BOSTON—Danny Ainge has never been afraid to take risks during his tenure as an executive with the Boston Celtics. That statement rings particularly true when it comes to Ainge selecting players with injury concerns during the NBA draft.
Avery Bradley (ankle) and Jared Sullinger (back) both had question marks about their health that caused them to free fall in their respective drafts despite being highly rated prospects. Ainge wasn’t scared off by their injury woes. Instead, he rolled the dice on them by using first-round picks to select Bradley and Sullinger in 2010 and 2012, respectively.
Next Thursday, June 26, Ainge’s propensity to take risks could be tested once again during the 2014 NBA draft. Top-rated prospect Joel Embiid will reportedly undergo surgery Friday, according to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, to repair a stress fracture in his right foot.
Several draft experts, including Chad Ford from ESPN.com, believe that the foot injury could cause Embiid to fall as low as sixth.
Now that Embiid’s stock is falling, the Celtics may have the opportunity to take a chance on the 20-year-old big man—if he’s still available when the team is on the clock with the sixth overall pick.
Should Ainge ignore the red flags and take a chance on the young phenom?
The answer is yes, especially if the team wants to continue to stay young with a rebuild next season. That is a scenario that would occur if the team falls short in its pursuit of Minnesota's Kevin Love. From there, Ainge would explore the possibility of dealing away veterans such as Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, as Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported Thursday.
The Celtics would have the leeway in this kind of extended rebuild to take a chance on a risky proposition like Embiid. Despite his injury concerns, there is no player in this year’s draft that fills Boston’s roster needs better than Embiid, and it’s easy to see why with just one look up and down Boston’s depth chart.
The only center currently on the Celtics roster is Vitor Faverani, who at 26 years old is a nice young prospect but has limited upside. Faverani sat out the final few months of his rookie season with a knee injury, forcing undersized players like Kris Humphries (6'9") and Jared Sullinger (6'9") to man the middle for head coach Brad Stevens.
Drafting Embiid would give Boston a true rim-protecting big man who could serve as a defensive anchor for the team’s future. Additionally, a drawn-out rebuild by the team would enable Boston to remain patient with the talented center as he recovers from his foot injury.
In fact, depending on the recovery time, Boston could elect to sit Embiid for much of the season as a precaution, much like the Philadelphia 76ers did with Nerlens Noel this year. That scenario could bode well for Embiid’s long-term health.
Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge spoke to reporters Thursday after a Celtics draft workout about Embiid’s injury and the impact it would have on how the Celtics evaluate him.
“Those are always concerns,” Ainge acknowledged, “Especially when it’s a player like [Embiid] that we won’t be able to have in to evaluate, to really get the risks from our medical staff. There’s a lot of guesswork involved, but you are always trying to weight short term and long term.”
Ainge continued: “We try to think long term that if a guy has to miss a couple months, it shouldn’t deter us from taking him if he is going to be the best player long-term. We’ve had some success with that with [Avery] Bradley and [Jared] Sullinger. Even Leon Powe slid all the way [to the second round, because of knee concerns]. And, unfortunately, Leon’s knees gave out eventually, but we got good years out of him. There can be some value there, but there’s always risk.”
If the Celtics were dealing with a higher pick in the draft, there may be a promising prospect that outweighed the risks Embiid’s health status presents. At the no. 6 spot, though, the size and potential Embiid presents should be far too alluring for Boston to turn down.
As long as the Celtics aren’t focused on putting together a roster that can make some noise in the Eastern Conference next season, selecting Embiid should be the team’s move if he’s available at No. 6.