Joel Embiid, just 48 hours ago, appeared locked in to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He worked out for Cleveland, and the news that trickled out – either from Embiid’s agent or someone in the Cavs front office trying to drive up interest in the Kansas center – was so glowing, it felt like the 7-footer was going to be the first player taken in the June 26th draft.
And now, two days later, the news on Embiid is dire: He suffered a stress fracture in his right foot – nobody is saying how – and he’s having surgery Friday. He’s done working out for teams, won’t attend the draft, and won’t play in summer league, because healing time appears to be at least six weeks. One would assume Embiid will be good for training camp in September, but with 7-footers, you never know.
A quick primer on what Embiid’s injury means at the top of the draft:
1) What will the Cavs do? Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, though they’ll give Dante Exum a look. I still go with Wiggins.
2) Does Embiid fall out of the Top 5? I can’t imagine the rebuilding Bucks take a chance on Embiid. You’re setting back an already-bad franchise by another few years. As promising as Embiid looks, what if he’s damaged goods? The 76ers just redshirted Nerlens Noel. Would they do it again by taking Embiid 3rd? There are on a multi-year rebuilding plan, but could you even play Nerlens and Embiid together? With two lottery picks, the 76ers can improve quickly; unless they decide to take a flier on Embiid at 3, bring him along slowly, and then possibly trade him (or Noel) down the road.
3) What about Orlando at 4? The Magic had Shaq, found success, then he bolted. They Magic had Dwight Howard, had success, then he bolted. They have a nice, very young nucleus but are at least another year from contending for a playoff spot in the East. I would assume the Magic are willing to take a chance on Embiid, especially if Exum/Parker/Wiggins are off the board.
4) The Jazz seem set inside with Favors and Kanter, plus 7-foot-2 Rudy Gobert waiting in the wings. Embiid doesn’t make sense there. After the lottery, it seemed like the Jazz were in the worst spot at 5, but now, could someone enamored with Embiid want to trade up ahead of the Celtics and Lakers?
5) The Celtics and Lakers are roughly in the same boat – Boston has Rondo, who wants to win now or leave. The Lakers have Kobe, who has a tiny window. But do you appease those two players, or pick thinking about the long term health of the franchise? Lakers fans will draw obvious parallels to chronically-injured Andrew Bynum. It’s safe to say Kobe would not be happy if LA drafted someone who wasn’t going to contribute immediately.
6) How far could Embiid fall? I would assume 10 (Philadelphia) or 12 (Orlando). Each has two lottery picks, and a raw, promising 7-footer is worth the second one, right?
7) What does this mean about the possibility of trading Kevin Love? Embiid, many observers say, was a franchise center. Worth trading into the No. 1 spot for. But after just one season of college basketball, he suffered back and foot injuries. Is he worth the risk? Cleveland may have just lost any hope of trading for Kevin Love. Did Boston, too? Is Boston’s 6th pick as attractive as it once was? All teams have on Embiid is Kansas tape, one workout in Santa Monica, and whatever he did in Cleveland.