MIAMI – Greg Oden has had years to think about the plight of his knees and still has no good answers.
The No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft is a poster child for big man bad luck, an epidemic that’s been sweeping the league for years. The latest victim seems to be Joel Embiid, a 7-footer expected to be the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s draft before a recently suffered stress fracture in his right foot almost certainly robbed the former Kansas star of that chance.
My body did what it wanted, Oden said. It didn’t do what I wanted.
Oden a few weeks ago recalled the frustration of his situation. But he and Embiid are hardly alone. For every huge success story like the ones from Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Hakeem Olajuwon, there’s been the cautionary tales of Sam Bowie, Pervis Ellison, Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown and Oden.
Big men, big risks and often, big problems.
NBA teams remain undeterred. That’s good for Embiid – after all, despite his issues, Oden’s still on an NBA roster. Still, Embiid may lose some money Thursday.
If he was the No. 1 pick, he would have been guaranteed about $14.4 million for his first three years in the NBA. If he slides to just No. 10, his rookie-deal salary for those first three years would be about $8.1 million less.
Embiid already had some health questions, mostly regarding a balky back that affected him toward the end of his final college season with Kansas. Now he’s had foot surgery and could be out for up to six months.
That doesn’t make Embiid unique.
His situation could be similar to what former Kentucky star Nerlens Noel faced this past season. Noel was recovering from a torn knee ligament, an injury that cost him a chance to be the No. 1 pick. He was still drafted No. 6 by New Orleans and traded to Philadelphia.
It’s easy to wonder if the 76ers would consider grabbing Embiid with one of their seven picks in this draft and giving him a year to recover in the same manner that they did with Noel.
I feel for him, Noel said. He’s just got to stay positive and keep working on himself.
There’s no shortage of big men who have buckled under the expectations.
Ellison was the No. 1 pick in 1989, got injured as a rookie and basically had only one great season as a pro. Kent Benson, the No. 1 pick in 1977, averaged 9.1 points per game in his career. Olowokandi was an enormous bust at No. 1, never averaging more than 12.3 points in a season.
And Michael Jordan will forever be tied to perhaps the two biggest big-man draft blunders: He was picked one spot after Sam Bowie went at No. 2 to Portland in 1984, and Jordan wound up taking Brown first overall in 2001.
When was the last time there was a great big? Miami Heat President Pat Riley said last week. I haven’t seen one of those guys out there for a long time.
Big men aren’t found just anywhere. Such is the lure.
You just don’t want to walk away, Riley said, from that kind of a talent.