Other than a dozen or so future millionaires, here’s what else will be invited to next Thursday’s NBA draft: chaos.
A stress fracture to the right foot of Joel Embiid — the gangly center from Kansas and expected No. 1 pick — is causing a mad scramble and shuffling of plans among the top four or five teams. The injury was confirmed by his agent, Arn Tellum; Embiid will have surgery this weekend. The Cavaliers were heavily leaning toward taking Embiid with the first overall selection, but are now re-examining their Andrew Wiggins scouting reports.
It’s an amazing turn of events that one NBA scout called “crazy, because it’s happening at the 11th hour.” The league has rarely seen anything like this in the week leading up to the draft. (Even Sam Bowie managed to steer clear of injury at this late hour.) Compounding matters is this: Embiid had a back issue last season that caused him to miss the NCAA tournament for Kansas, and it raised red flags until teams demanded he conduct a pre-draft workout. He did, about three weeks ago in Los Angeles, in an attempt by Tellum to lower fears — which the workout accomplished. Invited teams raved about Embiid’s freakish athleticism for someone 7-foot-1, and he even showed shooting range by making three-pointers.
But now? Does this give Embiid the dreaded injury-prone tag? And can the Cavs, Bucks or Sixers, who represent the top three picks, take a gamble on Embiid that could set them back for years in a worst-case scenario?
This may not be such a big deal for the Cavs, who also had Wiggins rated highly and therefore can justify bypassing Embiid. The drama begins with the next pick and the Bucks. Do they take Embiid or Jabari Parker? And what about the Sixers at No. 3? Or Orlando after that? Do they take a gamble on Embiid or, say, Dante Exum, the Australian point guard?
Even with this latest turn of events, it’s hard to imagine Embiid falling out of the top five. But because the draft is loaded with potential All-Stars, teams can be choosy.
No general manager wants to be known as the guy who passed on a chance to get the next big star for a big man who can’t stay healthy. As everyone knows, this happened twice, by the same franchise. Portland experienced the double whammy with Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, and it cost them Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant.
Also, consider the pinch the Cavs would find themselves in should they take Embiid and he has chronic injury issues. They’re trying to get LeBron James and keep Kyrie Irving. The same goes for the Bucks, who desperately need a superstar, and the Sixers, who are rebuilding with young players and can’t afford to make a mistake.
Until the Cavaliers announce their selection with the No. 1 pick, everything is shrouded by doubt.
Welcome to the 2014 draft. Welcome to chaos.