By Brian Schmitz Orlando Sentinel
And in other draft news … the dog-and-pony show will have to go on without the big dogs and ponies.
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid — the marquee picks in the NBA Draft and the names on every Orlando Magic fans’ lips — are skipping the league’s combine this week.
It didn’t take long for the freshmen trio to figure out that the players in the NBA call a lot of the shots, along with the agents. As one NBA exec told me Monday, “It’s not like we can make them go.”
Could you imagine Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles blowing off the NFL combine? The NFL intimidates the baddest of college stars, making it immediately clear who’s in charge.
The Magic want as much information on Wiggins and Co. as possible before the June draft, especially on Embiid and his balky back.
And if the Magic fall out of the top three — they can do no worse than No. 6 — they might want to try making a trade for Wiggins, Parker or Embiid.
Yes, they could boldly bundle their assets — their own lottery pick; their second lotto pick; future picks; and current players — to strike a deal to grab, say, Parker.
The 2014 draft is this critical for them.
It’s why The Big Three’s absence in Chicago is a bummer for the Magic, who take great stock in vetting their future stars.
Arranging interviews with Wiggins, Parker and Embiid and obtaining more medical reports could get complicated if they don’t have a pick in the top three. Like other lottery contenders, the Magic would need to catch up with them at some point, likely between sneaker-company commercial shoots.
So far, the other highly ranked picks — Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Noah Vonleh and Marcus Smart — are scheduled to appear at the combine.
The best players haven’t played in the scrimmages for years, but they stay long enough to take physicals in what essentially is a big gym class. They talk to team execs and media members, acclimating themselves somewhat to the NBA experience, but leave the floor for lesser players to improve or deflate their draft status.
Now that Wiggins, Parker and Embiid are refusing to make even token appearances, the entire event might be downgraded as copy-cats surely will follow the Big Three’s lead.
“I’m not going to say I’m shocked anymore,” said senior director of NBA scouting operations Ryan Blake by phone. “For Embiid, it’s a terrible move … Sometimes it does not compute.”
Blake calls it pure “posturing” by agents of the players. Embiid’s camp likely wants to limit the teams who have his MRIs and whom he visits after the lottery.
For the Magic and other teams, Embiid throws a sizable wrench in the works. He is still recovering from a stress fracture in his back that forced him to miss the last six games of the season for Kansas.
Orlando has been very cautious about bringing aboard big men with injury histories.
Andrew Bynum’s knees scared them off from acquiring him in the massive Dwight Howard trade in 2012. GM Rob Hennigan’s decision was prescient: Philadelphia gambled and lost in its deal for Bynum, who is likely headed to early retirement after Indiana released him last week.
The Magic backed off Nerlens Noel (knee) in the 2013 draft and Jared Sullinger (back) in the 2012 draft. Noel sat out all last season while Sullinger missed time after undergoing back surgery.
Of course, all injury situations are different. What it could mean for the Magic in the case of Embiid is simple: Judging him an undraftable risk means there’s one fewer star available in a draft so critical to their future.
Certainly, the idea is for the Magic to finally reach the point where the combines and the lotteries and the drafts aren’t so dire.