I’m not going to say it. You say it. You’re the mean one.
What’s that? I need more edge? Aw, all right, I’ll say it.
Shouldn’t that be an Air Bowie shirt that Joel Embiid is wearing?
Ah, that didn’t feel right. That’s no fun. I don’t know how the chronic contrarians (“Gwynn was overrated!”) do it. The expected first pick in the upcoming NBA Draft now finds himself in a limping limbo after undergoing surgery this morning for a stress fracture in his foot, and while some of the jokes are too easy to resist — the Blazers suddenly feel an inexplicable urge to trade up to the top of the draft — I feel bad for the kid.
Embiid is a ridiculously athletic big man who plays with a mean streak, one who has already improved by leaps and bounds and yet has not come close to his ceiling. And by all accounts he’s as good a teammate as he is a prospect. For basketball fans intrigued to see what he might become, this is a real bummer. I wasn’t thrilled to see him compared to Hakeem Olajuwon, because The Dream was a player so skilled, especially with his Admiral-destroying fakes and footwork …
… that there is no real comp in league history. Hakeem was one of a kind, and I don’t think there will ever be a duplicate. It’s unfair to Embiid, even with irresistible if still-faint similarities to the college version of (H)Akeem in raw talent, engaging demeanor, and relative inexperience, to compare the two.
But being compared to the No. 1 pick in the 1984 NBA Draft sure beats being compared to the No. 2 pick. The Blazers will never live down choosing Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan (Greg Oden over Kevin Durant isn’t looking so swell, either), but anyone who saw a healthy Bowie at Kentucky knew of his appeal.
He was an extraordinary all-around talent, a gifted passer and defensive force. Bowie’s legacy — and it’s the same to varying degrees for fellow former Blazers big men Bill Walton and Oden — is that of a cautionary tale, a cruel and perennial reminder that foot and leg injuries can stall and even destroy the most promising careers.
Here’s hoping that this is only a hiccup for Embiid, that he goes on to fulfill all of his promise in a long NBA career. We won’t know the long-term effects of this — if there are any — for at least a year, if not years. But in the short-term, one effect is already apparent — there’s a decent chance that this injury, which could require nearly a full year of recovery, will lead him to a different NBA destination.
Cleveland could still take him No. 1 overall. But right now, it seems too risky, especially with talents such as Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and the rising Dante Exum available. The question is not whether he ends up in Cleveland, but how far he will fall.
From our green-eyed perspective here, Embiid’s injury — taking sympathy for the kid out of it — is a potential blessing for the Celtics. It’s possible that he’s there at No. 6, though the hunch here is that they’ll miss out on him by a pick or two. The lack of cooperation from the ping-pong balls not only may force them to give up more for Kevin Love than they would have had to do had they landed a better pick, but it may also prevent them from getting Embiid if they do hang onto the pick.
I still believe they can make a trade for Love before the draft, particularly if his self-organized recruiting visit a few weeks ago went well enough that he uses his leverage to tell the Timberwolves that Boston is the only place he wants to go and the only place he will re-sign. But the Embiid injury and the possibility of him sliding adds another layer of intrigue to the Celtics’ potential options before and during the draft.
Bringing Love here (and keeping Rajon Rondo, who goes if there’s an obvious rebuild) is what I hope happens. But if it does not, I’d love to see Embiid as Plan B. The foot injury is troubling, but it’s a risk worth taking in order to acquire that rare bundle of size, athleticism, instincts, and intensity.
Yeah, maybe he will be the next Sam Bowie. And you know how I feel about talk that he’s the second coming of Hakeem. But this much is certain — at least there’s no next Michael Jordan who will still be on the board after Embiid is gone