The 76ers are on the verge of taking a major step forward.
And it’s about time.
After four tankable seasons, which added up to 75 total victories, the 2017-18 season promises to be exciting. It may not even result in a playoff berth, but at least the Sixers are trending upward.
They feature one of the youngest teams in the league with a growing nucleus that includes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, among others.
There is one crucial fact in the midst of this rebuild: Embiid must stay healthy.
Now entering his fourth season, the 7-foot-2, ultra-talented center from Kansas played only 31 games last season. They were a memorable 31 games with plenty of oohs and aahs careening down from the crowds everywhere he went.
But Embiid was stopped from participating in back-to-back games, and in the other games, there was always a 24-to-28 minute restriction. Imagine if he had played 35-to-40 minutes in some of those games. Imagine if he played on consecutive nights. The Sixers surely would have won more than 28 games.
Under the Sam Hinkie regime, the Sixers were extremely lucky to have Embiid fall to them at No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft. Had he been completely healthy, he would have gone No. 1, no question.
Embiid’s contract will be an issue soon and the Sixers must decide if they want to commit $125 million or more to a player who has played 31 total games in three seasons.
Plain and simple, Embiid must prove he can be durable and play at least 60-65 games this season. He’s the centerpiece, the cornerstone of this franchise. That fact can’t be argued or ignored.
Embiid’s tweeting and Instagram posts are fun for the passionate Sixers fan base, but they mean absolutely nothing. If the Sixers win and work their way into the playoffs, the social media posts are embraced. If the Sixers lose and fall out of the postseason again, then they’re a distraction.
Allen Iverson cupped his ears and played to the crowd at home. But “The Answer” led by example on the court and carried the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001.
Embiid looks as if he’ll possess all the same leadership qualities on the court. Yet he must be on the court and not cheering from the bench in a suit.
Simmons and Fultz have never played in an NBA game. Embiid donned a Sixers uniform for 31 games in one season. Most of the roster is a young, growing group.
The whole key is Embiid.
Down the road — if the Sixers are to reach their ultimate goal of an NBA championship — the man in the middle has to lead the way. It’s their only road to a title.
Embiid looks great on individual highlights posted on social media.
Let’s see what happens when the games count for real once again. That will be the true litmus test.