As the Lakers continue conducting pre-draft workouts to finalize their prospect list, it turns out their seventh overall selection next Thursday may not hinge on vertical jumps, drills or interviews.
It could depend on Kansas center Joel Embiid, who will likely drop as the top pick for the Cleveland Cavaliers because he will need surgery to treat a stress fracture in his right foot. The Lakers would consider selecting Embiid should he become available, according to a person familiar with the Lakers’ thinking. But such an idea would hinge on Embiid’s recovery.
The Lakers are mindful there would be risk in selecting Embiid considering his recent back injury and his current foot fracture. But they are also aware of Embiid’s upside with various draft experts likening him to Hall of Famer center Hakeem Olajuwon. It is unclear what information in Embiid’s medical report and progress the Lakers would need to see that would make them feel comfortable picking Embiid assuming he stays undrafted before the seventh pick.
Either way, other draft prospects already sensed how Embiid’s injury could produce a domino effect.
“It makes it a little bit less predictable,” said Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon, who was one of five prospects to work out with the Lakers on Friday at team’s practice facility in El Segundo. “Other than that, I have no idea.”
There appeared to be some clarity, though. Gordon said he had heard the Philadelphia 76ers want to host him for a workout. With the Sixers having the third overall pick, top prospects such as Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins could become unavailable and require contingency plans. After completing his second workout in the past month with the Lakers, Oklahoma State guard sophomore Marcus Smart spoke briefly with reporters before leaving for a plane to Philadelphia for a workout.
“I really don’t know much about that injury,” Smart said. “They haven’t told me anything about it. I know just as much as you guys.”
Hence, both the unsettled and excited feelings surrounding Embiid’s possible availability.
The Lakers already have plenty of question marks this offseason on how to rebuild following their worst record in L.A. franchise history. They have yet to hire a coach. It remains unclear if future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash could consistently stay healthy after suffering major knee and back injuries last season. Only Bryant, Nash and Robert Sacre are signed for next season, leaving the Lakers with up to 12 players to fill their roster.
Former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming’s career was cut short because of a similar injury that Embiid faces. The Portland Trail Blazers selected big man Greg Oden first overall in 2007 before having an injury plagued career that started with surgery on right knee. After the Lakers selected him with the 10th overall pick at 2010, Andrew Bynum experienced chronic knee problems. But he became effective enough to help the Lakers to two NBA championships in 2009 and 2010 before eventually being dealt in 2012 as part of the Dwight Howard trade.
“I try not to get caught up into that,” Louisiana Lafayette guard Elfrid Payton said. “That’s stuff I can’t control. But it’s going to shake it up some kind of way. It has to.”
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