SIXERS PRESIDENT and general manager Sam Hinkie did not look, act or sound like a man who was trying to run a shell game.

Conspiracy theorists had looked at the timing of the Sixers' announcement that redshirt rookie center Joel Embiid was not healing as well as anticipated from the foot injury and surgery that cost him last season and determined that it was a smokescreen to hide Hinkie's true intentions for Thursday's NBA draft.

Yesterday, that was put to rest. The concerns about Embiid are all too real.

Hinkie said selecting Duke University freshman center Jahlil Okafor third overall was not connected to Embiid's situation. He said Okafor was the pick because he was the best player available.

But what if there was no issue with Embiid?

"I'd like to think we'd have had the courage to do it anyway," Hinkie responded when asked if he would have still selected Okafor. "I knew and it's hard to unknow where things stood with Joel, but I'd like to think we'd have the courage anyway."

It would almost have been better had it been the mysterious Hinkie talking about Embiid. It would be easier on the concern meter to believe it was just Hinkie being Hinkie and not wanting to divulge any information that he feels might weaken his position.

The troubling thing about this is that it was clear that Hinkie does not know for sure what is going on with Embiid.

"[Embiid] feels really good," Hinkie said. "That's part of what makes this, um, maybe confusing is the right word.

"It's certainly confusing for Joel. He said, 'I can't believe how good I feel and I've felt great for a while.' It seems hard to believe that something is wrong."

Something, however, is wrong - or rather, not quite right.

A CT scan of Embiid's foot about a week ago led to the Sixers making the infamous Saturday night release saying things weren't as healed as "anticipated."

Hinkie pointed out that a year ago, while some had said it would be a 4- to 6-month recovery from surgery to repair the navicular bone in Embiid's right foot, that he had a more conservative estimate, at that time, of up to 8 months.

Embiid had the surgery on June 20, 2014, which makes it more than 12 months and there are still issues.

"I'll give a timeline that might help clear some things up but might also help show why we're looking so hard to try to understand," Hinkie said. "Joel we've watched like a hawk in rehab every day of the year.

"The nature of navicular injuries and the nature of stress fractures is that you see these slow improvements and then you slow [rehabilitation] down and check things.

"Anytime you get any kind of negative feedback, you unload, slow down and re-assess.

"As part of that, we have a set of pro-active MRIs on Joel, and each of those we sent out to a variety of doctors both internally and externally and ask, "What do you think?' We get the consensus responses and move from there."

From all indications, things were moving fine as Embiid was increasing his workout routines and moving closer to playing five-on-five basketball.

Then something changed.

"We get to March, and he had a CT scan that looked right on schedule," Hinkie said. "He was 9 months and they said this looks good, so take the next step we've always talked about.

"He did more day, by day, by day, including play, shoot, run and all sorts of things. We had one more precautionary scan, largely the pre-Summer League one and it looked different. There were no symptoms, no pain. It wasn't bothering him. But it looked different.

"The surgeon said, 'What is that? Let's get to the bottom of this.' "

Considering Embiid is symptom-free, there is reason to believe the Sixers are simply being overly cautious with the health of a young player who could carry this franchise for a decade or more.

That's the smart move. Embiid is too crucial to the rebuilding of this organization to not operate on the side of caution.

Hinkie said he does not "see how [Embiid] is going to play in the Summer League with the conversations we've been having."

Looking long-term, that's not that big of a deal. It's simply not worth the risk if Embiid's healing process just needs a bit more time.

The unknown is the biggest fear.

"I don't know how to categorize it," Hinkie said, adding that another surgery has not yet been ruled out. "It's a tricky bone and a troublesome bone to sometimes heal. It was healing on a steady upward curve and then it doesn't seem to be healing as well anymore.

"I guess it's fair to call it [setback] if you want to call it that."

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

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