The Sixers need their franchise stars at full strength if one of the early favorites to win the East Conference can shake off both an ordinary regular season (39-26; 6th in the East) and a nearly five-month layoff to return contenders for their first NBA championship since 1983.
The 23-year-old Simmons had missed his eighth straight game and was receiving daily treatment for his nerve issues in his lower back when the season stopped. Embiid was recovering from surgery on his left hand and had just returned after missing five games with a sprained left shoulder at the time of the shutdown.
“I’m looking for Joel to come in as good a shape as he has been in since I have coached him,” Brown said Wednesday. Simmons, who averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in 54 games, was hurt in a Feb. 22 game at Milwaukee. He vomited because of the pain and there was no guarantee he would have been ready for the playoffs had the season not been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Simmons, the league leader in steals, worked out and played pickup games with LeBron James -- and videos of the two showed both stars playing without mask. Simmons’ trainer, Chris Johnson, posted video two weeks ago of a shirtless Simmons shooting and dunking.
“He’s good to go. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work for me to be able to confidently say that,” Brown said. “I think when you search for silver linings with this pandemic and the way things have shaped up, it would be hard-pressed for me to find something more obvious than this. It’s enabled Ben to reclaim his health. But I think ‘inching along’ from maybe a month ago, that is not true.”
Embiid has been riddled with injuries since he was drafted with the No. 3 pick of the 2014 draft. Embiid, averaging 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds, has never played more than 64 games in a season. He was hindered by illness and knee injuries during last season’s playoff run, and the Sixers worked this season to balance his minutes with the proper amount of rest.
The Sixers signed the 25-year-old Embiid, a native of Cameroon, to a $148 million, five-year extension that kicked in at the start of the 2018-19 season. It’s about time for the big man to deliver when the NBA resumes July 30 at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida.
“There is nobody on our team that has put in more time than Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “Forget what he has actually done in the gym for a minute, just go to the man hours and consecutive days and the amount of days that he has put in over the past few months. I’m proud of him, I respect him. He needed to do it. We understand the impact he can have on our team.”
Brown also said no player on the Sixers has tested positive for COVID-19 and no player has decided to opt out of the restart.
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