After winning the NBA draft lottery for the third time in a four-year span, the Cleveland Cavaliers will once again be able to choose whichever incoming prospect they like best. It doesn’t appear, however, that Joel Embiid is topping the Cavs’ list of targets.
Per a tweet from Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico, the Cavaliers front office views Embiid’s back injury as a major concern:
Sounding as if Joel Embiid basically out of running for No. 1 pick. Sources say #Cavs' extremely leery of potential for longterm back issues— Sam Amico (@SamAmicoFSO) May 23, 2014
A stress fracture in the Kansas standout’s lower back kept him sidelined throughout the Big 12 tournament as well as the NCAA tournament. He played his final game of the season on March 1 against Oklahoma State—a 72-65 loss. He notched a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds in that contest.
The report from Amico is a stark contrast to what was written by Grantland’s Bill Simmons on May 22.
“As I said on TV before the lottery, Embiid was always going first,” he wrote. “None of these teams was passing on him. Repeat: none of them. The amount of smokescreening going on in April and May was high comedy.”
Simmons also detailed a recent two-hour workout the big man participated in: “He moves around as effortlessly as a 7-foot Serge Ibaka.” He added that Embiid can shoot jump hooks effectively with either hand and sports three-point range.
During his freshman season with the Jayhawks, Embiid only attempted five treys—cashing just one. Developing that skill down the road, though, would elevate his ceiling as a player.
Simmons was able to witness one of the top prospects in this year’s draft, and he had nothing but positive things to say after the fact.
Count ESPN's Chad Ford among the recent chorus of those ready to sign off on Embiid's recovery:
Embiid quickly re-asserting claim to # 1 pick here. Added muscle, still has quick feet & a beautiful jumper. No evidence of back issues— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 23, 2014
Ditto Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:
Watching Joel Embiid in workout for league executives in Santa Monica. Impossible to imagine passing on him at No. 1.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) May 23, 2014
Their viewpoints, however, don't appear to be shared by Cleveland’s brain trust.
Contrary to initial reports that Embiid was atop Cleveland's draft board, per ESPN's Jeff Goodman, the Cavs seem to be leaning in a different direction.
Who should the Cavs take if they keep the No. 1 overall pick?
Cleveland finished 17th in defensive rating during the regular season by surrendering 104.8 points per 100 possessions, according to ESPN.com. As a team, the Cavaliers also averaged a pitiful 3.7 blocks per contest—only the Minnesota Timberwolves (3.6) were worse in that category.
The Andrew Bynum experiment was a complete disaster. Anderson Varejao has a pronounced injury history of his own and could become a free agent if his non-guaranteed deal for 2014-15 is not picked up. Spencer Hawes will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and while Tyler Zeller showed flashes of being a solid NBA talent, he wasn’t able to build off his rookie season due to a lack of playing time from head coach Mike Brown.
The Cavs could certainly use a rim protector like Embiid to fix those defensive woes, but it appears as if other notable options—Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker—are the leading candidates to join Kyrie Irving and Co.
Truth be told, none of those three guys would be a poor fit as a wingman beside the franchise point guard.