PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Joel Embiid’s career statistics are measured more in tweets (2,400 and counting), Instagram followers (1.2 million-plus) and folk tales than point totals and triple-doubles.
What’s your favorite Embiid story? C’mon, everyone in Philly has one.
Like the time he confessed his love for Shirley Temples . Or more recently when he was spotted jogging the Philly streets for a late-night run as if he was Rocky Balboa. He even picked up a tennis racket , while still rehabbing a surgically-repaired left knee, and flashed his serve and volley under street lights. How about that one time he crashed the stage at a Meek Mill concert and danced the night away. Shirtless.
What can’t this lovable social media superstar do?!
Oh yeah: Play a full slate of basketball .
Embiid’s highlight reel has mostly been relegated to amateur video clips and short postings on his IG story because his game action has been constrained to just 31 games in three seasons. Thirty-one games. In three seasons. Even Greg Oden can’t believe it.
Embiid has achy feet, creaky knees - and enough flashes of generational talent for the Philadelphia 76ers to throw the bank at him. The Sixers agreed to give Embiid a $148 million, five-year extension simply on potential and a real fear they would lose him in two years if they didn’t show him the NBA’s version of respect now. He’s a symbol of Philadelphia’s “Trust the Process” movement that convinced a fanbase that throwing away seasons for draft picks would ultimately lead to the franchise player who could potentially take the 76ers to their first title since 1983.
The Sixers put their trust in Embiid.
But for the first time in coach Brett Brown’s five seasons, there’s so much more talent on the Sixers than one decent player and a bunch of castoffs and developmental league projects.
The Sixers rebuild boasts two No. 1 picks in rookies Ben Simmons (who sat out with a broken foot last season) and Markelle Fultz, two No. 3 picks in Embiid and Jahlil Okafor (largely considered a bust), lottery pick Dario Saric (who can’t start after playing two years overseas) and $23 million free agent J.J Redick (who has never made an All-Star game or earned any postseason honor of note).
Throw in a solid performer like Robert Covington and there’s a core there that suggests the Sixers could contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot a year after they went 28-54.
“I think the organization, Brett, the guys that have been through the tough hits here over the last several years and the fans deserve this moment,” team president Bryan Colangelo said. “There’s an opportunity to be excited, to be ready to take that next step and I feel like we’re poised to do that.”
But the evolution from Team Tank to title contender will only go as far as Embiid, the 7-foot center out of Cameroon, will take them. He’s yet to play since he had surgery in March to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and has was just cleared last week to participate in 5-on-5 drills. His contract is a major risk - but the Sixers believe he was worth it.
He helped the Sixers win eight of 10 games in one stretch in January, a stunning run for a team that won 10 games the previous season.
“Joel is only scratching the surface, but he has all the potential and promise to go down as one of the all-time greats to wear a Sixers jersey,” Colangelo said.
And a medical chart that could make him one of the all-time busts.
Here are some other things to know about Philadelphia’s season:
FULTZ STEAM AHEAD: The Sixers took Fultz with the No. 1 pick out of Washington even though there are serious concerns about his shooting. President Donald Trump had better shooting form when he fired rolls of paper towels to hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico. Fultz’s jump shot and free-throw form has been ridiculed in the preseason and it doesn’t seem like something that can be fixed before the Oct. 18 opener at Washington. But the Sixers like to take the long view on their prospects and Brown will give Fultz, who has a sore right shoulder, the time he needs to correct his shot and blossom into a player worthy of his pick.
DOWN UNDER: Simmons, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, feels forgotten in this year’s rookie class after missing a year with a broken right foot. Yeah, he doesn’t have much of a jumper, either. But the Australian can dominate around the rim and run the offense as the point guard - a dual threat that helps form a potent 1-2 punch with Embiid for a decade.
STAY HEALTHY: The Sixers have gone five straight years with a franchise player out for the season. They are trying to snap that streak this season and hired C. Daniel Medina Leal away from Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona and put him in charge of athlete care. “People are borderline shocked we were able to get him,” Brown said. He may be the real MVP behind the scenes as the Sixers try and put their health woes behind them.
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