In a decision with far-reaching implications for the Philadelphia 76ers and their franchise player, reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid will undergo surgery to address a lateral meniscus injury in his left knee, the team announced Sunday. Embiid’s recovery timeline has yet to be determined, but he is expected to be sidelined for a considerable period.
Embiid was diagnosed with the meniscus injury after Jonathan Kuminga landed on his leg during a fight for a loose ball during the 76ers’ loss to the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 30. The 29-year-old center then underwent an MRI exam and missed Philadelphia’s next two games as he explored his treatment options.
The setback complicates the 76ers’ hopes of making a deep postseason run and effectively eliminates Embiid from the MVP race; end-of-season award candidates must appear in 65 games to be eligible.
Embiid, who is averaging 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists, has already missed 14 games entering Monday’s action and will be unable to meet the minimum games requirement once he misses four more games, which will happen Saturday.
Embiid’s injury could have a major impact on Philadelphia’s trade deadline strategy and postseason aspirations — even if he is able to return before the playoffs begin in mid-April. While the 76ers had been viewed as potential buyers following their October trade of James Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers, they must weigh the logic of investing draft assets for short-term additions if Embiid’s health status is unclear.
The 76ers, who have lost in the second round of the playoffs in each of the past three seasons, are hoping to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2001. However, Philadelphia (30-18) has slipped to fifth in the Eastern Conference in the wake of Embiid’s injury, and its fate has been tied directly to its franchise player’s availability.
Embiid has appeared in 34 of 48 games this season: Philadelphia is 26-8 with him in the lineup and 4-10 without him. The 76ers hold a 3½-game lead over the No. 6 Indiana Pacers, but being forced to manage without Embiid for an extended period lessens their likelihood of hosting a first-round series and could drop them into the East’s play-in tournament.
The 76ers and Embiid are likely to proceed with caution given the center’s lengthy injury history, which includes a meniscus tear in his left knee that required season-ending surgery in 2017 and a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee that sidelined him for one game during the 2021 playoffs.
Embiid’s hopes of claiming a third straight scoring title are also in jeopardy. Assuming Embiid can’t return in time to fill his Eastern Conference starting spot for the All-Star Game on Feb. 18, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will need to name an injury replacement.
Sunday’s decision to undergo knee surgery completes a particularly newsworthy stretch for Embiid, who scored a career-high 70 points against the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 22 before falling to the court after banging his right knee during a win over the Pacers on Jan. 25.
Though Embiid was not listed on Philadelphia’s injury report before a showdown with Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 27, he was a late scratch after going through a pregame workout. Embiid then sat out Philadelphia’s next game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 29 with “left knee soreness” before scoring a season-low 14 points and exiting with the left knee injury against the Warriors. The NBA announced Feb. 1 that the 76ers were fined $75,000 for failing to list Embiid on their injury report for the Nuggets game “in an accurate and timely manner.”