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A simple question led off Joel Embiid's first press conference since having surgery on his left knee. Is he going to come back this season?

"That's the plan," the Philadelphia 76ers superstar told reporters, via the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. "Obviously, everything has to go right as far as getting healthy and being as close as I'm supposed to be. But yeah, that's the plan."

The Sixers hope Embiid will be back on the court in late March, then get him as healthy as he can be for the playoffs, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Tuesday. Embiid, however, did not offer any specifics about when he might be ready to return.

"There's really no timeline," Embiid said. "It all depends on – you can never know how the body reacts, especially once you start ramping up."

Embiid repeatedly said that it will depend on how he feels. "Rehab is going pretty well," he told reporters, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Ups and downs, but we manage it. The goal is to try to get as healthy as possible and come back."

The injury – a "displaced flap" of the meniscus in his left knee, as reported by The Athletic's Shams Charania, or a "flap tear," as injury analyst Jeff Stotts termed it – did not leave Embiid with a choice of several realistic options.

"I think, when you look at what unfolded and what we saw, there was only one decision," Embiid said. "It was to go the route that I did. So yeah, I mean, I always do my due diligence. I talked to like five different specialists just to see what was happening and what they thought. They gave me their thoughts, and I just went ahead and made the right decision."

Embiid was playing at an MVP level before the injury, averaging a league-high 35.3 points and a career-high 5.7 assists and thriving in Nick Nurse's offense. Philadelphia has now lost 12 of 16 games, including Embiid's last two appearances. At 33-25, the Sixers are sixth in the Eastern Conference, and it will be challenging to avoid the play-in, with both the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic on their heels. If Embiid does return, there's no guarantee he'll be close to the best version of himself.

So why try to come back and salvage this season?

"The same reason why I was pushing the last couple of games," Embiid said. "I just love playing basketball. I want to be on the floor as much as possible. I only have about 20 years to do this, so any chance that I get, I want to be on the floor. So it doesn't matter where we are – I don't know, 4, 5, 3, I don't know, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 – it doesn't really matter where we are, I just want to play as much as [I] can and try to help us."

Asked if the injury will influence his plans to play for Team USA in the 2024 Olympics, Embiid said, "No. It's the same mindset: If I feel good, I'm playing. If it doesn't feel right, then I gotta make those tough decisions. But no, the plan is the plan. Like I said, it doesn't – you don't know how long it's going to take. If it takes longer than what the timeline is, as far as the games and the playoffs we have remaining, you gotta make those decisions. But yeah, it's all about how I feel."

Embiid acknowledged that he wasn't fully healthy the last time he suited up, but insisted there is "nothing" he'd like to do differently in retrospect.  

"My mindset is playing basketball, playing as much as I can," Embiid said. "For really two months, I was not at 100%. I was not even close to it. And I just felt the need of, like I always say, giving my all to the team and just wanting to win. Because I know I can add that to this basketball team. So there is nothing different I would have done."

He elaborated: "It wasn't about those last couple of games. It was about – it was the same thing that was happening a couple of weeks before, where I just felt like I wasn't myself, but I was still good enough to go out there because I knew that 60 or 70% of me could still help the team a lot on both ends of the floor. So, you know, I just felt like, at the time, we had just lost two or three games in a row, guys are going down, I just felt like – like I said, my mindset is to play, so I gotta do whatever it takes to help the team. Sometimes it hurts me, sometimes it doesn't."

Embiid described the injury as "extremely frustrating" and "very depressing." The whole ordeal has been "super annoying," he said, "because you want to play as much as you can." He was "really disappointed in everything that happened," he said, but "none is going to feel sorry for you – gotta keep getting better and hope for the best." He said he believes that "everything happens for a reason," and this has given him "another way to work on myself, on my body, and just get as healthy as possible."

Other than rehabbing, most of Embiid's time has been "family time," he said. He's also trying to be around his teammates when they're not on the road and help however he can. The other day, he spoke to forward Tobias Harris, who has been struggling, "for almost an hour," he said.

Embiid is no longer eligible for MVP or All-NBA honors this season because of the league's 65-game requirement.

"Yeah, I mean, I don't care about the awards," he said. "Obviously, they're nice, and one thing that I always say: If you've got the chance to go for it, you gotta go for it because the same people that are complaining about it wish they had a chance to be in that same position. But great season, it's not over yet. The goal is always about winning. So if those stats didn't bring up a lot of wins, then it wouldn't matter. 

"But that's why it's also extremely disappointing when you start talking about basketball," he continued. "Because I was on a roll and I felt like I wasn't even close to where I wanted to be, body-wise and basketball-wise. Because I wasn't at my best, I felt like there was still another level I could go to. It was very disappointing. But, you know, I was having fun, playing, getting a lot of wins, dominating. The 70-point game was fun. I never thought I would – when I came into the league, I thought I was going to try to be a defensive player or something, so I never would have thought that I could be in a position to score 70 in a basketball game and having the dominance that I was doing. But it was fun. But it's not over. The mindset is, like I said, come back if everything goes well and go from there."

Embiid said that he believes the Sixers still have "a pretty good chance" this season, based on how well they were playing when they were healthy, the improvement of first-time All-Star Tyrese Maxey and the in-season additions of Buddy Hield and Kyle Lowry. After Hield's first three games, Embiid told Nurse, "Man, I'm sorry, I wish I was playing," he said.

"I was so excited, 'cause I felt like, Buddy, the way he's playing, I just felt like I could help him even more," Embiid said. "And then Kyle, I talked to him, obviously, having him here, I think he's going to help us a lot, I think he's going to help me a lot, just his experience, and then basketball-wise he's still really freaking good. So I thought they did as good of a job as they could have done based on what was happening that day." 

Embiid said the team needs to "keep fighting" without him, and he has "a lot of confidence in myself, and I also feel like I can bring a lot of things to the team, as far as my impact on both ends of the floor."

Whether or not he actually gets to make an impact in the near term is still TBD. The regular season is more than 70% complete, and the postseason starts in seven weeks. Embiid is in a race against time, and rehab is a risky thing to rush.