The top of the NBA Draft -– and the future of Joel Embiid –- became more uncertain than ever Thursday with news that the Kansas center suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and was scheduled for surgery on Friday, six days before he could have been the No. 1 pick.
Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, confirmed the diagnosis, saying Embiid would not attend the draft next Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Tellem said there would be no additional comment, including the all-important question of how long Embiid is expected to miss, until after the operation.
The foot injury this late in the process would have been concern enough for the Cavaliers with the first selection, the Bucks with the second and the 76ers with the third. The foot injury on top of the fractured back that prematurely ended Embiid’s season at Kansas, though, makes a tumble out of the top three very likely and a free fall to the second half of the lottery possible.
It’s the double risk that sets Embiid apart from others that have been picked near the top despite existing injury concerns, as recently as a year ago with Anthony Bennett going to Cleveland with the first choice, Alex Len to Phoenix with the fifth and Nerlens Noel to Philadelphia, after officially being selected by New Orleans as part of a trade, when it was known each would miss summer league. Taking Embiid in the top three now, when there are reasonable alternatives on the board for each franchise, would be an invitation to unimaginable heat if the health problems continue.
Exactly how far does he drop?
Teams will like-wise wait until more specifics are known from the surgery, and then examining medical records, before making any decision. But it’s a very tough sell for several front offices just on existing circumstances.
Cleveland at No. 1. The Cavaliers are determined to make a playoff push after the implosion of 2013-14. That was wreckage everywhere. They simply cannot push all-in with a one-and-done 7-footer who now has an expanding injury history, at a time the Cavs may also lose free agent Luol Deng for nothing. They just can’t.
Milwaukee at No. 2. The Bucks have new ownership. That generally doesn’t come with the opening statement of “Let’s take a step back and think 2015-16.”
Philadelphia at No. 3. The 76ers would have been a logical solution, assuming the post-surgery report from doctors say Embiid will miss months but, with the proper care, be able to play for years. (Because that’s what the post-surgery report will almost certainly say.) And Philly also has a cushion with the No. 10 pick, guaranteeing at least one highly regarded rookie will play. The Sixers, though, just spent an entire season waiting for Noel to get healthy after a knee operation. It’s hard to imagine they want to play the waiting game again.
Orlando at No. 4. The Magic have Nikola Vucevic. They wouldn’t have a need for Embiid at 100 percent.
Jazz at No. 5. They’ve been in the lottery three of the last four seasons. There has to be a concerted effort to make a big push now.
Celtics at No. 6. Not a terrible thought. As much as Boston obviously want the same forward progress as the others, if the team doctors agree with Embiid’s doctors, and that’s no guarantee, the Celtics could weigh the unexpected opportunity of getting a foundation center this late against the lesser talents on the board.
Lakers at No. 7. They did the Andrew Bynum knee(s) thing not too long ago. And they have zero for the bridge to the future, unlike the other teams picking ahead of them. This has to be a hit.
Kings at No. 8. This could have been a very good landing spot. Embiid is a very good fit next to DeMarcus Cousins, the kind of defensive presence inside Sacramento needs, a center who wouldn’t take shots from Cousins at power forward. But the Kings have made it clear they’re not looking forward to another season of a rookie learning curve. Drafting Embiid could essentially mean two seasons.
Hornets at No. 9. Al Jefferson is locked in. Charlotte could have internal conversations about two or three more years with Jefferson setting up the move to Embiid, but other needs are more pressing for a team that got a lottery pick despite making the playoffs and now has to continue the momentum.
Philadelphia at No. 10. At this point, with a second pick, the 76ers have to do it, right? Right?