Philadelphia 76ers: The (slightly) curious case of Zhaire Smith

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

In a seemingly never-ending saga, the Philadelphia 76ers top pick Zhaire Smith may miss the entire 2018-19 season with a bizarre food illness ‘injury’.

Another day, another ridiculous and absurd turn in the Philadelphia 76ers draft selection saga. Early this morning, David Aldridge of The Athletic reported that 2017 first overall pick Markelle Fultz will be sidelined for the foreseeable future as he is set to visit with a shoulder specialist early next week. This decision coming at the discretion of Fultz’s attorney.

While the mysterious Fultz injury has inhabited both the city and national airwaves, the health issues and questions surrounding this year’s controversial top pick Zhaire Smith have been silently mounting.

Smith suffered an acute Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal, the same injury that sidelined Ben Simmons for the entire 2016-17 campaign, in an August 6th development camp run by Tim Grgurich in Las Vegas. The Sixers released a statement on August 10th reporting that Smith underwent successful surgery to repair the injury and provided no timetable for his return.

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While the Sixers are far from inexperienced with top draft selections missing time due to injury, what followed was far from the ordinary. On September 27th, the team released a medical update on Smith stating the guard “underwent a successful thoracoscopy” to “address an issue that stemmed from an allergic reaction to a food product”.

Team sources informed reporters that they were aware of Smith’s peanut allergy and individually prepared his food, but additional testing showed the reaction was triggered by a sesame allergy that both the team and Smith were previously unaware of, and that food he consumed from the Sixers facility may have contained that sesame seeds or oil.

Fast forward nearly a month and a half. The only mention of Smith is via medical updates handed to the Philly media where they address his foot injury. Not a lick of information on the mysterious allergic reaction that required a surgical procedure.

Finally, on November 9th, the Sixers issued a medical update in which team Vice President of Medical Care Dr. Daniel Medina stated that Smith was “recovering well after receiving additional medical treatment for complications derived from the allergic reaction that originally required a thoracoscopy”. Additionally, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sarah Todd reported that, via a team source, Smith wouldn’t return in the 2018 calendar year.

A piece published on The Ringer by John Gonzalez, a reporter close to Philadelphia who wrote for the Inquirer and contributed to NBC Sports Philly in the past, states that a league source gave a tip the morning of November 9th that led the reporter to contact both team sources and Smith’s agent to no avail. Later that evening, the team released the medical update and addressed the media.

So once again, the Sixers front office and medical staff went above and beyond to conceal the magnitude of their first-round pick’s bizarre health complications, only to stifle reporters hot on their tail who forced the team to show their hand and release more information to the public.

The full impact of Medina’s incredibly brief update may be overlooked by Sixers fans. On the surface, it tells us that Smith is recovering well and on the right track. I mean, we’re almost conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to believe that a first-round draft pick and an injury are a packaged deal.

We understand that the Sixers medical staff has pulled the sleight of hand with us before in regard to injury updates, but hey, Ben missed an entire year and Joel missed two, so it’s good news that Smith is “recovering well”, right?

The frightening reality is that Smith endured complications that called for additional medical treatment after the initial procedure that was required in response to the allergic reaction. This wasn’t a simple one-and-done, get in/get out procedure that resolved all traces of an allergy scare. The after effects of this mishap are of greater magnitude than the team is disclosing.

In Gonzalez’s piece, he mentions several reports involving Smith and significant weight loss:

"Several reports stemming from the November 9 background briefing mentioned that Smith had “lost weight” over the past month and a half, but I was told that he lost “upward of 20 pounds.” For someone who’s listed at 199 pounds on the team website, that’s significant."

So, not only is Smith’s skill set and game likely to be blanketed in cobwebs due to his inability to practice on behalf of the foot injury, his already frail body frame is dwindling towards skeletal status thanks to additional procedures in response to his “complications”.

Smith has not been able to eat correctly and 20 pounds lighter leads me to believe that he’s borderline malnourished in terms of a professional athlete’s diet. The former Red Raider has not been able to return to any type of intense conditioning and certainly has not been able to pack on the additional muscle in the weight room that’s so vital to the transition from college to the pros, as seen by the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, who transformed from a skinny little tiger to the monster that was Shaq Daddy.

Most importantly, and somehow overlooked by many reports today, is the fact that Smith may not see the floor this season. The Sixers source who reported that he would not return in the 2018 calendar year may be holding back additional information (shocking, I know). Gonzalez wrote that his sources close to the team set a more bleak timetable of return, with Smith “in danger” of not playing at all this season.

So for the third time in four picks, with Markelle Fultz’s whopping 14 games last season breaking the trend, the Sixers top draft pick may be sidelined for his entire should-be rookie season. There’s nothing leading us to believe that Smith wouldn’t be tearing it up this season alongside Joel Embiid, Simmons, J.J. Redick, and the newly acquired Jimmy Butler if he were healthy.

But the circumstances surrounding the selection of Smith and the embarrassment of hometown hero Mikal Bridges on draft night make it all the worse. Sure, Bridges is only putting up eight points a night, but he’s healthy, and he’s playing.

Instead, the Sixers are caught in a web of incomplete truths (I dare not say lies). I imagine the team has hired additional staff, resembling Charlie Kelly in his attempt to track down the true identity of Pepe Silvia, who are working tirelessly to piece the contradictory excuses and explanations surrounding Smith (and Fultz) into one clear alibi.

So as the main headlines and national coverage shoves the Fultz fiasco down your throat, let me serve as the reminder to the disheveled mess of a situation that is taking place with Zhaire Smith that’s been pushed to the B-Sides of the Sixer’s flop of a mixtape titled “Damaged Draft Goods”.

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I’ll tell you, it’s a hell of a competition between the medical staff in the Wells Fargo Center and their compadres across the street at the Linc to see who’s more incompetent, but we’ll save that for another time.