Joel Embiid's health, Denver's starting point guard and Jabari Parker among questions as camps open
With Tony Parker sidelined, the Spurs need to determine who will run point
Training camp is under way in the NBA and thankfully, this won’t slog along like the NFL and Major League Baseball, where the preseason lasts forever. In that sense, rosters and starting lineups are set, for the most part, and intrigue is low. Still, there are pressing issues that should be answered before the ball goes up for good.
Joel Embiid’s health
Is there any player in the NBA who’s more hold-your-breath than Embiid? After surgery to repair a torn meniscus in March, he hasn’t been cleared for scrimmages yet and might sit out all preseason games. Complicating matters is money; Embiid is eligible to sign an extension but of course that’s tricky, given his injury history. The Sixers, perhaps understandably, might be shy about giving major money to a player whose last three seasons of basketball came to a premature ending because of surgery. So everyone is taking their time here. At some point in October, though, the Sixers need to get an idea where Embiid is in his “situation.”
Isaiah Thomas’ health
It’s never good when a player is projected to spend more time in a therapy pool than on the hardwood. Yet the Cavaliers have no choice with regard to Thomas and his creaky hip. He’s already ruled out of the preseason and isn’t expected back until January, but training camp will be a solid indicator of his rehabilitation. Meanwhile, his reps will be taken by Derrick Rose, who’s actually the No. 3 on the point guard depth chart behind Thomas … and LeBron, of course.
The Bucks’ trust in Jabari Parker
Would you give $20 million or more per year to a player with two knee surgeries in the last three years? That’s what the Bucks are asking themselves about Parker, who can sign an extension between now and mid-October. Ordinarily this would be a non-issue; Parker has proven when healthy to be a solid 20-point scorer and snug fit in Jason Kidd’s system. But he’s coming off surgery in the spring and while this comeback could be as strong as the first one, the Bucks won’t know for sure until after the deadline. Parker could sign for less years and money now; Steph Curry was in a similar situation once in Golden State because of ankle issues. Or he could bet on himself and wait until next summer when he could go on the open market.
Tony Parker’s replacement
At some point, the Spurs must give the keys to the next point guard, and right now there’s no choice. With Parker out for another three or four months after surgery, the Spurs will look to Dejounte Murray or Patty Mills. Both choices bring pluses and minuses; Murray is younger and more athletic but not point-guard polished, while Mills has the experience edge yet the Spurs might be better if he continues coming off the bench. As long as Murray and Mills find Kawhi Leonard on the floor, it’s all good.
Denver’s point guard
The most important battle in training camp could take place in Denver, where the Nuggets must decide if they’re willing to stick with Emmanuel Mudiay after two years of sketchy results, or are ready to move on. In 2016-17 after Mudiay, the regular starter, returned from a brief injury in mid-season, he came off the bench. The Nuggets could turn to second-year man Jamal Murray, a proven shooter who’s not a natural point guard, or veteran Jameer Nelson, a steady presence who finished the year as the starter. Coach Mike Malone said the situation will “play itself out” between now and opening night.
Decision on the draft lottery
Reform is very likely coming to the draft lottery next month. Some will say it’s overdue, others say it’s better to leave well enough alone. But the owners have agreed to examine the issue and make changes, designed to reduce or completely eliminate any incentive for teams to tank. While this could avoid the repeat of the approach the Sixers took the last three years, it could also penalize teams that just aren’t very good or owe their misery to a key injury or two.
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