The Kings’ super slo-mo approach to rookie Harry Giles, whom they acquired in a draft-day trade despite his extensive injury history, comes with an assist from the Philadelphia 76ers.
It’s not that the Kings are mimicking the 76ers’ unusually cautious approach to center Joel Embiid’s career-threatening injury situation. (The phrase the Sixers use is “workload management.”) But the fact that assistant general manager Brandon Williams previously worked in the 76ers front office suggests he can provide some valuable inside information on how best to protect prize assets from themselves.
“Their injuries are different,” said Williams, “and I think there is a little more data on Harry simply because there are not as many navicular fractures (Embiid’s foot injury) than anterior cruciate (ACL) tears. What we learned from Philly probably more than anything was that it was best to be honest and open with your fans. We didn’t want to abuse that relationship. So rather than be coy about what we were doing, we sort of laid it out there.”
In other words, they came clean, too. This is risky business.
Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in 2014, missed his first two seasons with a fractured right foot and played only 31 games a year ago before tearing a meniscus in his left knee. On the recommendations of the 76ers medical staff, the immensely talented Cameroon native is playing restricted minutes and occasionally skipping a game for additional rest. Thursday against the Kings, he played 32 minutes, only the third time in his career that he has exceeded 30 minutes.
Giles is inactive until at least January, when it will be two years since he underwent surgery to repair the second of his two ACL tears. The nation’s No. 1 prep prospect in 2016, he also suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee in the opening weeks of his freshman year at Duke.
Though the 6-foot-11 center no longer experiences any pain or discomfort, general manager Vlade Divac opted to take a much slower approach on the advice of his medical staff. “We’ll re-evaluate him in January,” said Divac. “There is no rush.”
The date of Giles’ NBA debut might be unknown, but this much can be said with certainty: He is a much better patient than Embiid, who doesn’t even try to disguise his feelings. If he controlled the lineup, he would be on the court for the majority of every game.
“I wouldn’t say I’m like, ‘happy’ about it, but I just got to deal with it and keep moving,” Embiid, 23, said late Thursday. “I played 32 minutes and I felt like I could have played more. So it’s getting there. I’m starting to feel good about my body. I wish that they didn’t have me missing any games and I could play 40 minutes a night. But they have a plan and I guess I have to trust it.”
There are dozens of reasons for the 76ers’ caution, including Hall of Famers named Bill Walton and Yao Ming to name just a few. Foot fractures haunted Walton throughout his injury-disrupted career, while Yao retired prematurely when the same broken bone failed to fully heal.
The debate about Embiid’s value – and the wisdom of his new $148 million extension – will persist until the extremely popular big man improves his conditioning (he gained weight recovering from meniscus surgery) and establishes himself as an everyday superstar player.
Sixers coach Brett Brown, who has been remarkably patient and agreeable while continually coping with major injuries to key players and the constant questions, is mindful of Embiid’s mental health and sensitive to his emotional swings as well.
“Deep down he understands, ‘that’s our future,’ ” Brown said. “Nobody is doing any of this without his best interest at heart. And deep down he knows it. He’s young. He’s unfiltered. He wants to show the fans in Philly that he’s got the ability to take hits and move on. So it’s a combination of all of that that produces some reaction from Joel, and we move on. And the fact we’re moving up (minutes total), gives him more peace of mind that the plan is going to allow him to play more minutes and be on the floor longer – which suits his coach just fine.”
Giles, 20, whose practices often leave Divac speaking enthusiastically about his feel for the game, explosiveness, high motor and surprisingly creative passing, smiles when asked his thoughts on the matter. If at least mildly disappointed when first approached about the conservative time table, these days he is all-in.
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“We put that out from the jump, what we were going to do, so I’m feeling good about it,” Giles said. “Joel, I can understand what he is thinking. This is his fourth year (since the draft), and he played last year and then got hurt again. He’s in a whole different situation than me. I just have to focus on me. I’m just a rookie. I haven’t proven anything yet. It’s just a matter of me feeling good, being healthy. Of me taking my time. I have no pain, none, and I’m doing just about everything at practice. When I’m ready, I’ll be ready.”
But no promises. Not in Philly, not in Sac.