Embiid plans to return this season, regardless of Sixers' record

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid spoke to the media Thursday afternoon for the first time since he suffered a knee injury a month ago and said he hopes he will be able to return sometime before the regular season is over.

"That's the plan," Embiid said after Philadelphia practiced Thursday ahead of a game at home against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night. "Obviously everything has to go right, as far as getting healthy and being as close as I'm supposed to be. But yeah, that's the plan."

Embiid, 29, was in the midst of a historic season when Golden State Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga inadvertently fell on his left leg during a scramble for a loose ball in Philadelphia's 119-107 loss to the Warriors in San Francisco on Jan. 30. He had been averaging 35.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game this season.

The team announced Feb. 6 that Embiid had undergone a procedure "to address an injury to the lateral meniscus in his left knee" and that he would be reevaluated in four weeks, which is next Tuesday. Embiid said that there is no timeline for his return but that he continues to feel good about his rehab.

Embiid said that he ultimately chose to have the procedure done after meeting with five specialists and that he still plans to play for Team USA in the Paris Olympics this summer, health permitting.

"I think when you look at what unfolded and what we saw, there was only one decision, and it was to go the route that I did," Embiid said.

The NBA's reigning MVP, Embiid was on pace to average more points than minutes played when he got hurt -- something only Wilt Chamberlain, during the 1961-62 season, has ever done.

Embiid had a streak of 16 consecutive games of 30 points and 10 rebounds this season, matching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second-longest streak ever behind Chamberlain. Embiid also scored 30 or more points in 22 straight games -- including a 70-point performance against the San Antonio Spurs -- and was on pace to lead the league in scoring for a third consecutive season.

"That's why it was extremely disappointing," Embiid said, "because I was on a roll and I felt like I wasn't even close to where I wanted to be, body-wise and basketball-wise, because I wasn't at my best, so I felt like there was still another level that I could go to. It was very disappointing. But I was having fun, playing, getting a lot of wins, dominating.

"The 70-point game was fun. ... I never would've thought that I could be in a position to score 70 in a basketball game and having the dominance that I was doing. It was fun, but it's not over. The mindset is 'come back if everything goes well, go from there.'"

He also became the face of the NBA's new 65-game rule for eligibility for the sport's top individual honors, including MVP and All-NBA selections, as part of the league's player participation policy -- particularly after he missed Philadelphia's game in Denver against rival Nikola Jokic as a late scratch after that same left knee was bothering him during warmups.

When asked whether that had anything to do with his decision to play in the Warriors game, when Embiid was visibly bothered by the knee, he said that it did not -- that he had simply been trying to help a Sixers team that had been scuffling even before he got hurt -- and that he wouldn't have done anything differently.

"My mindset is playing basketball, playing as much as I can," he said. "For two months, I was not at 100%, I was not even close to it. And I just felt the need of giving my all to the team and just wanting to win. Because I know I can, you know, I can add that to this basketball team.

"So there's nothing different I would've done. ... This was very depressing. But the way I also look at it is that's another way to work on myself, on my body, and just get as healthy as possible."

Part of the time he has spent away from the court that he has really enjoyed is getting more time at home with his wife and son, Arthur, a toddler, who Embiid joked now gets upset whenever Dad has to leave the house.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, hopes to get Embiid back to form soon. Beyond his individual accomplishments, Embiid had lifted up a 76ers franchise that endured yet another offseason of tumult because of the ongoing drama surrounding James Harden and his trade request -- and ultimate trade to the LA Clippers on Nov. 1 -- and had Philadelphia sitting in essentially a four-way tie for second place in the Eastern Conference when he went down.

Now, Philadelphia sits in a three-way tie with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers for fifth place in the East and is just a half-game ahead of the Orlando Magic in eighth. Considering the 76ers are 26-8 when Embiid plays, and just 7-17 when he sits, falling into the play-in tournament has become a serious possibility.

Embiid, though, said that wherever Philadelphia lands in the standings won't impact his decision to come back.

"The same reason why I was pushing [to play] the last couple games [before I got hurt]," Embiid said, when asked why he would consider coming back this season. "I just love playing basketball. I want to be on the floor as much as possible. I only have about 20 years to do this.

"So any chances that I get, I wanna be on the floor. So it doesn't matter where we are [in the standings]. I just want to play as much as I can and try to help us."

Despite the uncertainty around Embiid, Philadelphia has been aggressive in upgrading the roster. The team landed arguably the best player moved during trade deadline week, acquiring sharpshooter Buddy Hield from the Pacers. Hield could become a similar fit alongside Embiid as JJ Redick and Seth Curry were in past 76ers iterations.

Philadelphia then landed six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry in the buyout market, giving the 76ers yet another guard who can space the floor around Embiid, plus one with extensive playoff experience and leadership.

Embiid said that he's optimistic about the moves the team made and that he still believes in this group's potential to make a deep playoff run if he can get back on the court.

"We've been struggling lately, but I believe in all those guys," Embiid said. "It happens. Everybody go through rough patches.

"I told [Nick Nurse] after the first three games, I was like, 'Man, I wish I was playing,' because I was so excited because I feel like Buddy, the way he's playing, I just felt like I could help him even more. Kyle, I talked to him, having him here, I think he's gonna help us a lot. I think he's gonna help me a lot. Just his experience. And then basketball-wise, he's still really freaking good.

"I thought [the front office] did as good of a job as they could have done based on what was happening that day. But as far as everything else, they're fighting through everything, and they need to keep fighting to make sure that we keep winning."