Sixers could "Trust the Process" and shut Joel Embiid down for season

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in November, December and January, Joel Embiid’s February came and went without him playing in a single game for Philadelphia. What’s more, at this point, it’s unclear if he’ll be back on the court in March or April.

The former Kansas star who sat out two full NBA seasons after the Sixers drafted him third overall in 2014, due to complications with a fracture in his right foot, last played on Jan. 27. Embiid looked good, too, going for 32 points and 7 rebounds, while shooting 4-for-6 on 3-pointers against Houston.

However, the rookie sensation from Cameroon has missed 14 games since due to a left knee injury, and Philadelphia announced Monday the the center and presumed Rookie of the Year favorite is out “indefinitely.”

As Keith Pompey reported for Philly.com, Embiid first injured his knee Jan. 20, against Portland, leading him to miss the following three games with what was characterized as a bone bruise. The 7-foot-2 phenom played one game a week later before the team shut him down, after finding he had a slightly torn meniscus in the knee.

The 22-year-old face of the franchise was expected to return to the lineup following the all-star break, but that never happened due to swelling and soreness in Embiid’s knees when he practiced.

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A clearer picture of the rookie’s immediate future could come soon, with the results of an MRI from Monday. So far, Embiid has played in 31 of Philly’s 59 games, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in just 25.4 minutes.

The organization took a cautious approach with the injury-prone big man, restricting his minutes and keeping him out of one side of games on back-to-back nights. Still, Embiid proved to be a borderline all-star and immediate fan favorite in Philadelphia before his latest setback.

“The luck he's had with injuries, you have to feel really bad for him," 76ers point guard T.J. McConnell told Philly.com. "But his health is most important. I would rather him get healthy and be able to play and try to risk it more.”

With only 23 games remaining and Philadelphia (22-37) not in position to contend for the playoffs, Embiid missing the remainder of his rookie season seems like a legit possibility. The Sixers already have ruled their No. 1 overall pick from 2016, Ben Simmons, out for the year with a foot injury, and they just traded another former lottery pick, Nerlens Noel.

All signs points to the Sixers mailing it in for the next couple of months — or, to put it another way, “Trusting the Process.”

While missing out on Embiid highlights until next season might be tough for Philly fans to swallow, a cautionary approach that allows the franchise player to fully heal his knee would be best for him and the team.

Let’s say Embiid doesn’t play again this season. The Sixers lose like its their job and thereby increase their chances of getting a high draft choice in what is considered a strong 2017 class. Depending on how things shake out with the lottery, Philly could add a pair of top-five picks to go with Embiid and Simmons for next season — if the Los Angeles Lakers’ pick falls out of the top three, it goes to the Sixers thanks to a trade.

By now, 76ers fans know all about patience. It could finally pay off next year, particularly if the team can pair Embiid and Simmons with a couple of big-time prospects — such as Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, KU’s Josh Jackson, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Duke’s Jayson Tatum or Kentucky’s Malik Monk.

There is no good reason in the short-term or long-term for Philadelphia to rush Embiid back to the court. You want to see the amazing big man play for years to come, and the more talent that surrounds him the more enjoyable the future will be for the Sixers.

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