After two painful years off, Joel Embiid says his game has grown

“Trust The Process,” Joel Embiid says after finishing up a 24-minute interview session at Sixers media day, eliciting some laughs from reporters in the room. Embiid has not played a game since March 1, 2014, but it appears that’s about to change.

The 22-year-old center, who has been forced to sit out the first two seasons of his NBA career due to multiple foot surgeries, says he expects to play in Philadelphia’s preseason opener against Boston on Oct. 4.

“I’ve been through a lot,” Embiid said, citing his injuries, his team’s on-court struggles and the death of his brother in Africa. “It’s been really hard.”

Embiid is in really good spirits now, however. He may be on a minutes restriction and unable to play in back-to-backs, but his self-confidence is evident.

“I haven’t played in two years, but my game has gotten so much better,” he said. “If you watch the game tape, I’m not the same guy. I’m going to make mistakes, but I’m going to be just fine.”

Embiid, a 7-footer who says he weighs 275 pounds, was chosen by former GM Sam Hinkie — the man whose process paid off in the form of high lottery picks Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Nerlens Noel — with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 draft. He has the potential to be a game-changer on both offense and defense if he can stay healthy.

“From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have about a 20-year career,” Embiid said, jokingly. “I think of myself as a complete player.”

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 28 games at Kansas before injuring his back and missing the NCAA tournament as a result. He struggled with his decision to leave college after just his freshman season, he said, and was seriously contemplating a return to school before mentor Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and other NBA players convinced him to change his mind and enter the draft.

“This is a training camp that for the first time since I’ve been here I think will be incredibly competitive, relative to roster spots themselves, and we’re really excited about the guys that we have in camp who have a chance to earn a job, Kay Felder being one of those kids we anticipate will have a good run at something for us, so we feel comfortable at the point guard position as we sit, at least from a front-office perspective we do.”

In a capped system like the NBA has in place, targeting aging players on veteran minimum deals is simply the reality of fielding a full team when you already have max players taking up most of the pie like the Cavs do with James, Irving and Love.

The key is having those vets contribute in the margins, like Jefferson did last year, and not to miss on them, as was the case of Shawn Marion the season before.

Oh, and having someone like James with the body resilience of a teenager as he enters into his thirties certainly helps too.

Embiid didn’t think he could handle living on his own at such a young age, but each year he has grown and matured through adversity. He has no regrets about leaving early, and while he loves watching his old college games, he can’t stand watching college basketball anymore.

“I feel like they don’t know how to play,” Embiid said, citing a lack of spacing at the collegiate level.

Embiid is stronger, better, faster now, yearning to dominate in the post and expand his game out to the 3-point line. And yes, he has aspirations of learning how to play point guard, too, because of course he does.

During the rehab-setback-rehab-setback-rehab process, Embiid says he has learned to be patient.

Given that their team has lost 199 games the past three seasons, Sixers fans have, too. But equipped with an exciting young core of bigs, the future is brighter than ever.

Victor Oladipo: ‘No question’ anthem protests will happen in NBA

As the NBA prepares to open training camps — and the issue of athletes’ protests during the national anthem shows no signs of abating — it was only a matter of time before basketball players would be asked about what they plan to do.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Victor Oladipo was asked by Complex Sports whether NBA players are paying attention to Colin Kaepernick’s protest of racial oppression and inequality in the United States — and whether those protests would transfer to the NBA.

It’s undecided what position Yi will play.

And, above all else, it remains to be seen just how effective Yi will be, especially after playing with the Guandong Southern Tigers from 2012 to ’16 following brief but lackluster stints with the Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.

But if Friday proved anything, it’s that there is plenty of interest and intrigue in the 28-year-old, who was surrounded by about three dozen media members –- local and international –- after his workout at the Lakers’ training facility.

Yi, a former No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Bucks, expressed confidence about the upcoming season after playing in the Chinese Basketball Association, and after averaging 20.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for China in its five games in the Rio Olympics.

He also said he felt that the Lakers were a “good opportunity” and that the “timing” was right for an NBA return.

“I think I played a lot of games in China, in Asia, Olympics,” said Yi, who joined the Lakers on a one-year deal worth about $8 million, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein. “It’s a lot of experience. For me I probably got stronger and more confidence.”

He also recognized that the Lakers have a “huge” fan base in China -– thanks largely to Kobe Bryant –- as well as all over the world.

“I feel pressure, but I feel very excited for that,” Yi said.

Gerrit Cole’s future in question after rocky return

Pittsburgh Pirates starter Gerrit Cole entered Monday night’s outing against the Philadelphia Phillies looking to salvage something positive from a disappointing 2016 season.

