sobering admission from Hinkie: he doesn’t expect Embiid to play in summer league.

“If I had to guess, I doubt it,” Hinkie said, when asked whether fans should expect to see Embiid play in July. “The goal from here is to back up and say, ‘Let’s have Joel raring to go for next season,’ but not [necessarily] for Salt Lake on the fifth of July.”

When in the offseason Embiid’s surgery was performed plays a large part in when he will, if everything goes right, make his Sixers’ debut.

“The first time through, he got injured and had surgery in June [2014] and was getting ready for Summer League in July [2015]. This last time, he had surgery in August [2015],” Hinkie continued. “We definitely wouldn’t push him to be ready in July [2016], and I’m not sure it would make a whole lot of sense at, the end of the day.”

The Sixers announced that Embiid suffered ‘less healing than anticipated’ in his foot on June 13th, 2015, which was actually earlier in the offseason than when his injury was first revealed in the previous season.

In 2014 Embiid, and his team of advisers, made the decision about surgery within a matter of days. What surgery would be performed, who the surgeon would be, all of it was finalized in what seemed like the snap of a finger: Embiid’s injury was announced to the public on June 19th, 2014, with the surgery performed just one day later.

Sam Hinkie and the Sixers were not a part of the decision-making process for Embiid’s surgery during the summer of 2014, as the surgery happened prior to the 2014 draft. Instead, when Hinkie and the Sixers were faced with a similar decision in the summer of 2015, they took the exact opposite approach.

They deliberated on the necessity of a surgical procedure and, later, on the details of exactly what procedure would be performed. They scoured the globe to interview as many surgeons in the field as they could before finally coming to a determination on which of the highly-qualified doctors would be a part of the team to carry out the surgery.

The process was painstakingly long, with surgery finally performed on August 18th, a full two months after the announcement that his foot wasn’t healing as expected.

It was a process that defines the man that runs, or at least has a hand in running, the Sixers as much as anything. That delay in the surgery, and, perhaps more importantly, the cautious nature of the Sixers’ approach to bringing Embiid along, could put Embiid’s ability to play in the summer league in jeopardy. That would be a tough pill to swallow for a fan base ready to get a glimpse of the shiniest of assets the team has collected during this rebuilding period.

The Sixers, however, are hoping that the information they gained from the months of due diligence last summer, and their cautious nature this spring, will yield enough benefit to be worth the delay. That the research they performed led to a better decision, and that the better decision will provide longer-lasting benefits than the temporary euphoria of playing in the Utah Summer league. That the surgeons, the surgery, and the rehabilitation process they have Embiid on can give him the best chance of overcoming a tricky injury, one which has a history of derailing careers.

With how drastically different the process the Sixers used to determine the details of the surgery was from the first time around, it makes you wonder what would have happened if Embiid was under the Sixers’ guidance when the first surgery was performed.

Would the surgery have happened as quickly as it did? Would it have been the same surgery, with the same surgeon? Would they have even tried to get Embiid back for summer league last summer if any of that changes substantially? And could any of that have prevented the setback that happened last June from happening?

We’ll never really know the answers to those questions, just like we’ll never know whether the patience the team showed last year will pay off. Randomness, especially with injuries, has a funny way of derailing even the best laid plans.

There’s also plenty of time for Embiid to progress at a rate that is faster than anticipated, and Hinkie guessing, in February, about Embiid’s availability in July certainly carries with it no finality.

But it’s a punch to the gut for many Sixers fans eager to see what Embiid can do. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a tough admission to hear for fans desperate for any piece of good news that could even suggest the possibility that Embiid is ready to take the first major step to an injury-free rest of his career, even if such long-term confidence would be impossible to develop regardless of what happens in July.

Ultimately, however, if in three years Joel Embiid has been playing NBA basketball without any recurrence in this pesky navicular bone, nobody will care about whether he did or did not play in July of 2016, even if the disappointment fans will feel in the moment is undeniable.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.