WALTHAM — The Celtics may be faced with a gamble.
Do they take Kansas 7-footer Joel Embiid if he’s still available by the team’s No. 6 pick in Thursday’s draft, thereby selecting a promising and versatile center once considered the top overall prospect?
Or is Embiid’s medical history, which includes a stress fracture in his lower back and on Friday having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot, troubling enough to make them pass on him?
“I don’t know [if Embiid’s injury] does anything [for our draft plans],” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe after the team’s draft workouts on Saturday. “We have a lot of information on it and the navicular bone is something that happened recently.
“It’s a serious basketball injury for big guys, but we don’t know to what extent yet and we’re trying to get information and more information than anybody has right now — but it’s Joel’s information to give. So we’ll see.”
Ainge said it was too early to comment on potentially drafting Embiid with the notion that they’d just let him get healthy eventually because, like other teams, the Celtics still are gathering medical information.
It’s an especially difficult task for the Celtics because Embiid didn’t visit them for a workout, therefore denying the team’s doctors a chance to examine him.
Further complicating the matter, as Ainge indicated, is that Embiid and his camp, specifically agent Arn Tellem, control which teams can receive Embiid’s medical information. The Celtics are hopeful that they’ll receive his medical information, but even then, there are no certainties. And there is always the chance that whatever information they do receive will be incomplete.
“It would make sense if he has nothing to hide to let it loose,” one league source said, adding that if Embiid’s camp withholds information, teams will become even more suspicious that something is especially wrong.
According to multiple reports, Embiid will miss 4-6 months to recover from the surgery, meaning he will miss summer league and training camp.
“I think we all want to know exactly what [the injury prognosis] is,” said Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge. “But even when you have a lot of information, sometimes it’s still just a best guess.
“I’m not sure what the conclusions will be by the doctors and I’m sure, as with Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger when we drafted them, the medical staff all had different opinions for every team. So it’s hard to predict.”
The Celtics selected Bradley in 2010 and Sullinger in 2012 even though both had health concerns entering the draft.
“There’s two we’ve taken the chance on, there’s been many, many others that we’ve not decided to chance on,” Austin Ainge said, citing Greg Oden in 2007 and Brandon Roy a year earlier.
“And Brandon ended up having some very good years, and that may or may not have been the right decision. It ended up costing [the Portland Trail Blazers] a lot of money in the end. But he did give them a great few years.”
After noting that the team would have passed on Oden in 2007, Austin Ainge was asked if that meant the Celtics would have selected Kevin Durant if they had been in position to do so?
“Yes, oh yes,” he said. “I personally was not working here at that time, but I was in college and I came and I was in the draft room and they would have taken Durant. I did have some inside information there.”
When asked about the decision to take Embiid if he were available, Austin Ainge said, “Quite a gamble. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
He added, “Foot and back, those are not good body parts to injure.”
Of course, injuries can heal, though every situation is different.
“We try to focus on the long-term health rather than the short term when you’re dealing with draft picks,” Austin Ainge said. “Free agency, it might be a little different. But when you’re drafting kids that are [age] 19, 20, 21, it’s usually best to think, ‘Two years or five years down the road, will it be a concern?’ Those are the ones that we usually try to avoid.”
And in situations such as this one with Embiid, the team’s medical staff becomes even more valuable.
“[Team doctors] make us aware of risks and try to explain things as best they can,” said Austin Ainge. “Yeah, [team physician] Brian McKeon, step up to the plate.”