But spring training began with some bad vibes when Cole expressed disappointment over his $541,000 salary for 2016. Then came the injuries. He suffered a rib inflammation in spring training, spent time on the disabled list with a strained triceps in June and has been bothered by the elbow issue for the past month. The only positive news came during a recent trip to Los Angeles, when Dr. Neal ElAttrache ruled out any structural damage and gave him clearance to resume pitching this month.

Although the Cubs continue to build upon what is now a whopping 17-game edge on St. Louis, we know that more than anything, variance can trump all at playoff time. A mediocre Cardinals campaign would be redeemed by spoiling a Wrigleyville party 108 years in the making.

With that in mind, are there any potential pitfalls that could come into play for Chicago if the Cubs and Cardinals again hook up in October? Maybe, but we lay those out with this caveat: There aren’t many. It’s almost like this Cubs team was specifically constructed to hammer on the Cardinals.

Cole recently received clearance to resume pitching after a visit to Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. He finishes the season with a 7-10 record in 21 starts and a 3.88 ERA — the worst of his four major-league seasons.

“There were some times where we were close,” Cole said. “There were a few highlights along the way, but it was a struggle.

“We have two weeks here to continue to try to get better. I’m not going to stop working. Just keep moving on. Obviously the mindset is different. It’s not about preparing for a start. It’s about preparing for next year. There’s work to be done, so I’ll be doing it.”

In 2015, Cole went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA, made the All-Star team and finished fourth in National League Cy Young Award balloting.

In other moves, the Pirates called up left-hander reliever Zach Phillips from Triple-A Indianapolis. The 29-year-old Phillips was acquired from the Orioles on Aug. 31. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Pirates also put catcher Elias Diaz on the 60-day disabled list with cellulitis in his left knee.

What we learned: Giants’ collapse continues in Colorado

1. It’s easy to forget now, but the San Francisco Giants had the best record in the majors at the All-Star break at 57-33, three games up on the Chicago Cubs. After another crushing loss on Wednesday — Santiago Casilla, Josh Osich, Angel Pagan’s legs and Joe Nathan combined to blow a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning in Colorado — the Giants are 17-32 since the break, the worst record in the majors. Reading Bill James Online today, there was a reader question about how unprecedented the Giants’ free fall has been. James mentioned these teams (record through 90 games and then after) that fell apart, although not necessarily from best to worst:

1977 Cubs: 55-35 to 26-46 (finished 81-81)

1995 Angels: 56-34 to 22-33 (lost one-game playoff to Mariners)

2001 Twins: 57-33 to 28-44 (finished 85-77)

2006 Tigers: 61-29 to 34-38 (still reached World Series)

Zastryzny grabbed running back Todd Gurley with his first pick (No. 6) and then two receivers, while Hinske drafted Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson No. 11 overall. Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery went in the second round, while Jay Cutler and Kevin White were “mid-round guys.”

“I’m excited to see how [John] Lackey does,” Hammel stated. “First-time player. He’s an unknown. He looked like he knew what he was doing. I’m excited to see how it plays out.”

How long are the odds Tebow ever plays at Citi Field? Pretty long, although it is not impossible if he is dedicated and applies himself for multiple seasons, given his athleticism. Michael Jordan, in his lone season with the Chicago White Sox, hit .202 with three homers and 51 RBIs in 436 at-bats with Double-A Birmingham. Would he have received a cup of coffee in the majors had he not returned to the NBA?

Last spring training, Cespedes’ daily cavalcade of cars and a horseback entry created a stir that ultimately prompted manager Terry Collins to say it’s time to put the showmanship aside and have the focus entirely on baseball. If there’s a downside to Tebow’s being around in camp, it would be all the media attention and whether that starts to detract from the team’s focus as it prepares for the season. Alderson did say there is no guarantee Tebow receives a spring-training invite to big-league camp.

The New York Yankees completed a sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays with a 2-0 victory, as Bryan Mitchell pitched five scoreless innings in his 2016 debut, Luis Severino pitched three scoreless innings and Didi Gregorius hit cleanup for the ninth time. The Yankees are winning with Didi Gregorius hitting cleanup! How can you not root for this team? (Wait, did I write that? Clear head. Remind self that these are still the Yankees, owners of 27 World Series titles, owners of MLB’s largest payroll at the start of the season … but I digress.)

Warriors’ Philadelphia legacy: Wilt’s 100 points and one iconic photo

Before hanging a hundred on the New York Knicks, Wilt Chamberlain played pinball in the lobby of the Hershey Sports Arena. No security needed. There was just a 7-foot-1 star pumping coins into a machine for fun.

