Nerlens Noel is coming off a major knee injury. Alex Len is in a walking boot.
One of them could be the No. 1 pick Thursday in an NBA draft that appears short on stardom, and neither looks ready to get his career off to a running start.
“This draft is really unpredictable, a lot of guys with injuries and you don’t have any, like, LeBron James,” Len said Wednesday. “So it’s going to be interesting.”
Ten years after James climbed on stage to start a draft that goes down as one of the best in recent memory, the No. 1 pick again belongs to Cleveland.
The Cavaliers won’t find anyone who can play like James — if they keep the pick — and even climbing the stage at the draft will be a challenge for the big men who opened their college seasons against each other.
Noel tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Feb. 12, ending his lone season at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 freshman led the nation in shot blocking and his conference in rebounding, but hasn’t been able to show if his offensive game has grown.
The only basketball work he did during his visit to Cleveland
was shooting some free throws. Perhaps the pants he wore with his sports jacket and orange tie were just too tight, but Noel was walking gingerly as he exited a hotel ballroom after meeting with the media Wednesday.
“Unfortunately I got hurt, so I wasn’t able to show as much as I wanted to,” Noel said.
Nor has Len, but that hasn’t stopped the 7-1 center from the Ukraine who spent two seasons at Maryland from climbing into the mix at No. 1. His left foot started bothering him around February, and he found out after the season that it was a stress fracture. He will be in a walking boot for perhaps two more weeks.
So, with all these injury questions, what about playing it safe and picking a healthy guy?
“I mean, probably a lot of people wish it could be that easy,” Kansas guard Ben McLemore said. “But it’s a process for the teams, they’ve got to see what’s available and what they really need. And like I said, this draft is up in the air and nobody knows what’s going to happen, who’s going to get drafted in which order.”
Orlando has the No. 2 pick, followed by Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix.
McLemore, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Georgetown forward Otto Porter and national player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan are among the other players who will hear their names called early at Barclays Center by NBA commissioner David Stern in his final draft. Gonzaga junior forward Kelly Olynyk is projected as a first-round pick.
After a year off, Hall of Famer Larry Bird rejoined the Indiana Pacers as president of basketball operations, the same job he held from 2003-12. Power forward Carl Landry opted out of the final year of his two-year, $8 million deal with the Golden State Warriors to become a free agent. Landry, who averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds off the bench last season, was the first pick of the second round (No. 31 overall) by Seattle in 2007 but was traded to Houston for a 2008 second-round pick before playing for the SuperSonics. The Lakers exercised their contract option on guard Jodie Meeks and extended a qualifying offer to center Robert Sacre, a former Gonzaga star. Bryan Colangelo is stepping down as president of the Toronto Raptors, just weeks after taking a reassigned position with the team. He had his title of president stripped after this season.