A meniscus injury might be the most dangerous of all knee injuries for the simple fact that it’s not treated like a major knee injury. Reigning MVP Joel Embiid just underwent a procedure to repair a meniscus injury in his left knee, and will be reevaluated in four weeks, but for someone with his history of ailments, the timeline should fall in a gray area, with the Philadelphia 76ers treating their franchise cornerstone with the same kids’ gloves used in the early days of the Process.
Chicago Bulls’ guard Lonzo Ball’s knee saga began with a torn meniscus a couple years ago, and his career is squarely in jeopardy. Former Boston Celtic and current Portland Trail Blazer center, Robert Williams messed up his meniscus prior to the 2021 NBA playoffs, returned for the C’s run to the Finals, and has since appeared in 41 games over two seasons.
I don’t know what Williams would do now given his issues with injuries following that near Finals win. If Embiid thinks this team can give him that kind of shot at a title, OK, have at it. Williams was a couple of wins away from immortality.
Brandon Roy, who didn’t have great knees to begin with, tore his meniscus prior to the 2009-10 playoffs, came back in the postseason, and then was out of the league three years later at the age of 28. I am not a doctor, yet that’s three notable hoopers in the past 15 years whose careers went off the rails following the seemingly innocuous injury.
When sports fans hear “torn ACL” or “ruptured Achilles,” the reaction is rightfully one of despair. Those mishaps cost an athlete a minimum of nine months, with a max of a full season, if not more. However, there should be a similar level of concern with menisci because of the mystery surrounding them. There isn’t a go-to way to treat it because the severity and type of tears dictate the procedure.
From what I could gather through a cursory internet search, Embiid underwent an uncomplicated meniscectomy, as opposed to meniscus repair surgery. The timetable to return to sports or heavy work from the former is four to six weeks, which was the timeline given by the 76ers. For meniscus repair surgery, the recovery period is three to six months. There’s also a world in which no procedure is needed, with ice, ibuprofen and rest the recommended treatment.
That’s a wide array of treatments, but three to six months, in the world of sports, is a major injury. If you’re Philly, the only reason to rush back Embiid is if there’s a legitimate shot at a title. Screw pride, experience, or any of the other benefits from postseason play that aren’t a Larry O’Brien trophy. Can the 76ers win a championship this year with Tyrese Maxey and a supporting cast that’s inferior to Boston, Milwaukee, Miami, New York and Cleveland?
As a Trail Blazers fan, the lasting image of Roy’s premature return from his meniscus tear was the Phoenix Suns mercilessly double-teaming the All-Star guard during a first-round exit in 2010. Roy winced and cringed his way to a forgettable showing, and wasn’t near where he needed to be in the context of what’s asked of a No. 1 option in the playoffs, let alone a rotation player. Alvin Gentry isn’t a Hall of Fame coach, but even he knew the best route to the conference semis was to force Andre Miller and the rest of the Blazers to beat him. (F-ck Andre Miller forever for that, by the way, as the Suns doubled off him exclusively, and he was too scared/unable to take advantage.)
So, even after Embiid comes back, his playoff experience is going to be hell. The Sixers are three-and-a-half games from dropping to the play-in, and if they do fall between seven and 10th over the next four weeks, will have to navigate the East’s premier clubs in the first two rounds, and probably in the Eastern Conference Finals, too.
That’s an absurd number of double teams and physical play to deal with coming off any kind of knee procedure, regardless of how the team doctors diagnose it. My advice would be to shut down Embiid for the rest of the year, let Daryl Morey improve around the periphery, and start the 2024-25 season with a fresh and fully healthy franchise player.
It sucks, I know, but a possible alternative is wearing that Joel Embiid shir-sey as an ode to your favorite player instead of in support of him.