“My father just needed an idea,” Ron Pollack said. “He wrote ‘100’ on a piece of paper, which we didn’t keep, and they took a picture of it. He just had Wilt hold it, and that was it.”

McAdoo, the 1974-75 NBA MVP and a three-time scoring champion with the Braves, went on to win two championships with the more glamorous Los Angeles Lakers. Nonetheless, he wore a Buffalo cap at a 2000 Hall of Fame party the weekend he was enshrined.

DiGregorio, a college sensation at Providence, currently works as director of operations for the Buffalo 716ers of the Premier Basketball League. Smith is fondly remembered for staying home to play at Buffalo State before becoming a do-it-all guard for the Braves and winning the MVP award at the 1978 NBA All-Star Game.

But when the sports media lens is focused on black and white and doesn’t explore other perspectives and experiences, that connection is lost. Let me remind you that earlier this summer, it was the Puerto Rican Afro-Latino Anthony who challenged his fellow pro athletes of color to start speaking out against police violence and follow the tradition of activism established by sports icons such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali.

The question of culture was front and center during the ESPYS, when Anthony joined fellow NBA stars Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to highlight Black Lives Matter. In the eyes of millions, Anthony was seen as a black athlete expressing solidarity with other black athletes. Yet to the eyes of some, Anthony was there as a Puerto Rican Afro-Latino representing an intersectional point rarely discussed or dissected: What has happened to black lives has also happened to Afro-Latino lives. And as Wade said during the ESPYS, this is about “black and brown lives.”

While Anthony has been praised for his actions this summer, his Afrolatinidad is rarely mentioned. To some, Melo is a black athlete and must fit the black-white media paradigm — a paradigm that won’t allow terms such as Afro-Latino or Puerto Rican or Black Dominican or Afro-Brazilian to be part of the dialogue.

I was so hoping this narrative would have changed, especially at the Summer Olympics in Brazil, a country in which close to half the population is of African descent, according to Pew. But it’s clear that sports media, at least in a general sense, is still struggling to understand how complex it is to be Latino in the United States.

Spurs in pursuit of Argentinean guard Nicolas Laprovittola

The San Antonio Spurs are in pursuit of a third Argentinean for their roster, according to league sources.

So that’s why USAB chairman Jerry Colangelo didn’t need a lot of time Sunday night, after the medals were handed out here in Rio, to make an immediate declaration about the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“We can’t go back again with 10 new players,” Colangelo said. “That’s not going to happen.”

“For me,” he added with unmistakable relief, “I’m glad we got past this.”

Colangelo was grateful, mostly, for the presence of the few wise old heads who did make the trip to these Olympics. There they sat in front of the world’s media at the postgame podium from left to right: Mike Krzyzewski, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony.

Laprovittola and Garino were key contributors to the Argentina squad that reached the elimination round in the recent Olympics.

A dozen years removed from leading ?Argentina to an improbable gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Ginobili, at 39, retired from international play following ?a quarterfinal loss to the United States.

“This is an incredible and wonderful city. And after today’s amazing celebration, I hope that this legacy extends beyond basketball. I hope that August 24, on this day, is a celebration of passion and hard work, dedication and mentorship. Because teaching the next generation how to achieve greatness is really what it’s all about. And together as a city we can do this. We only play for one thing in this city, and that’s winning championships. Inspiring the next generation to achieve their dreams, whatever that dream might be, is the most important thing. We need each other to do it. And together we will do that, and certainly we will win championship after championship.”

His news conference afterward had little do with basketball. His first two questions were about his newly announced venture capital fund [“I’m not looking for the massive multiple, I’m looking for the passion for the idea,” Bryant said] and the challenge of defeating homelessness.

He seemed as comfortable talking about these non-basketball issues as any of the politicians were during the day, and it was evident he was well prepared for his post-basketball transition.

Jimmy Garoppolo on taking QB reins: ‘You have to make it your own’

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Five things we learned from New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s interview on sports radio WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan Show with Minihane” on Monday morning:

Why he likes throwing to Malcolm Mitchell. The rookie receiver has made a quick first impression (four catches, 55 yards in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints). “He’s progressing really well,” Garoppolo said. “He has big, strong hands and catches everything you throw at the guy. As a quarterback, you love that. You don’t like a guy who bobbles it. He’s going to catch it clean for you every time, and that’s a comforting feeling.”

It means Corey Linsley lost the job in the same way he got it.

Linsley, who stepped in as a rookie after Tretter went down in an Aug. 22, 2014, preseason game, remains on the physically unable to perform list because of a hamstring injury that kept him out the entire offseason as well.

