Joel Embiid

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Sixers enter camp with Joel Embiid not cleared for 5-on-5, Jahlil Okafor on trade block

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This is the season the 76ers make the leap from team with potential to playoff team fast on the rise.

Maybe.

That’s the plan in Philly, but there are a lot of questions for this team to answer. While a couple of these issues are answered already — Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are cleared to play and practice with teammates — a couple big ones still hang around. At the top of the list is “how healthy is Joel Embiid?” Coach Brett Brown doesn’t even have that answer yet, reports Derek Bodner of The Athletic.

It’s this simple: The Sixers outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the court last season, he was a dominant force defensively who scored 20.2 points a game. When he was off the court the Sixers were 11.5 points per 100 possessions worse. They need him to play and play consistently if the Sixers have playoff dreams. It’s unclear when Embiid will return, but know that the Sixers will be cautious with his minutes again when he does get cleared (he has played just 31 games in three seasons).

Does that mean more Jahlil Okafor? Maybe not, the Sixers are still willing to trade him.

The Sixers have shopped Okafor for most of a year and found no deal they like. Okafor battled knee issues last season and, after a summer working to get healthy, other teams will want to see him play a little before talking trade. If he comes to camp slimmed down and his knee looks right, it could revive trade talks. Using a back-to-the-basket game, he averaged 11.8 points a night shooting 51 percent last season, he’s efficient, and some teams could use what he does (off the bench).

It’s going to be an interesting season in Philly. Are they playoff bound?

Joel Embiid clowns Kevin Durant with #BurnerTwitter joke

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Kevin Durant sure looks like someone who has a secret Twitter account he uses to argue on behalf of himself.

It also appears Durant might have a secret Instagram account. His brother tagged a photo of the Warriors star with the account “quiresultan,” not Durant’s official account (“kevindurant”). Turns out, “quiresultan” has spent a fair amount of time insulting random commenters who bash Durant. Shortly after that made the rounds, “quiresultan” changed its name to “shanghainoon12345.”

Will Durant get a pass for this questionable online behavior?

Not from 76ers center Joel Embiid:

It’s no surprise Durant is the butt of the joke. But from a fellow NBA player? That’s harsher than I expected.

Three questions the Philadelphia 76ers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 28-54, most wins in four years

I know what you did last summer: The 76ers cashed in some of their immense assets, extra draft picks and cap space. They traded up for the No. 1 pick to get Markelle Fultz and signed J.J. Redick ($23 million) and Amir Johnson ($11 million) to one-year contracts.

THREE QUESTIONS THE 76ERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Joel Embiid stay healthy? The 76ers found their first sliver of success in years around Embiid. Of the 45 players to play at least 250 minutes for Philadelphia in the last five years, Embiid is the only one with a positive plus-minus:

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Embiid looked like a star when on the court. He was the best defensive rookie in years, and he was relentless on offense with his inside-outside game.

Of course he played just 25.4 minutes per game in only 31 contests last season, his first on the court after sitting his first two professional seasons due to injury. His injuries issues clearly aren’t completely behind him.

There’s a direct link between his health and Philadelphia’s chances of making the playoffs. It’s the team’s biggest variable, but it also leads to a smaller one…

2) How will the 76ers handle Embiid-less time? Not only did Embiid miss most of Philadelphia’s games last season, he played just about half the minutes in the ones he played.

There’s going to be a lot of time the 76ers must manage without him on the court. The better they do that, the more margin for error they’ll have for him missing games/having a minute limit.

They have enough centers to throw at the problem – Richaun Holmes, Jahlil Okafor, Amir Johnson. The key will be improved production from perimeter players, who’ll be tasked with greater roles when is Embiid is out.

Redick will help with his floor spacing, and Robert Covington‘s 3-point shooting regressing to his mean after a down year would compound the effects. But Philadelphia really needs at least one of its younger players like Dario Saric, Nik Stauskas, T.J. McConnell, Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to step up.

3) Is Philadelphia’s rookie starting point guard ready to win? Whether it’s Markelle Fultz or Ben Simmons, the 76ers will probably start a rookie point guard. Teams with rookie point guards usually struggle.

Maybe Fultz and Simmons can lean on each other, Simmons running the transition game and Fultz leading the half-court offense. Together, they might not face as large a burden as one rookie point guard would alone.

But neither Fultz nor Simmons is experienced in the nuances of NBA play, and while it’s generally fine for them to learn through their mistakes, Philadelphia is trying to make the playoffs this season.

T.J. McConnell is a nice safety blanket, but his upside is limited. It’s clearly better for the 76ers if they can get Fultz and/or Simmons going – particularly if they don’t have to balance present-vs.-future with that choice.

Will Philadelphia extend Joel Embiid? If so, at what price?

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The Philadelphia 76ers are in a difficult spot.

When you have a franchise cornerstone, potential superstar player it’s a no brainer to lock him up and give him a max contract extension off his rookie deal. But what if that potential superstar has played just 31 games in three seasons due to injury.

That’s the Sixers choice with Joel Embiid — in those 31 games Embiid was phenomenal, the Sixers played lock-down defense and looked like a playoff team, and the fans love Embiid. As their owner Joshua Harris told Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times, he would like to get a deal done, and other sources told Moore it’s not just about basketball.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together.”

“He’s got the public on his side,” said a league source. “It’s a public relations nightmare (for the Sixers).”

There have been some rumors the Sixers would reach a deal with Embiid, and Moore thinks it will happen.

My sense is it’s likely that Embiid gets his extension by Oct. 16. The Sixers are in a tough spot because they really need him and have no other big man on the roster capable of having anywhere near Embiid’s impact.

 The question becomes the cost. A five-year max extension for Embiid would be worth about $147 million starting at almost $25 million a year. Knock that down to four years and it’s a $110 million deal.

That’s a lot of money for Philly to bet on a guy who has had two foot surgeries and missed the end of last season with a knee surgery. Could Philly get him to take less, let’s say four-years around $100 million (starting salary is say $22 million or a little more)? Your reaction may be “he’s played just 31 games, Embiid should jump at that offer,” but his camp knows if he plays 65 games or so this season he will get max contract offers as a restricted free agent next summer (and maybe even if he plays a little less than that). Embiid and his agent might play this year out and see if they can get maxed next summer (obviously, the risk there is another injury and what that would cost him financially).

Figuring into this, how much will the Sixers let him play? The team has 14 back-to-backs, will the team play him in those? He will want to play, could this lead to some tension?

There is no easy answer here. The sides will talk, but if Embiid and agent Leon Rose hold out for a max deal, expect the Sixers to let the season play out then make the call next summer (when they can match any offer). If the two sides can agree to something a little less, a deal gets done.

Sixers’ Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington both say they are healthy for training camp

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Robert Covington is the glue guy in the young Sixers lineup. Last season he started 67 games averaging 12.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals per game (fourth in the NBA). He shot 33.3 percent from three. He’s 26 years old and is the 3&D guy the Sixers need in a lineup with a lot of talent.

He also ended last season with a slight tear in his meniscus. The good news is he appears healthy and ready to go, according to Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

Getting the Sixers healthy is the first key to seeing what this team could be, which is why this news, from the same Sixers event Saturday.

Ben Simmons also has been cleared for basketball activities.

That only leaves Joel Embiid who has yet to be fully cleared (he also had a meniscus issue, like Covington). That’s a situation worth monitoring.