We found out Thursday night that the Sixers will be without Joel Embiid for a substantial period of time. He is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday on a torn radial collateral ligament in his left hand and be re-evaluated in one to two weeks.
Brett Brown addressed the weeks ahead before Thursday’s win over the Celtics:
Where do I begin? It’s massive … I look at this as an opportunity. Nobody’s crying. This is not a ‘woe is me’ moment, not for me at all, not for my players. We will take what we have, and what we have, I love.
And while some may think “Here we go again” with the Sixers’ injury woes (and with Embiid’s in particular), life without the big man should be beneficial for a handful of team members.
Let’s start with the other potential superstar in the room. While everyone — the head coach included — has waited for some semblance of a jump shot to materialize, Thursday night Simmons showed other aspects of his uber-versatile skill set. He was more active on the offensive end and he will need to carry the team for short bursts on that end of the floor.
He’s an elite defender and he showed even more of that vs. the Celtics. Brown had Simmons guarding Celtics center Enes Kanter for several trips, and he acquitted himself well, even drawing an offensive foul on Kanter in the first quarter.
For some Sixers fans, Brown’s player rotations have been a source of hand-wringing at times. To be fair, throughout his seven-year tenure he hasn’t been blessed with a ton of roster stability, whether because of player turnover or injuries to starters.
Brown will have to flex his roster roulette muscles yet again during this time without Embiid, to see what he can work with to fill the chasm in the middle. He did well vs. Boston, both with inserting Simmons in short bursts at center on defense, as well as plugging in rookie Norvel Pelle as a rim protector.
Whether Horford is truly on his way out of his month-long slump or he was inspired by facing his former team, he gave a glimpse Thursday of what fans expected when he was signed over the summer: Nineteen points, eight rebounds, six assists and two blocks in 32 minutes is a great start.
Horford will start at center in Embiid’s absence. He has the veteran savvy and versatility to be a valuable chess piece in games, and the team will need all of it to make a push toward a top-three finish in the East.
The Sixers obviously can’t bridge 48 minutes every night with Horford and Simmons defending at center. That’s where the 26-year-old Pelle comes in. His game is still very raw, but in small doses he can give them what they desperately need as a rebounder and rim protector. He’s played only 88 NBA minutes but already has 12 blocks, including two against Boston, drawing praise from Brown after the game.
The Sixers have a decision to make on Pelle, who is on a two-way contract. He has nearly exhausted the 45 days he’s allowed to be with the Sixers this season. With Embiid out of the mix, signing Pelle should be a no-brainer.
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