“JC Tretter has had an excellent camp,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “I think I’ve answered that question repeatedly and JC, in my view, has earned the starting position at center. Availability is a big part of what you look for in your players.

“It’s unfortunate what Corey is going through and continuing to battle to get back out there. But there’s been a lot of time that’s gone by since he’s been out there. I think JC has done an excellent job.”

Clearly, McCarthy has placed value not only on Tretter’s performance but also in the reps he’s taken all offseason with the other offensive line starters. Continuity has long been one of McCarthy’s goals for his offensive line. In 2014, when Linsley took over, the same five linemen started 17 of the 18 games (including playoffs).

Last year, only left guard Josh Sitton started every game, and he made one of those starts out of position, at left tackle.

Tretter has made four career starts — all last season. Three of those came at center when Linsley had a late-season ankle injury. The other was at left tackle in the wild-card playoff game at Washington.

But in the 2014 preseason — the last season when Griffin saw the field — he ran three times against the Browns, and twice took hits. On one, he was hit by three Browns defenders when he could have run out of bounds.

After the game, Gruden said simply: “When he gets out of the pocket, he needs to protect himself.”

When Griffin got to Cleveland, Jackson had a more direct approach about sliding.

“Demand it,” he said.

There was no wiggle room.

“You want to play quarterback in our system for us, there are certain things we ask the quarterback to do,” Jackson said. “You have to protect the ball; you have to take care of yourself. Because you have to be out there with your teammates.”

In practice, Griffin throws the ball away in an exaggerated manner — flinging it over a 15-foot fence that circles the practice field. In the offseason, Griffin proudly talked about how he had executed a perfect slide with nobody watching, and then celebrated another slide on the field.

In the game against Atlanta, Griffin slid twice and also covered up a bad snap — and drew a face mask penalty — as opposed to picking up the ball and trying to run.

Jared Goff, Carson Wentz lead NFL Week 1 preseason injury list

QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

Injury: Hairline fracture in his ribs

Prognosis: Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2016 draft, suffered the injury on a hit Thursday night in the Eagles’ 17-9 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Coach Doug Pederson said the team hopes to have Wentz back before the preseason ends Sept. 1. This injury will halt any attempt to move up the depth chart or at least pressure veterans Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel before the season begins. Any playing time he receives this season will be the result of either multiple injuries or poor performances elsewhere, as opposed to a surge in preseason games.

WR Malcolm Mitchell, New England Patriots
Injury: Dislocated left elbow

Prognosis: Initial reports suggest Mitchell will miss four weeks. That timetable calls into question whether he’ll be ready for the Patriots’ regular-season opener Sept. 11 at the Arizona Cardinals, but overall it’s great news, given how gruesome the injury looked on video in the Patriots’ 34-22 victory Thursday over the New Orleans Saints. Mitchell had four catches for 55 yards to that point, continuing a surge that hinted he would be a significant part of the Patriots’ offense this season. He’ll still have that chance.

LB IK Enemkpali, Buffalo Bills

Injury: Torn right ACL

Prognosis: Enemkpali will miss the season after suffering the injury Saturday in the second quarter of the Bills’ 19-18 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Enemkpali had been working with the first-team defense throughout camp, partially because of injuries to other players, but his injury leaves the Bills’ defensive line significantly depleted. Yes, this is the same Enemkpali who forever changed New York Jets history last summer when he broke the jaw of quarterback Geno Smith during a locker-room altercation. The Bills claimed Enemkpali after the Jets waived him.

WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos

Injury: Right elbow fracture

Prognosis: Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said Fowler will miss “a few weeks,” which implies that he might be ready to return when the regular season begins. (Apparently elbow fractures heal quickly.) Fowler, who suffered the injury on a punt return in Thursday night’s 22-0 victory over the Chicago Bears, has been working as the Broncos’ No. 3 receiver during training camp.

Cortland Finnegan brought it up even before the media had a chance.

When someone asked him about how much pride he takes in being a good locker room guy and a teacher to his young teammates, the New Orleans Saints’ newest cornerback replied, “You know, when your reputation is you’re a dirtbag … you like to hope and think that you add some value in real life to the locker room.”

A small smile came across Finnegan’s face as he answered, as if he had beaten reporters to the punch while addressing them for the first time.

“You know, you guys probably think that,” Finnegan added.

The 32-year-old veteran is able to laugh about his notorious reputation — he was routinely voted as one of the NFL’s dirtiest players during his prime and became infamous for a 2010 fight with receiver Andre Johnson.

At the same time, Finnegan showed great self-awareness in the interview, which can be seen here on the Saints’ website.

