Joel Embiid means everything to the Philadelphia 76ers. The superstar big man solidified his status as one of the greatest players of his generation by winning his first MVP last season after consecutive second-place finishes behind Nikola Jokic. Somehow, Embiid is having an even better season this year, producing at an all-time high level to carry the Sixers towards the top of the East and position himself as the MVP front-runner again.
Now Embiid needs knee surgery to fix the displaced flap of the meniscus in his left knee. The injury leaves enormous consequences as the Sixers evaluate their future less than a week before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and it has all of the NBA asking one question: if and when can Philadelphia expect Embiid back in the lineup?
Embiid turns 30 years in March. He has a long-term history of knee injuries, though this is the first time since his rookie year that he’ll miss at least 10 consecutive games. With a healthy Embiid, the Sixers are a real threat to win the Eastern Conference and reach the 2024 NBA Finals. Is that still possible after this injury?
Here’s everything we know about Embiid’s injury and how it will affect the NBA Finals race.
When will Joel Embiid return for 76ers?
The 76ers have yet to give a timeline on Embiid’s recovery. The best estimate so far comes from NBA insider Shams Charania, who said Embiid is likely to miss 1-2 months at minimum. He could be out longer than that if the tear reveals itself to be worse than anticipated during surgery. Here’s Charania talking about the timeline for Embiid on Monday.
If Embiid missed two months, but then could return for the Sixers, he’d be back for the final stretch of the regular season. Philadelphia’s last regular season game is April 14 against the Brooklyn Nets. The 2024 NBA Playoffs will open on April 20.
What is Joel Embiid’s injury?
Embiid has a torn meniscus in left knee, and needs surgery to fix it.
Embiid began dealing with soreness and swelling in the left knee in early January, according to The Athletic. Embiid remained in the lineup for Philly until he tweaked his knee against the Pacers on Jan. 25. While Embiid would return to finish that game in a loss for Philly, he would be a late scratch two nights later in Denver for a premier matchup against Jokic.
Embiid’s late absence against the Nuggets started an entire unnecessary media cycle about why he hasn’t played in Denver against Jokic since 2019. He would go on to miss the next game against the Portland Trail Blazers, but tried to return against the Warriors on Jan. 30.
That’s when Golden State forward Jonathan Kuminga fell on his leg, and necessitated the MRI that eventually revealed the injury. Here’s the play:
I wrote that Embiid paid the price for the league’s new award rules — which mandates players must play at least 65 games to earn awards like MVP. At the same time, Embiid should know that his legacy will only be defined by his ability to win a championship at this point. Pushing hard towards another MVP this year was never a good idea, especially after Jokic played a lighter schedule and gave up on MVP last season before a torrid run through the playoffs for his first championship.
Embiid has a history of left knee injuries
Embiid entered the 2014 NBA Draft with huge medical red flags. He missed his first two seasons as a pro, but has done well to stay mostly durable since he debuted in 2016-17. However, he has had several left knee injuries before that could play into his recovery this time.
How does Embiid’s injury impact the 76ers?
Embiid’s injury threatens to derail the Sixers’ season before they get a chance to prove themselves in the playoffs.
Right now, the Sixers are the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference at 30-18 overall. The team will want to stay within the top-six seeds in the conference so it doesn’t have to go through the play-in tournament to qualify for the playoffs. The Sixers currently have a four-game lead over the No. 7 seed.
Embiid’s injury could also affect what the Sixers do at the trade deadline. Armed with surplus draft picks and a ton of expiring contracts, Philadelphia could load up for a championship run by adding to the team at the Feb. 8 trade deadline. It matter what Philly does at the deadline if Embiid can’t play at his best level. though.