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Joel Embiid wants to play again this season, for the Philadelphia 76ers and US Olympic team

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid wants to play again this season — for the Philadelphia 76ers, yes, even as they fade without the injured All-Star in the playoff hunt but also this summer for the U.S. Olympic team.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid speaks with members of the media at the NBA basketball team's practice facility, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid wants to play again this season — for the Philadelphia 76ers, yes, even as they fade without the injured All-Star in the playoff hunt but also this summer for the U.S. Olympic team.

The reigning NBA MVP, Embiid has been sidelined since early February when he underwent meniscus surgery on his left knee after he was hurt when a player fell on him. Embiid had already been hampered by knee injuries this season that cost him multiple games — and cost the 76ers a good spot in the standings.

When healthy, Embiid continued to perform at an MVP level. He was the NBA’s leading scorer at 35.3 points per game at the time he was hurt and averaged 11.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He scored a franchise-record 70 points to go along with 18 rebounds on Jan. 22 in a 133-124 victory over San Antonio.

And the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft says he's not done yet.

“That's the plan,” to return, Embiid told reporters Thursday at the team's New Jersey complex. “Obviously, everything has to go right as far as getting healthy and being as close as I'm supposed to be.”

Embiid and the 76ers have said there is no timetable for his return.

“You can never tell how the body reacts, especially once you start ramping up,” Embiid said. “It all depends on how it feels and if it feels great. Then that's good. If it doesn't feel like it's right, then you've got to keep going.”

The 76ers are hurting these days just as much as Embiid.

With Embiid and fellow All-Star guard Tyrese Maxey, the 76ers again hovered near the top of the Eastern Conference standings for most of the season under first-year coach Nick Nurse.

Without Embid, the Sixers would be lucky to avoid the draft lottery. They are 4-8 since Embiid went down in a Jan. 30 game when Golden State’s Jonathan Kuminga fell on the 7-footer’s left leg. They are 7-17 overall this season without Embiid and dropped to 33-25 overall — closer to a spot in the play-in tournament even with new additions Kyle Lowry and Buddy Hield than they are making a serious run at their first NBA title since 1983.

“We are certainly hopeful of a return and as soon as possible and all that stuff,” Nurse said. “I think our job remains to try and see what we can do to get these guys better. We know he's going to slot right back in there and we make sure we figure out the right pieces around him. The right sets, style, all that stuff around him. The right defensive schemes around him.”

Even if the Sixers plummet in the standings and the postseason seems out of reach, Embiid said he would still try and play.

“I just love playing basketball,” he said. “I want to be on the floor as much as possible. I only have about 20 years to do this. Any chances that I get, I want to be on the floor. It doesn't matter where we are. I don't know, four, five, three, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, it doesn't really matter where we are, I just want to play as much as we can and try and help us.”

Embiid said in the two months leading up to the knee injury he was “not even close” to 100% but his will to win kept him in the lineup.

“I know that 60 or 70% of me can still help the team, a lot, on both ends of the floor,” Embiid said.

Embiid also can't forget Paris.

Embiid told USA Basketball in October that, after more than a year of deliberating, he had picked the Americans over France as his team for the Paris Olympics.

USA Basketball does not plan to announce its team until the spring of 2024, but if healthy, Embiid seemed to have a lock on one of the 12 spots on the squad that will be coached by Golden State coach Steve Kerr.

Embiid became a U.S. citizen last year and could have also chosen to play for France — or even Cameroon, his homeland, if it qualified for the Paris Games.

The U.S. will try for a fifth consecutive gold medal at Paris next summer. Embiid hopes to stay on the long list of top NBA players expected to play for the U.S. next summer, including Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

“It's the same mindset, if I feel good, I'm playing,” Embiid said. “If it doesn't feel right, then I've got to make those tough decisions. I don't know how long it's going to take.”

Team president Daryl Morey said last week he remained “hopeful” the two-time scoring champion could return in time for a possible postseason run.

“If things go well, he’ll have a ramp-up,” Morey said. “We’re feeling pretty good that he’ll be back this season.”

Whether that return included playing games or playing it safe and limiting him to practice has yet to be determined.

Embiid laughed when he said the only good part of the rehab process was spending more time with his wife and young son.

“He's loving it right now,” Embiid said. “I'm not going anywhere, I'm not doing anything. He's getting too used to it. He doesn't want me to leave the house anymore.”



Dan Gelston, The Associated Press