“I don’t think it’s a misconception. I think it’s a stated fact, people just think that. So I’ve just got to live with it. It’s just part of who I am now. So we’ll just take it,” said Finnegan, who often was accused of taking cheap shots at the end of plays and who openly admitted that he would try to get under receivers’ skin by yapping at them throughout the game.

Chiefs hoping to lure St. Louis fans after Rams move to L.A.

The Chiefs didn’t have to seek the situation because it has come to them. Donovan said the Chiefs have been approached by St. Louis area fans about buying tickets and businesses about buying sponsorships.

“We got calls the day the Rams moved, or the day it was announced, with people [from St. Louis] saying they wanted to buy Chiefs tickets,’’ Donovan said. “It was probably a handful of people, not a lot. But we think if we have a good product, we have an opportunity to grow there. It’s not that far a drive.’’

The Chiefs have done business in St. Louis before. They had many ticket holders from that area the last time St. Louis did without the NFL, from the time the Cardinals played their last home game in Missouri in 1987 to the time the Rams moved from Los Angeles in 1995.

“We do have some [season ticket holders] there, certainly going back to the period of time when St. Louis didn’t have a team,’’ Hunt said. “Over time, that may grow.’’

Preseason TV is the first step for the Chiefs. They’re hopeful many of their regular-season games also will be on TV in St. Louis, though ratings will drive that decision.

“We’ll be considered,’’ Donovan said. “If we do our job and win football games, they’ll want to put us on.’’

Well, that’s one way to shorten the preseason.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame game between the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts was cancelled on Sunday evening because of unsafe field conditions.

The teams arrived at the stadium in Canton, Ohio, to find that the field was in terrible shape after Saturday night’s induction ceremony. Field workers worked furiously to try to get the field into playable condition, but both teams’ coaches feared that it was a major injury risk.

The NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement after the decision to cancel the game was made official:

“Due to safety concerns with the condition of the playing surface in Canton, tonight’s game between the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers has been cancelled. We are very disappointed for our fans, but player safety is our primary concern, and as a result, we could not play an NFL game on this field tonight.”

The surface of Tom Benson Field, named after the New Orleans Saints owner, was extremely hard (“like concrete,” per an ESPN report) because the paint applied to the ground had gummed up into a tar-like surface. ESPN’s Lisa Salters reported that that wrong paint was used on the surface before the game.

Tom Brady: Accepting suspension a ‘personal decision’

“I have a job to do, and I try to approach it the best way I can,” he said. “I’ve always tried to do things the same way. Every day is important to me. Certainly, as someone who has been around here for a long time, I know I have to bring it every day. I think I just have to go out there and lead by example, and try to bring it, and show my teammates I’m ready to go mentally and physically every day.”

Brady was on fire during Friday’s practice, which was an intrasquad scrimmage. Although the pass rush held up before sacking quarterbacks and there was no live tackling, Brady was still 25-of-25 in the scrimmage and was especially vocal, his emotion flowing over after big plays.

“I think it’s just a way to elevate everybody’s game,” he said of his approach. “It’s a very competitive team, it’s a competitive sport and you have to bring it mentally every day. You have to have an attitude about you, and we have a lot of guys on this team that bring that. Trying to push their buttons, I love to do that. They push it back, and I think that gets the best out of everybody.”

Brady also deflected a question on whether he’s changed his approach in training camp, knowing he won’t play until Oct. 9 at Cleveland, saying, “Honestly, I’m just trying to be as good as I can be every day.”

His interview with reporters lasted five minutes, during which he acknowledged the support he’s received throughout Deflategate.

“My family has been everything to me,” he said. “Obviously the support of my teammates, and coaches, and Mr. [Robert] Kraft and Jonathan [Kraft], the whole team, all our fans. I said the other night, we have the best fans in the world. And we do. Hopefully we give them a lot of reason to cheer this year.”

RENTON, Wash. — During one drill Thursday, Seattle Seahawks rookie right guard Germain Ifedi got matched up with veteran defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.

It was a one-on-one drill, and Ifedi won this round. But what stood out was how he kept after Rubin until the whistle blew or the coaches announced that the rep was over. This has been a constant throughout camp. Ifedi has mixed it up with Michael Bennett and others on the defensive side of the ball.

“He knows I won’t back down,” Ifedi said. “The team knows I won’t back down.

“You can’t be a nice guy on the field, or you won’t be on the field very long.”

Ifedi said Bennett has been a great guy to him off the field, but the offensive line and defensive line have gotten into quite a few scuffles through the first five practices of camp. The defensive line is the more talented, more accomplished group. But what the coaches have noticed is that the offensive linemen have stood their ground.

After practice, head coach Pete Carroll gushed about what he’s seen from Ifedi so far.