Bryan Colangelo was standing near the side of the Sixers practice court on Monday afternoon talking about Brandon Ingram, the rail-thin small forward who had just finished a pre-draft workout for the team.
"He's everything we thought he was, but in a one-on-none workout, you're not going to learn everything about a player," Colangelo said. "That's why we scouted a lot of basketball games and watched a lot of tape."
Colangelo was not in the organization when most of that scouting was done, but he's up to speed on the choice between Ingram and Ben Simmons with the first pick of the June 23 NBA draft.
"The most important part we've been looking for is medical information on both players," Colangelo said. "That's a big part of what goes into the final decision."
At the far end of the court, literally and figuratively towering over the proceedings, Joel Embiid was working on his low-post moves against a purposely pliant defender. Embiid is monstrously big now. He grew approximately two inches in the last year and has added upper body strength. Standing near Jahlil Okafor and Christian Wood, both of whom are listed at 6-foot-11, Embiid looked to be more in the 7-foot-2 range.
Colangelo moved from Ingram to the subject of Simmons, and why the presumptive top pick has not (and will not) agree to a similar workout for the Sixers. The new general manager blamed it on the agent.
"Why don't you call Rich Paul and ask him?" Colangelo said after being peppered a third time for the reason Simmons didn't want to visit Philadelphia.
It was hard to keep from watching Embiid during this exchange, and during the one about whether Dario Saric will show up this season, even though it would mean a potential financial risk. Embiid took entry passes and spun this way and that. He shot lefthanded. He shot righthanded. He did drop steps. He ducked under. He floated soft hooks through the net. He powered to the basket for dunks. Finally, he did a crossover dribble from right to left behind his legs, took one gigantic stride and rose above the rim, above everything, above all the upturned faces gaping at him, above the very limit of hope an NBA franchise can have in one player, and he brought the ball down through the rim with a crash.
I'm sorry, Bryan. What were you saying?
"You can see what he's doing on the court," Colangelo said, cocking his head toward Embiid. "It looks like he's getting more fluidity every day. He's done some things competitively, two-on-two and three-on-three in controlled situations, but the word 'controlled' is the key there. Everything's got to be done within the process set forth and the timeline set forth by the doctors."
It is not overstating to say that while the Sixers have big decisions and great opportunities ahead of them - including the choice between Simmons and Ingram - Colangelo's success will be largely tied to the decision made by his predecessor to draft Embiid despite a fracture in his right foot. If Embiid can be healthy and play to his obvious abilities, the rest of the roster can just hop on and take a ride. Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Simmons, Ingram, Saric? Doesn't matter. This guy could get Bugs Bunny deep in the playoffs.
If he can't stay on the floor - or for that matter, get on the floor - then the flexibility to build around him disappears. Suddenly, a decision to, say, trade Okafor or Noel becomes perilous. The hope that Simmons becomes a better shooter or that Ingram develops an NBA body comes with a smaller margin of error.
Bryan Colangelo won't be judged by how Embiid turns out, but he will have to live with the consequences. It is the memory of Sam Hinkie and his entire "process" that could rise and fall each time Embiid lifts his right foot from the floor and places it down again.
With those consequences in mind, Colangelo delivered some bad, if somewhat expected, news on Monday. He did so exactly one year to the day - June 13, 2015 - after Hinkie revealed Embiid's surgically repaired foot wasn't healing properly, news that eventually led to a second surgery in August.
Ten months later, following a graft surgery that entails a six-month rehabilitation process for most folks, Colangelo announced that Embiid won't be playing with the Sixers' summer league team next month. Of course, most folks aren't 300 pounds and land on a hardwood floor with the impact of a bowling ball dropped from the ceiling. Nevertheless, he isn't cleared to play and nobody really knows if he'll be ready for the winter league, either.
"I can't answer that question," Colangelo said. "It's only going to be when the doctors tell me he's ready. Then I'll tell you the answer to that."
At the far end of the court, the big man made another basket and the players watching hooted in appreciation. Embiid laughed and said something that was lost in the echoes of the gym.
It didn't matter what was said on Monday, at either end of the court or by whom. The small bone in the foot of the large player will decide if they are to be kings. Everything else is just words that bounce off the walls and fall to the floor, waiting to be swept up and used again.