PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid has not been cleared for 5-on-5 drills and the team will take a cautious approach in his return from his injured left knee.
Embiid’s career has been riddled with injuries dating to his college career at Kansas and all three seasons with the Sixers. Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, played only 31 games last season and had surgery in March to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.
The Sixers will soon decide how to handle his playing time when training camp opens next week.
“It’s really early in the process to determine exactly where Joel is in his progression back to playing,” team president Bryan Colangelo said Wednesday. “We have put him through a very hyper-conservative progression toward returning to basketball. It’s been very important for us to make it criterion based where he checks off certain boxes and he can move to the next step.”
Colangelo said Embiid has not suffered a setback in his return from the March 24 surgery. The Sixers said in a release at the time that Embiid had “minor arthroscopic surgery,” but the fact that he may not be ready to go six months later could become a huge concern for the team.
Embiid’s rookie season was known more for the frequent injury updates than the flashes of dominance that have the Sixers convinced he can become their cornerstone player. The Sixers slapped minutes restrictions on Embiid and refused to let him play a full set of back-to-back games.
“We’re excited really with where we see him from a physical standpoint,” Colangelo said. “He looks like he’s in tremendous shape and conditioning. He has to get in better 5-on-5 condition. At this stage, he’s not there.”
The Sixers have had a key starter miss a full season each of the last five seasons and the organization has made attempts at revamping their medical department. They recently hired C. Daniel Medina Leal, who ran the sports science and medical department for FC Barcelona, as vice president of athlete care. He will oversee all areas of athlete care and performance, including the medical and sports science departments.
Colangelo said Medina will set the guidelines for Embiid’s return.
“They have him on a path that is a conservative path that will hopefully put him in a planned progression to have sustainable on-court success, Colangelo said. “It’s not about getting ready for the first practice or the first game. He will be out there on the first practice and the first game. The question is, how much, how little, if it all.”
Colangelo said there were some unspecified criteria Embiid needed to hit before he was cleared for 5-on-5 drills. He averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds last season.
“We clearly are a better basketball team, a better basketball organization with Joel Embiid in the fold,” Colangelo said. “Assuming that health allows, he could help us be considerably good for many years.”
Colangelo said he was optimistic the Sixers and Embiid could agree to a contract extension before the Oct. 16 deadline. NBA players entering their fourth season in the league and under a rookie-scale contract are eligible to sign an extension.
“It is something that is certainly being considered or discussed,” Colangelo said.
There was some good news for the Sixers. Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, will have no restrictions on him after he missed last season with a broken right foot. Coach Brett Brown said Simmons will be the point guard and can play in 5-on-5 drills.
“He’s dominating in the gym right now,” Colangelo said.