Philadelphia basketball fans face an extended wait for their top draft pick for the second straight season.
Sixers GM Sam Hinkie said Friday that Joel Embiid, a 7-foot center selected with the No. 3 overall pick in Thursday's draft, will likely be sidelined for 5-to-8 months after undergoing surgery on his right foot earlier this month. Previous reports had indicated that Embiid might return more quickly, but Hinkie said the updated timeline came directly from Embiid's surgeon. Embiid underwent surgery after sustaining a stress fracture of the navicular bone of his right foot.
A back injury ended Embiid's freshman season at Kansas prematurely, forcing him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. Embiid, who hails from Cameroon, last played in a game on March 1. A 5-to-8 month timeline puts Embiid's return date anywhere from November 2014 to February 2015, meaning he might be sidelined until after the 2015 All-Star break.
''Guess what our approach will be,'' Hinkie said, according to the Associated Press. ''We'll focus on the long-term health of the player.''
In 2013, Hinkie traded for Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, who went No. 6 in the draft even though he was recovering from ACL surgery. Noel never suited up as a rookie during the 2013-14 season.
The 20-year-old Embiid averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds during his freshman season at Kansas, earning All-Big 12 Second Team and All-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Seen as a strong candidate to be selected by the Cavaliers with the No. 1 overall pick, Embiid instead went third to the Sixers, after fellow Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins and Duke's Jabari Parker went No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Although Philadelphia expects to get a healthy Noel back into the lineup next season, the Sixers used their other 2014 lottery pick on Dario Saric, a Croatian forward who plays professionally in Turkey and may not come to the NBA for two seasons. The Sixers endured an NBA record-tying 26-game losing streak on their way to a 18-win season in 2013-14, and the lack of incoming talent will likely make for another dismal season from a win/loss perspective.
Nevertheless, Hinkie was more than willing to wait on Embiid, who is regarded as having perhaps the highest ceiling of any player in the strong 2014 class.
"I sniffed opportunity," Hinkie said, according to the Associated Press. "The moment he got hurt, we thought we might get him. We might be just the organization with just the set of owners, and we might be the one to do it. ... In this scenario, and only this scenario, does he fall to three. If he can remain healthy, he can have a fantastic, fantastic NBA career."