Joel Embiid, who missed the 2014 NCAA Tournament because of a stress fracture in his back, today will undergo surgery to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone of his right foot.
News of the foot fracture shook the NBA on Thursday, just seven days before the 2014 Draft in Brooklyn, New York — a draft in which the 7-foot former Kansas University center was expected to be selected No. 1 overall.
“Joel will be unable to participate in any additional workouts, and will not attend the draft in New York,” Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said Thursday in a statement. “We will have no further comment until after the surgery.”
Embiid issued a statement about his injury on Twitter on Thursday night: “It’s all good. GOD has a plan for all of us!!! MINOR setback for a MAJOR comeback. He knows what he’s doing. Disappointment is inevitable...discouragement is a choice.”
According to Yahoo Sports, the surgery was recommended by renowned orthopedist Richard Ferkel after the injury was discovered in a physical exam conducted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who pick first in the draft.
Recovery time for the injury that Tellem said occurred in the “last few days” will be determined after today’s surgery.
Sources told ESPN’s Chad Ford that Embiid’s navicular bone — located at the top of the foot above the arch — could take four to six months to heal, with a return to games possible in nine months. The navicular bone, according to SI.com, “is a critical bone for anything that requires power, running or jumping.”
ESPN states that re-injury of the bone is common.
“Because of that, Embiid is no longer likely to be the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Ford writes in an article on ESPN.com. “The question is how far will he fall (in the draft)?”
Ford, whose mock draft Wednesday had Embiid the No. 1 pick of Cleveland, now has the Cameroon native being taken No. 4 by Orlando, behind KU’s Andrew Wiggins (Cleveland), Duke’s Jabari Parker (Milwaukee) and Australia’s Dante Exum (Philadelphia).
An NBA source told the Journal-World that word in the league is that Embiid, barring any complications in surgery, likely will be taken No. 3 overall by Philly. The source said rumors persist that Cleveland will select Wiggins with the No. 1 pick but is interested in trading the pick for NBA veteran help.
Wiggins reportedly had an impressive workout for the Cavaliers on Wednesday. Parker will be in Cleveland today.
“Like any team, they will want to see the medical report after the surgery, but this has seriously dampened their enthusiasm for Embiid,” ESPN’s Ford writes of the Cavs.
As far as Orlando ultimately selecting Embiid at No. 4, Ford writes: “Orlando is in desperate need of a rim protector and an athletic frontcourt player to pair with Nikola Vucevic. While drafting Embiid will be a risk, he might have too much upside for them to pass up, especially when they have another pick in the lottery. If the Magic are scared off by Embiid’s injury, Noah Vonleh is also a possibility.”
As of Thursday, Ford was convinced of Cleveland’s desire to acquire Wiggins.
“Although he (Wiggins) didn’t shoot the ball well (at Wednesday’s workout), he has improved his ballhandling and showed off his explosive athleticism,” Ford writes. “The Cavs believe he will be a good shooter in time; there’s nothing wrong with his form. Wiggins has similar upside to Embiid. And Wiggins can be a defensive presence for the Cavs from day one.”
However ... “There is a vocal faction within the organization pushing for Parker to be the pick. He is the most NBA-ready, and the Cavs are in a win-now mode,” Ford writes. “For now, we believe Wiggins offers the best combination upside, plus impact.”
What figured to be a joyous occasion for Embiid next Thursday in New York now has changed dramatically.
Tellem said Embiid will not be attending the draft proceedings in New York and instead will be in the early stages of recovery.
Leading to draft day, there will be pundits bringing up the names of centers who fizzled because of injury, notably Greg Oden, Sam Bowie, Yao Ming, Michael Olowokandi and Marcus Camby.
SI.com reports Ming suffered a stress fracture in the navicular bone in both 2008 and ’09, and the injuries forced him to retire in 2011. Bill Walton played in just 14 games between 1978 and ’82 because of fractures of the navicular bone. Quincy Pondexter had surgery to repair a navicular fracture last December and missed the rest of the season. However, SI.com points out Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a navicular fracture early in his career, but went on to have nine healthy seasons.
“With that type of injury I wouldn’t take him in the Top Ten,” a cautious Western Conference executive told SI.com’s Chris Mannix, referring to Embiid.
It should be noted Michael Jordan had the same injury his second year in the NBA and went on to a Hall of Fame career. Another successful comeback according to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton was made by Kevin McHale, who played with a broken navicular bone in the 1987 playoffs, then had surgery and missed the first month of the 1987-88 season. After that, he played in 64 of 68 games and missed just four total over the following two seasons.
Two takes: Draftexpress.com has Embiid now being selected No. 4 overall by Orlando behind Wiggins, Parker and Exum. NBAdraft.net says Embiid will be taken third by Philly behind Wiggins and Parker.
“It’s tough to see a talent like Embiid falling any further than this, injury concerns and all,” draftexpress writes. “Orlando will certainly be looking to draft a player with star power, and Embiid ticks a lot of boxes on both ends of the court. They will likely be hoping to receive some assurances from Embiid’s camp that his back and foot won’t be long-term issues, but with two lottery picks and a solid center already in place, the Magic can afford to roll the dice here.”
Celts to save day?: Comcast Sports Net/Boston says Embiid will not drop past the No. 6 pick of the Boston Celtics. In fact, the website says the Celtics will give serious thought to moving up in the draft in order to take Embiid.
Boston Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge spoke to Boston.com about Embiid’s draft status:
“Those are always concerns,” Ainge said of Embiid’s injuries, “especially when it’s a player like 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 weigh short-term and long-term.
“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. There can be some value there, but there’s always risk.”
The injury: Kenneth Hunt, a Stanford assistant professor of orthopedics, tells SI.com a stress fracture in a navicular bone is “a classic overuse injury found often in basketball and volleyball players.”
“The most common treatment is to make small incisions to place one or two screws across the fracture to stabilize it,” Hunt said in an article available at http://ljw.bz/1lNAqoV
“If the fracture is displaced, a bone graft can accelerate healing.”
Hunt said “the healing rates of this fracture are high. The majority of these injuries will heal completely. Getting to it early is a good prognostic sign. In his case, it appears it was treated early and appropriately. In the cases I have seen, the athletes that have recurrent fractures have high arches and stiff feet. They can develop large spurs in the adjacent bones. But again, to the majority of athletes this will heal and not be an issue in the future.”