Days ago, talented Kansas center Joel Embiid was a front-runner to be selected first overall by Cleveland in Thursday’s NBA Draft. At worst, despite a back injury suffered late in his freshman season with the Jayhawks, the perception was he’d fall to no lower than No. 3, landing in Philadelphia.
However, a recent injury – a fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot – discovered by the Cavaliers during Embiid’s physical - resulted in surgery Friday morning. The 20-year-old Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year will miss four-to-six months after having two screws inserted into his foot and now his anticipated draft position is a minor mystery.
If Embiid is available at No. 6, would the Celtics be wise to draft the injured big man, or pass for potentially less talented but surely less damaged goods? Our Boston.com panel of Celtics insiders weighed in.
Gary Dzen: I'm going to sound like a broken record should anyone be bored enough to go back and look at our previous round tables, but OF COURSE the Celtics should take Joel Embiid if he falls to No. 6. It's really not even much of a discussion.
This is the guy, before the broken foot, who some were projecting to go first overall to Cleveland in the draft. If you haven't noticed, the Celtics are more than one player away for competing for a title. Even if everything falls into place and the Celtics are able to swing a deal or two for some major pieces and all is rosy at Healthpoint, you're telling me they can't afford to wait another six-to-eight months on the best player in the draft?
One thing's really been bothering me: can we please ignore all that nonsense about the Celtics definitely (no way) never, ever picking Greg Oden in the 2007 draft if they had the chance? I don't blame Austin Ainge for saying it, and I don't blame anyone for writing it, but how much credit can we give the C's for a decision they never had to make. Oden went off the board four picks before they had to make their choice. If the Celtics lucked into the No. 2 pick, you're saying they wouldn't have taken Oden? If Oden slipped to five? Of course they would have drafted him. And they'd look just as bad as Portland or anyone else who got unlucky with an injured player.
As far as referencing Oden in discussing Embiid, I wouldn't read into it too much. The Celtics will treat Embiid as an individual case. If they feel he's the guy, they won't hesitate to pull the trigger.
Jeremy Gottlieb: There seems to be some sentiment among Celts fans and observers that should injury-plagued center Joel Embiid fall to them at No. 6 in Thursday's NBA Draft, the C’s have to take him.
Let's hope Danny Ainge isn't of the same mindset. The Celtics drafting Embiid has potential catastrophe written all over it and represents a risk/reward scenario that is weighted massively in favor of the risk. And while there's nothing wrong with taking risks, this one just seems to be too great.
It's so, so difficult to become a contender in the NBA, why knowingly make it any tougher on yourself? Whether or not the Celtics are still in the hunt for Kevin Love or if their potential offer for him is good enough or if they can outbid any of the other teams lined up for his potential services all remains unclear. What is clear is that going all in for a player like Love, who has still yet to enter his prime and possesses a skill set that would help the C’s immediately, should be the team's primary focus.
If they can't get Love and are stuck having to keep and use their two first round picks, signs right now point to an all-out youth movement, which will keep the C’s in NBA purgatory for at least another two or three years. And if that's where they're going to be, wouldn't they want to take a player at No. 6 who can come in and begin to learn and develop right away? Wouldn't that accelerate the rebuilding process at least somewhat? There are so few sure things in any draft that it's impossible to know whether Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh or Marcus Smart or any other name linked to the C’s at No. 6 will pan out. But the chances of that happening feel a lot more solid than if they are to take a big man with both foot and back problems like Embiid.
History has not been kind to NBA big men with foot injuries like Embiid's - just ask Bill Walton and Yao Ming, among others. Add to that the back injury that kept him out of Kansas's entire postseason and it just seems to be too much of a stretch to take him, even if he's available. Embiid's prognosis is that he'll be out four-to-six months which wipes out a chunk of 2014-15 right off the top. And that's the best-case scenario. What if he misses the entire year? What if his injuries are chronic? The Celtics could be setting themselves back even further if they choose to rely on someone who poses so many health risks.
The ideal scenario for the Celts remains completing a deal for Love. Should that prove impossible and the Celts wind up going young, they must do it with healthy players.
Adam Kaufman: First, I’d just like to say kudos to Basketball Insiders for projecting Joel Embiid to the Celtics at No. 6 weeks ago, long before his foot injury was discovered. It seemed crazy at the time. Not so much now.
I suspect I’m in the minority here but, if I’m Danny Ainge, Embiid is off my draft board at No. 6.
I understand all of the center’s raw talents, the comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon, his size, athleticism, and the many other reasons he was previously projected as a top-three pick. But, it’s imperative – if Ainge retains the pick – that he get it right for the long-term, and a big man (in particular) with back and foot issues before he’s even entered the league is simply too big a gamble. Embiid could be a star for 10 years or flame out in 10 minutes.
Consider Greg Oden’s brief and disappointing NBA career (one the Celts say they would have avoided had they selected No. 1 in 2007) plagued by knee injuries, or Yao Ming’s time in Houston after his various foot injuries. We don’t know what Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon, and others will be at the next level, but we do know they aren’t already surrounded by medical red flags. Drafting at No. 6 in the early stages of a massive rebuild is far different than a veteran team choosing Avery Bradley (No. 19, 2010) and Jared Sullinger (No. 21, 2012), who were each dealing with their own ailments at the time and have since undergone procedures.
There’s no debating the C’s need a rim-protector to provide help on the inside, on the glass, and between opponents’ shots and the basket, but that can be found by trade. Is Omer Asik, for instance, as good as Joel Embiid if each hits his ceiling? Of course not – but he is healthy. In Embiid’s case, there are far too many unknowns, especially if Ainge and his staff are forced to make a decision without viewing the former top prospect’s medical information.
Brian Robb: You don’t get many chances to draft a potential franchise center in the NBA Draft, so I believe the Celtics should roll the dice and select Joel Embiid at No. 6 if he falls to them. There is no greater need on the Celtics roster right now than the center position. Vitor Faverani is the only pure center under contract with the team and the jury is still out on whether he can be a reliable rotation player in the NBA. Boston desperately needs help in the middle and Embiid’s potential should outweigh his injury risks.
Gambling on Embiid particularly makes sense if the Celtics end up going the young rebuilding route for yet another season. That kind of rebuilding scenario would give the Celtics plenty of flexibility to remain cautious with Embiid’s recovery from a fractured foot during the 2014-15 season, similar to what the Sixers did this year with Nerlens Noel.
I don’t expect the big man to fall to Boston in the No. 6 spot, but if he does Danny Ainge should jump on the opportunity to grab him.
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