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NBA Draft 2014 | Joel Embiid foot injury sends top of draft into chaos

Ed Zurga

Just when we thought Kansas big man Joel Embiid might have locked up the #1 spot in the 2014 NBA Draft, this happens:


The injury was first reported by ESPN's Jeff Goodman Thursday morning, with Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski later confirming the injury as a fracture requiring surgery. Wojnarowski also confirmed that Milwaukee and Cleveland had struck an arrangement to split the physical testing of Parker and Embiid, both of whom are represented by Tellem.

Embiid's injury was discovered in a physical Cavs doctors conducted during a recent trip to Cleveland, sources told Yahoo Sports. As part of an agreement, Milwaukee performed the physical on Parker, and Cleveland conducted Embiid's – and the two teams exchanged them.

Milwaukee officials didn't learn of Embiid's injury until Thursday morning, league sources said.

While there's still plenty we don't know about the injury or its long-term ramifications, the knee-jerk conclusion for many will be that Embiid now represents too great a risk to select ahead of the likes of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and perhaps Dante Exum, creating yet another complicating factor for teams at the top of the draft. That also means Tellem can expect a busy week doing damage control for his client's stock, while increasing the likelihood that Embiid's camp shares medical reports with teams outside the top three (hint: Boston and L.A.). How the Bucks fit into that equation is unclear at the moment, though the irony is that the increased fear factor should better enable Tellem to control his client's landing spot should he end up somewhere outside the top two. Moreover, the Bucks' agreement with the Cavs means that they already have a physical report on Embiid, something we previously assumed would only happen once he visited Milwaukee.

Needless to say this isn't good news for anyone, though the Cavs and Bucks can at least take solace in the relative safety of Wiggins, Parker and Exum still being available should they pass on Embiid. Though it's unfortunate, Embiid's injury doesn't impact the Bucks' ability to nab a top prospect a week from now, though it does impact the risk calculus they'll have to do first. While we don't know all the details of Embiid's injury, it's important to note that the list of big men whose careers were derailed by foot injuries is extensive, including names such as Brook Lopez, Yao Ming, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. That doesn't mean passing on Embiid is necessarily a no-brainer; if you believe he's the only potential superstar in the draft, then that alone could make him worthy of the number one pick, injury concerns and all. But a foot injury on top of his existing back concerns does give the Cavs and Bucks a viable excuse to play it safe with Parker or Wiggins, while also raising the odds that the Bucks go against the grain and select Exum.

With many observers (including this one) viewing Embiid as the top talent available, we're also faced with the very real possibility that a team outside the top three will have a chance to roll the dice on a player who would otherwise be a consensus top pick in most drafts. Suddenly teams in the mid-lottery will be scrambling for a read on Embiid's long-term prognosis, preparing for the possibility that the Cameroonian big man could slip in the same way that Nerlens Noel tumbled to the #6 spot a year ago. So at what point does even an injured Embiid become too good to pass on? Will non-lottery teams suddenly begin sniffing for trades in order to get a chance at Embiid? And will Tellem use the injury as an excuse to play favorites with the Celtics and Lakers?

Basically: stuff is about to get nuts, and we should probably be careful with what we believe over the next week. There's always a possibility that the Cavs and Bucks could try to trade down and still land Embiid, while teams picking later in the lottery could try to use scare tactics to cause him to fall. For more, our Grantland friend Andrew Sharp has a good rundown of how the news might shake up the lottery.

I won't even try to speculate how far Embiid could slip given the limited information at hand, though Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress has already moved Embiid from first to fourth in his latest mock, projecting Wiggins to now go first, Parker to still end up in Milwaukee, and Dante Exum to move up to third. It's the same story from Chad Ford's Top 100, where Embiid slips to number four behind the same trio.