PHILADELPHIA -- The 76ers' success will be tied to Joel Embiid.
There's no denying they will benefit from Ben Simmons' expected return from a lower-back pinched nerve if the 2019-20 season restarts. Maybe coach Brett Brown has found a way to better utilize Al Horford while playing alongside Simmons and Embiid. And perhaps the Sixers have a better sense of their rotation since the season was suspended on March 11.
But let's not get it twisted.
Simmons' expected return, Horford's productivity and a solid rotation are bonuses. The blueprint to the Sixers' success is Embiid's health and conditioning. When both are good, the three-time All-Star center is the most dominant player on the court.
One has to assume this extended break was good for the healing process of the torn ligament in his left hand and sprained left shoulder he suffered, respectively, in January and February.
The problem is his conditioning often takes a hit during extended breaks.
Embiid routinely reports to training camp out of shape. He's also been known to gain weight whenever sidelined in-season due to injuries.
To his credit, Embiid returned in good shape on March 11 against the Detroit Pistons after missing the previous five games because of the shoulder sprain. He finished with a team-high 30 points to go with a game-high 14 rebounds in just 26 minutes, 41 seconds of action in the 124-106 rout and both teams' final game before the shutdown. But Thursday will mark the 71st day since he played in that game.
General manager Elton Brand fully expects to see an in-shape and focused Embiid if this season resumes. While the practice facility remains closed for on-court workouts, Embiid has been permitted access for ongoing treatment.
"Embiid has been working out," Brand said during a conference call with local reporters on May 5. "You know he's conditioning. He's focused. He's asking about when his trainer can come in, when he can get on the court.