Joel Embiid, frontrunner to be selected first in the 2014 NBA Draft, will have surgery on his right foot today. During a physical last week in Cleveland it was discovered that he had a navicular stress fracture. This news was made public yesterday when Embiid’s agent announced that the 7-footer would not be able to attend the draft in person.
The part of me that sports tin foil headgear thinks this could be an awfully flashy ploy to escape the dregs of the NBA, as many stress fractures simply require rest, but in all likelihood it is just bad luck. Well… potentially good luck. Again, it depends on your perspective. If I were Embiid, I wouldn’t mind being drafted lower if it meant the sunny beaches of Orlando or Los Angeles instead of the pit of despair/frozen wasteland of Cleveland or Milwaukee.
I guess the question becomes: Who will risk a Greg Oden 2.0? Despite missing the NCAA tournament with stress fractures in his back, Embiid was still the frontrunner to be taken number one. Now I am not so sure. Consensus seems to be that he will slip a few spots. Interestingly, he could slip quite a few based on team need vs. risk level. Here is how I see things breaking down:
#1 Pick – Cleveland Cavaliers
There was a decent chance that Cleveland was going to take Embiid so they could trade Anderson Varejao. Varejao’s contract is worth $9.8 million for one more season, making him quite enticing for teams in need of cap relief in 2015. Cleveland could more than replace him, clear space, and attain valuable pieces in one fell swoop—but they might not risk it anymore. It’s not as if Andrew Wiggins is some sort of booby prize anyway.
35% chance of drafting Embiid.
#2 Pick – Milwaukee Bucks
I would be surprised if Milwaukee bit on Embiid. They convinced their center, Larry Sanders, to sign a four-year $44 million extension last season. Sanders promptly missed 59 games due to injury, tanking his trade value by narrowing his already sparse body of work (as if the Bucks would trade him anyway). They don’t need both players, and they have shown no desire to trade their current big man. They’ll give a closer look to Jabari Parker or the dark horse Dante Exum.
25% chance of drafting Embiid if available.
#3 Pick – Philadelphia 76ers
This is where things get tricky. The Sixers are dead set on Wiggins, but he will almost certainly be off the board. It would be exceedingly difficult to pass up on Embiid as a replacement star if he falls to three. However; they have a healthy Nerlens Noel to break in this year. Fortunately, Noel on a rookie contract would command a high price if they decided to send him packing in favor of Embiid, so they have options as long as other teams are interested. Who knows? Maybe they’d keep both and be terrifying.
50% chance of drafting Embiid if available.
#4 Pick – Orlando Magic
The plot continues to thicken. Although the Magic are reasonably set at center with Nikola Vucevic, we have reached the point where it is absolutely irresponsible to draft for position over talent. A healthy Embiid has potential to anchor a franchise for years to come, but an injury hampered one is still pretty risky. The Magic could always play it safe and draft Exum (if available) to replace the 32 year old Jameer Nelson, but letting Embiid slip to fifth could be tough to live with.
80% chance of drafting Embiid if available.
After this point we are looking at 100%. The Jazz would be stupid not to take him, and the Celtics/Lakers would eagerly owe their withered, fragmented souls to whichever goat-legged stranger let Embiid fall to sixth or seventh. Remember, in 2013 everyone was astonished that Noel slipped all the way sixth, and HE had a torn ACL, not some barely apparent stress fracture. Embiid’s destination is more up in the air now than ever. Where do you think he will land?