We can have a serious conversation sometime about creating a world in which Joel Embiid faced a tough decision. That’d be fun, actually.
We can talk about letting an NBA prospect take a no-interest, no-risk loan on his first year’s salary in the pros if he wants to stay in college an extra year or two. We can talk about incentive payments for young basketball stars to stay, giving them spending money and marketability, simultaneously strengthening the college game and NBA. Everybody wins.
Those are interesting conversations to have at some point, thoughcollege sports have bigger problems at the moment
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. But as long as we live in reality, let’s stop pretending that Embiid made a difficult decision to leave Kansas after just one season.
“This was the information I had,” Embiid says.
“Under all circumstances,” KU coach Bill Self says, “this would be the obvious decision to make.”
This one has beeneasy to see coming since at least December
, an outrageously talented 7-footer who might be the first pick in the NBA Draft choosing to play for money against the world’s best.
Embiid has only been playing organized basketball for three years, and only recently learned how to drive (though he doesn’t have a license). He really does love Kansas, and the college experience.
In a different world, he probably would want to stay at least one more year. But in this reality, he doesn’t have much of a choice.
Embiid is projected by pretty much everyone to be one of the first three picks in the draft, which would mean a guarantee of between $7.5 million and $9.4 million over the next two years with big raises after that.
Coming back to college would mean giving that up, and even if you assume he’d be in the same draft position next year, he would be forfeiting a year of being paid for a year of playing for free. On the back end of his career, that could mean $10 million.
There is nothing beyond press conference lip service indicating Embiid had much trouble with this decision. His mentor, fellow Cameroonian and former NBA player Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, assured Embiid this is the right decision. College is fun, and playing basketball at Kansas is a great experience, but when the NBA comes like this, you answer the door.
Embiid missed the entire postseason because of a stress fracture in his back. He says his back didn’t factor in his decision at all, and that he’s “close to being 100 percent.” But it’s hard to imagine the injury being a complete non-factor, of him not considering the possibility of it flaring up again next year and then being labeled an injury risk going into the NBA.
The notions about needing to improve, or get stronger, or gain experience in college are silly. They are fuzzy feel-good narratives pushed mostly by people biased for him to stay in school.
High-level talents haven’t entered the NBA as finished products in a generation. Tim Duncan was a long time ago and, what, Embiid can’t get better in the NBA? They don’t have weight rooms there? Or doctors? Or coaches who know the game?
“The reality is, he’ll get better wherever he’s at,” Self says. “I think that’s what kind of convinced him: ‘You’re going to improve wherever you’re at.’”
Think about it this way. As far as projected top-three picks go, Embiid had as much reason as anyone to stay. His family is financially stable. He really does like KU. Respects his coaches, loves his teammates. He’s terrifically bright, but still new enough to the United States that another year on campus before joining the bigger business of the NBA wouldn’t have hurt. Barring the worst with his back, it’s really hard to imagine his draft stock falling much.
Plus, he didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament, the best part of college basketball. He could’ve come back and had everything run through him at one of the nation’s premiere programs. Leave now, and his KU career has to be seen as a bit of an “incomplete,” to borrow Self’s word.
All of that, and itstill
wasn’t that difficult a decision.
KU fans will always wonder what-if with Embiid, but he is now pursuing bigger dreams on bigger stages. If we want to have a serious conversation about how to make decisions like Embiid’s harder, we can do that.
But college basketball isn’t there yet.