SALT LAKE CITY — There are two ways to view the foot injury to Joel Embiid, who was projected to be the top pick in the NBA draft. The first is to say it’s no big deal. It’s not like he broke his back. The foot will heal.
That’s the Blake Griffin defense.
Griffin was the league’s top draft pick in 2009, but broke his kneecap in a preseason game. He ended up missing his entire rookie season. But he has played in 80 or more games in three of the last four seasons and become one of the league’s most exciting players.
It’s hard to imagine there were ever worries.
Then there’s the other way to look at Embiid’s predicament: the Portland Curse. The Blazers acquired Brandon Roy in a 2006 draft day trade with Minnesota. But a series of knee injuries limited his playing time to 326 games in six seasons. He never really did take flight, missing 25 games his rookie year, 17 in his fourth season, 35 in his fifth season and all of 2011-12. His last, sad season was 2012-13, when he played five games before retiring.
Roy was just one of a series of broken Blazers. Greg Oden, now in Miami, was drafted No. 1 in 2007 but didn’t play his first game until 2008. In 2009-10 he saw just 21 games before injuries took him down. There were three other inactive years before he came back last season in Miami, showing up in 23 games and averaging 2.9 points.
Oden has been a hazard warning on the highway to prosperity.
In 1984 the Blazers chose Sam Bowie at No. 2 instead of Michael Jordan. Bowie missed more than half his games four times in an injury-ravaged 11-year career.
So do the Jazz take Embiid the Enigmatic if available?
The Kansas center has been called the next Hakeem Olajuwon. If the Jazz miss on that chance, they might be blaming themselves into the next millennium. At the same time, if they choose him and he turns up lame, they’ll look like the dog ate their homework. That’s sort of what happened when Utah drafted Luther Wright in 1993. He arrived with drug, mental and emotional problems the team never knew existed. The Jazz had taken the word of Wright’s college coach, who vouched for his player. Wright ended up playing just one season before washing out of the league.
The current Jazz weren’t supposed to even be in the picture, as far as Embiid is concerned. But with the injury, the chance of him slipping to No. 5 is real. One general manager told the Sporting News “you can’t use a top 5 pick” on Embiid, who is expected to be out six to 12 months.
It’s an anguishing decision. Nobody wants to be the team that passes on a future superstar. Nor does a team want to be the one that buys a car for its paint job.
If Embiid is available, the Jazz should walk. This is one of the best years ever to defer, even if it involves a potential superstar. Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, Marcus Smart or maybe even Dante Exum could be available at five, and all should become All-Stars. No need risking the pick on damaged goods.
The Jazz have obsessed about their research, ever since the Wright flub-up. In this case their research was done for them. Embiid broke his foot after a back injury during the regular season. That’s all they need to know.
Having finished 24 games out of the playoffs, the Jazz can’t afford even a single-year setback while waiting for Embiid to heal. They should trade up if possible. Otherwise, simply take one of several other players who could have been the top pick in a less prosperous draft. The Jazz are lucky. There is deep talent in 2014.
As they say in the commercials, “Hurry in! There’s still plenty of inventory remaining!”
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