September 16, 2014

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Cavaliers turn toward David Blatt in coach search and likely away from Kansas big man Joel Embiid as top draft pick

David Blatt

David Blatt

One big question was on the verge of being answered by the Cavaliers on Thursday, but another “big” one popped up.

David Blatt was in contract negotiations with the Cleveland front office late into the night to succeed Mike Brown as head coach.

The Cavs had made no announcement at press time, but numerous reports called Blatt’s hiring “imminent.”

Meanwhile, just when it seemed the Cavs had settled on taking Joel Embiid with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the 7-foot, 240-pound Kansas center suffered a stress fracture to the navicular bone in his right foot and will have surgery today.

“It’s all good GOD has a plan for all of us!!!” Embiid posted on his Twitter account. “MINOR setback for a MAJOR comeback. He knows what he’s doing.”

The navicular bone is located on the inside of the foot. Typical recovery time from surgery is four to six months, but the injury can be career-threatening.

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming retired because of the injury, while it took years for former Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas to get fully healthy.

Given the seriousness of the injury, it’s possible the 20-year-old Embiid might not go in the top three picks in the draft, with Cleveland likely to choose between Kansas shooting guard Andrew Wiggins and Duke small forward Jabari Parker at No. 1.

“Disappointment is inevitable…. Discouragement is a choice,” Embiid tweeted.

The 55-year-old Blatt, who previously spoke via phone with general manager David Griffin and formally interviewed for the job Wednesday, would be the Cavs’ third head coach in as many seasons. Brown was fired May 12.

Ironically, reports surfaced earlier Thursday that Blatt’s closest advisers told him to accept an assistant coaching position with Golden State rather than take Cleveland’s head coaching job.

Blatt spent 21 years coaching overseas, but resigned as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach last week to pursue his dream of coaching in the NBA. He led Maccabi to Israel League and Euroleague championships in 2013-14.

Blatt was born in the Boston area and played for the legendary Pete Carril at Princeton. Los Angeles Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue appeared to be the Cavs’ second choice.

Lue, 37, and fellow Clippers assistant Alvin Gentry, 59, had two interviews with the Cavs, with owner Dan Gilbert sitting in on the latter sessions. Adrian Griffin, Lionel Hollins, Vinny Del Negro and Mark Price also had interviews, while former Golden State coach Mark Jackson and Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale had been mentioned as possible candidates.

Embiid, who averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 23.1 minutes a game as a Kansas freshman, worked out for the Cavs last week and was examined by Cleveland doctors, with several reports saying the foot injury was discovered at that time.

Embiid was shut down in early March and didn’t play in the Big 12 Tournament or NCAA Tournament because of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Numerous reports said Embiid impressed during his workout for the Cavs, but the stress fracture to the navicular bone makes the Cameroon native a huge risk at No. 1, especially given the fact there were already some concerns regarding his back.

The Cavs worked out Wiggins on Wednesday and will host Parker today. They now appear to be the most likely players to go No. 1.

A year ago, Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel fell from the potential No. 1 pick all the way to No. 6 due to health concerns — Cleveland took UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the first selection — so it’s entirely possible Embiid might also be bypassed by Milwaukee at No. 2 and Philadelphia at No. 3.

The 76ers drafted Noel last year and shut him down for the entire season as a precaution, though he probably could have played in the latter half.

Agent Arn Tellem confirmed Embiid’s injury in a statement, while Embiid’s friend and mentor, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, also a native of Cameroon, confirmed it via Twitter.

Embiid will not attend the NBA Draft on Thursday in New York, Tellem said.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

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