How Does Joel Embiid's Setback Impact the Philadelphia 76ers' Draft Plans?

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2015

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The Philadelphia 76ers are back where they were three years ago—facing questions regarding the viability of their aggressive team-building plan as a prospective franchise big man battles injury.

After missing the entirety of the 2014-15 season with a fractured navicular bone in his right foot, Embiid's much-anticipated debut has been put in jeopardy as the 2015 NBA draft approaches. 

According to a press release issued by general manager Sam Hinkie, Embiid suffered a setback that will temporarily suspend his rehabilitation schedule: 

Recently, Joel and Sixers personnel traveled to Los Angeles for a series of routine exams with a number of physicians who have been actively involved throughout this process. During his visit with Dr. Richard Ferkel, a standard CT scan on Joel's right foot revealed less healing than anticipated at this point.

Our priority remains providing Joel with every opportunity to ensure he has a long and successful NBA career, and as such, these findings cause us to pause and reassess his current activities. Together with Joel and his representatives, we will continue to consult with the experienced team of doctors who have been an integral part of his evaluations, while also engaging in dialogue with a broader set of experts and specialists.

However, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowskiwho originally broke the newsnoted it's too early in the process to make any determinations about playing status. 

"Philadelphia is consulting with doctors on how to best proceed, and it's still premature to speculate on the possibility of another surgical procedure that could sideline Embiid," Wojnarowski wrote. 

We're still weeks and maybe months away from having more clarity on this front, so overreacting to the perceived severity of the setback in the context of Hinkie's vague assessment isn't worth it. 

What is worth dissecting is the route Philadelphia opts to take on June 25, when the Sixers are slated to pick third for the second straight season. With Embiid sidelined, pressure is mounting on the front office to get this one right. 

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Hinkie and the team's front office made the logical play by jumping all over Embiid a year ago when he slipped to No. 3 overall—capitalizing on the best-player-available strategy. That's what rebuilding teams often do, and despite the injury scare, the tantalizing potential rewards seemed to outweigh the risks given the organization's patient approach. 

"We felt in many ways very fortunate to have the set of circumstances happen that allowed a player like Joel to be in our position," Hinkie said after last year's draft, according to Philly.com. "We were very aggressive and we will continue to be very aggressive to find the best players for our team."

The Sixers had also stuck to their guns the year prior, mortgaging present gains in the form of Jrue Holiday for the promise of future success. By the time the first round was over, they had flipped their All-Star point guard for the then-injured Nerlens Noel and a lottery pick that turned into Dario Saric. 

Those two drafts offered insight into the franchise's operating procedures under the tenets of the rebuild, one that has been crafted based on a unique core principle. 

"I believe a lot in optionalitya lot," Hinkie said after February's trade deadline, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. "I believe a lot in [being] flexible. I believe a lot in making a decision as late as you possibly can to gain as much information as you can."

A breadth of possibilities doesn't ensure success, though, and Hinkie knows it. 

"We will not bat 1.000 on every single draft pick," Hinkie said, according to CSNPhilly.com's John Gonzalez. "We have them by the bushelful, in part, because of that. Because we don't have any hubris that we will get them all right."

Embiid's injury only stands to complicate matters, because all of a sudden, there may be another void to fill.

"The Sixers and Hinkie have shown a willingness to select the best available talent regardless of position, but how much they really know about Embiid's situation and the attendant level of fear has to influence whatever draft decision(s) they ultimately make," Gonzalez wrote. "Everything has been shifted and thrown into flux now." 

The team's trajectory (or lack thereof) suggested the status quo would remain intact come June 25. And despite the deflating news about Embiid's foot, it should probably stay that way. 

Assuming Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor are the first two players off the board, Hinkie should target the prospect he thinks can provide the franchise with the greatest long-term benefits—whether that's D'Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay or the fast-rising Kristaps Porzingis.

Making a panicked move and selecting a big just for the sake of adding size wouldn't jibe with the overriding theme of Hinkie's tenure. Now, if the sweet-shooting stretch-4who's reportedly "in play" for the Sixers, according to ESPN.com's Marc Steinis the best available player, that's one thing. 

But if Russell or Mudiay remains the object of Philadelphia's affection, there's no need to stray from the process, divisive as it may be. 

All that said, there's a caveat that's applicable to the 76ers' draft proceedings. 

With Embiid's status up in the air, Hinkie can't afford to select a player, let the team's uptempo system inflate his stats and trade him for another future lottery pick. They just ran with that strategy by trading former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams in exchange for a top-three protected pick from the Los Angeles Lakers that won't vest until next season at the earliest.

While it may pay dividends at some unknown end date, there's something to be said for giving the fanbase tangible progress to get excited about. Since the alternative revolves around theoretical promise based on asset management, it wouldn't hurt the team to add another legitimate building block to aid in the development of the core.  

These are the Sixers. Unpredictability is their defining characteristic, and a willingness to dangerously tip the risk-reward scales toward the dicey end of the spectrum has made them the NBA's most controversial project. 

Embiid's injury will test the merits of Hinkie's aggressive plan when the draft rolls around, and if recent history is any indication, the Sixers will remain as polarizing as ever in their pursuit of glory. 


Alec Nathan covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AlecBNathan.


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