LAS VEGAS - Suddenly, the 76ers find themselves with more questions in their frontcourt.
Joel Embiid, who was selected third in last summer's draft, will have a second surgery on his right foot and is expected to miss all of next season, the team announced Saturday night after an Inquirer report earlier in the day. Sources said the team will decide whether the surgery will take place in North Carolina or at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
"A collective decision has been made that the best approach to promote full healing would be to proceed with a bone graft of the fracture site," general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement. "We anticipate the procedure will take place in the next seven to 10 days and result in Joel missing the upcoming season."
One source said the franchise is concerned that this setback is career-threatening.
Without Embiid, the Sixers will not have to try to fit three towering post presences - Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel - in what could have become a crowded frontcourt next season. But they do have to wonder about the future of Embiid, who only months ago was being touted as a franchise player.
The team announced last month that Embiid had a setback in his recovery. The former Kansas standout missed what would have been his rookie season after undergoing surgery last June to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his right foot.
Last month, a routine checkup in the San Francisco Bay Area revealed that Embiid's foot was in worse condition than it had been in his previous evaluation. The bone wasn't as mended as it had been before.
He is pain-free and outwardly jovial. However, a source said the 21-year-old is aware and concerned about the situation.
"Like I said, there's a chance his career could be over. This is like Yao Ming," a source said, noting that Yao suffered a stress fracture in the navicular bone in 2008 and again in 2009. That injury forced him to retire in 2011.
"Some people are saying this is similar to Kevin Durant," the source added. "But this is something more serious than what Kevin Durant has [a Jones fracture]. This is like the basketball [career killer]."
Embiid will make a guaranteed $4,626,960 this upcoming season. In October, the Sixers could pick up a third-year team option for $4,826,160 for 2016-17. They'll also have a team option for $6,100,266 for the 2017-18 season.
Dedicated to Embiid, the Sixers will likely pick up his third-year option. He's at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas as part of team-building activities.
But will Embiid be on the roster when, or if, the Sixers turn things around?
That's a big question considering he's been injury prone. A stress fracture in Embiid's lower back kept him out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments during his lone season at Kansas in 2013-14. Embiid initially hurt his back Feb. 8 that season against West Virginia. After returning to action, he aggravated the injury March 1 at Oklahoma State.
"We have been consistent in our philosophy that our focus will be Joel's long-term health and wellness to ensure he will have a long and impactful career in the NBA," Hinkie said.
Since last month's draft, Embiid has been an afterthought when discussing the upcoming season. The team is excited about Noel and Okafor pairing together. Meanwhile, Embiid has been shut down from all on-court activities.
"I would say I think Nerlens and Jahlil would be a fantastic pairing. Fantastic," Hinkie said the day after the draft. They "can defend the rim in their own ways, and then Nerlens [can] be freed up to chase and to be able to bother people from the weak side."
While Noel and Okafor might work well together, Embiid's situation puts a hold on the Sixers' rebuilding.
It can be argued that they were further along in the process after the 2014 NBA draft, where they acquired Embiid and the rights to Dario Saric.
At the time, the team had a point guard in 2013-14 rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams. The Sixers also hoped that Noel and Embiid would become the NBA's dominant frontcourt of the future. Then they traded away Carter-Williams in February.
Now it looks like they will be without Embiid for a second season.