If you've followed the Sixers since Josh Harris' group bought them in 2011, you might have come to view the Wells Fargo Center as the world's biggest emergency room. Everybody was hurt all the time.
That was supposed to change.
Last summer, the franchise announced the hiring of Dr. Daniel Medina and anointed him its medical messiah. Medina is an injury-prevention specialist who had spent the previous 17 years with F.C. Barcelona, one of the world's elite soccer teams. The Sixers gave him the newly created title of vice president of athlete care and they promised he would keep the players on the court.
Then Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, played the first four games and missed the next 68 with a mysterious shoulder injury. Joel "The Process" Embiid, drafted four years before, missed significant playing time for the fourth consecutive season. Recently, Medina agreed to speak with the Inquirer and Daily News in the first interview of his tenure.
His assessment of his department's performance last season?
"We exceeded expectations," he said with a satisfied smile.
Medina, a slim, unassuming man with a melodic voice and delicate features, submitted to the interview during a sports science summit he hosted at the Sixers' high-tech practice facility in Camden on June 27. It was a celebration by the Sixers, who are proud of the facility and the sports science machine it houses. That machine fueled a 24-win improvement from the previous season, capped by the first playoff appearance since 2012.
All of that led Medina to consider his first year an unquantified success, even though Sixers players missed more than 250 games to injury, sixth-most in the league, according to mangameslost.com and even though they got next to nothing from Fultz.
For the cleverest Sixers critics, who despise such terms as "Load Management" and "Minute Restrictions," it might be hard to swallow, but it's true.
Medina wasn't willing to speak about specific players, but the Sixers' focus clearly was on keeping Embiid as available as possible, keeping rookie Ben Simmons effective for 82 games and the playoffs, and keeping JJ Redick's back issues under control.
All of these objectives were met — at least as far as the medical staff could control them.
Embiid missed his first two seasons with foot issues, then played just 31 games in 2016-17 due to knee injuries, but he missed just 11 of the team's first 74 games last season, due either to maintenance or minor injuries. Embiid shed his minutes restriction by mid-November, began playing in back-to-back games in February for the first time. He averaged 30.7 minutes per game.
Embiid played enough to become a first-team all-star and a defensive player of the year finalist. A freak injury in a collision kept him out of the last eight games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs, but Medina could not be held responsible for that.
Medina couldn't be blamed for Fultz's injury, either. Fultz returned from his summer break with what turned out to be an issue with his right (shooting) shoulder that an NBA source outside of the Sixers said resulted from altering his shooting motion during his time off. The source said Fultz was not forthcoming about the origin of the injury or his symptoms, which delayed the team's ability to resolve it. Fultz was cleared to resume team activities on Jan. 2, then returned to play March 26.
Clearly, things didn't go perfectly.
"In some cases, we haven't been able to maneuver the way we would like to. There is room for improvement," Medina admitted. "We can definitely improve. That will be a link to the future success of the team. We can visualize having a squad available for most of the year to the coaches."
As for the rest of the key players, Simmons led all rookies with 81 starts and 33.7 minutes per game. Redick, at 33, averaged a career-high 17.1 points in 70 regular-season games and, much more significant, averaged 18.2 points in the team's 10 playoff games. Robert Covington played 80 games and averaged 31.7 minutes, both career highs. Second-year forward Dario Saric played 78 games and increased his minutes and scoring by about 12 percent apiece.
Certainly, Embiid's health history played the largest role in Medina's hiring, though the rash of injuries over the previous five seasons to young cornerstone players certainly called for a high-profile medical mind to guide the medical team.
Consider the cases: Andrew Bynum (knees), Nerlens Noel (knee), Michael Carter-Williams (knee), Embiid (foot, knee), Jahlil Okafor (knee), Simmons (foot) and Fultz (shoulder).
Medina realizes what the Sixers' medical profile is. He shrugged and opened his manicured hands.