MIAMI - The 76ers declared Joel Embiid out for the season Wednesday. Now they turn to the question of how to build their team around the often-injured center.
Embiid, at one time a shoo-in for NBA rookie of the year, is hampered by a torn meniscus and a bone bruise in this left knee.
He had already missed 15 consecutive games and 18 of 19 after suffering the bone bruise Jan. 20. An MRI exam shortly afterward revealed the torn meniscus.
A third MRI scan, on Monday, revealed that the bone bruise has improved significantly. However, it showed the meniscus tear is the more pronounced of the two injuries, the Sixers said.
One would assume that the next step is surgery to repair the torn meniscus. This scenario is far different from what the Sixers said when news broke Feb. 11 that Embiid had a torn meniscus. The team said then that it was a slight tear that wouldn't require surgery.
The Sixers believed that because Embiid's MRI after the Portland game showed the tear was minor. A second MRI later revealed the same thing.
However, things looked different after Monday's MRI. So with just 23 games left in the season, they decided it was best to shut him down. There's a belief that Embiid made the injury worse during Thursday's practice. His discomfort was noticeable as he left the practice facility.
"Our primary objective and focus remains to protect his long-term health and ability to perform on the basketball court," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said in a statement. "As our medical team and performance staff continue their diligence in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of Joel's injury, we will provide any pertinent updates when available."
Embiid missed the previous two seasons after surgeries to repair a navicular bone in his right foot.
Even with the latest news, the Sixers aren't shying away from their franchise player. All indications are that he'll receive a lucrative contract extension before the deadline in October. Embiid is eligible for a four-year extension that starts at 25 percent of the team's salary cap with a 7.5 percent raise. Right now the salary cap for the 2018-19 season is $107 million.
The Sixers view Embiid as a one-of-a-kind player who will get over this injury. They believe his current situation is a breeze compared with the career-threatening foot injuries he overcame.
"I just feel very confident given what he's been through and what he's seen himself do on an NBA court, that we'll move on," coach Brett Brown said, "He'll come out of this thing OK."
Embiid played 31 games, and he was stellar in most of them. The Sixers were 13-18 with their rookie center in the lineup.
He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.45 blocks per game, and he was nearly chosen as an all-star starter and then reserve, despite a minutes restriction. The rookie center was benched on the second of back-to-back games, all in an effort to keep him healthy.
"I think it's going to be a wonderful time this summer to start getting his body right, obviously get his knee where it's fixed," Brown said. "Then we look at a lot of stuff with his body, because he plays so hard. He's so competitive."
That competitiveness leads to Embiid's playing with reckless abandon. The Sixers believe that not having his legs under him after the two-year layoff leads to his injuries. That's why they're determined to make him stronger this summer.
For now, the focus is on fixing his left knee.
"We will continue to work with leading specialists to gather additional information through clinical examination and sequential testing to determine the best course of action and next steps," the Sixers' co-medical director, Jonathan Glashow, said in a news release. Glashow is the co-chief of sports medicine orthopedics at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center.
The Sixers want the bone bruise to fully heal before deciding what type of procedure Embiid will have on his meniscus.
There are three types of surgeries for a torn meniscus. A partial meniscectomy is the most common. That involves the removal of the torn piece of the meniscus. A meniscal repair is the second type of surgery. That one fixes the damage and helps to prevent deterioration. It's a more complex surgery and has a longer recovery time. It's not always an option. The tear has to be in an area that has blood supply.
A third option is complete meniscectomy, removal of all of the meniscus, which is avoided if possible.
All this is because of a dunk against the Trail Blazers in January.
Embiid took a power dribble past Mason Plumlee before dunking the ball. His left knee buckled backward as he landed. After going to the locker room, Embiid returned in the fourth quarter. However, he came down gingerly after a basket early in the quarter and exited for good with 8 minutes, 8 seconds left.
After missing the next three games, Embiid finished with 32 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals, two blocks, and five turnovers in an ESPN-televised loss to the Houston Rockets on Jan. 27.
He informed the team that he had experienced knee soreness during the game. It turned out to be his last of the season.
"He'll heal up," Gerald Henderson said. "He's shown, obviously at this point, his ability to bounce back and deal with injuries. He'll do his rehab. Obviously, he has the right mind for it, and he wants to be a good player. So he'll get it done.
"So I have all the confidence that he'll be back to full strength."
So far, Embiid has missed 29 games this season because of rest or injuries.