Nine players on the 2010-11 comeback trail
The importance of an NBA season is not created equal. For some players, it may not possess much meaning beyond padding stats until the playoffs begin. For others, it may be the difference between regaining solid footing in the NBA or falling off the radar.
For these nine players, the latter is the case. Whether it was injury or suspension, each player must now fight to move past last year and show the basketball world that he is back.
Yao Ming, Rockets: This could be it for Yao. After surgery to repair a fractured left foot in 2009 cost him the entire 2009-10 season, Yao has not sounded overly confident. He has already decided he will no longer compete for China in international competitions and stated that if he does not fully recover from this injury, he will retire. Houston has said it will limit his minutes to around 24 per game and try to sit him in back-to-back sets in an effort to ease him back into game action. This is clearly a delicate situation, with the ramifications set to impact both Yao and Houston significantly.
Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, Blazers: Portland’s porcelain center, Oden needs to prove to everyone that he can stay healthy for a full season. His fractured left patella early last season was just the latest in a string of injuries that have plagued the enigmatic big man since missing his first NBA season with injury. Meanwhile, Joel Przybilla suffered a ruptured right patella tendon about a month after Oden went down and also missed the rest of the season. Both will return this season but now have Marcus Camby to battle for minutes. If all remain healthy, it may get tricky for coach Nate McMillan as he juggles Camby, Oden, and LaMarcus Aldridge while Przybilla may end up as trade bait once he proves he is healthy. But considering Portland’s recent history with the center position, having options isn’t such a bad idea.
Blake Griffin, Clippers: The Clippers Curse struck again last season. After having the good fortune to select Griffin with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, the team learned just before the start of the season that he would miss time due to a stress fracture in his left knee. The injury did not respond to rehab, and the ensuing surgery cost him the rest of the year. Now Griffin must stay healthy, avoid the Curse, and prove that he can live up to the expectations placed on him last year. Fighting it out with John Wall for 2011 Rookie of the Year would be a start.
Michael Redd, Bucks: If Redd didn’t have bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all. He tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee on Jan. 9, 2009, which cost him the rest of the 2009 season. He rehabbed, came back, and on Jan. 10, 2010 re-tore the same ACL and MCL, costing him the rest of the 2010 season. He had already looked a step slower last year; now he must show that a player can recover from two major knee surgeries on the same knee in consecutive seasons and still be a solid NBA player. Right now, solid is about as much as anyone can ask.
Raja Bell, Jazz: A partially torn ligament in Bell’s left wrist that required surgery cost him all but six games last season. Now back in his old stomping grounds with Jerry Sloan in Utah, Bell will get a chance to show that he can still be one of the more tenacious defenders in the NBA. Luckily for him, his injury did not affect his lower body, so mobility should not be an issue.
Tracy McGrady, Pistons: After missing about half of the 2008-09 season with a knee injury, McGrady fell out of favor in Houston to start the 2009-10 season. He played six games for Houston before being dealt to the Knicks. In New York, he was a shell of his former self, averaging just 8.2 points in 30 games. He could do no better than a veteran’s minimum deal from Detroit this offseason, which is likely his final chance to prove he can still play at the NBA level.
Andrew Bogut, Bucks: Bogut suffered one of the more gruesome injuries in recent memory on April 3, 2010 when, on an awkward fall after a dunk attempt, he suffered a dislocated right elbow, broken right hand, and wrist sprain. Before the injury, Bogut was establishing himself as an up-and-coming NBA center on one of the NBA‘s most surprising teams, averaging career highs in scoring (15.9) and blocks (2.5) while pulling down 10.2 rebounds per game. Once he fully recovers physically, his next task will be to prove that he has recovered mentally. Once he does that, returning to his old form should be just a matter of putting in court time.
Gilbert Arenas, Wizards: Like the other guys on this list, Arenas has some serious rehab to put in. But unlike the other guys, his rehab is focused mainly on his public perception.
Arenas was involved in a very public disagreement with teammate Javaris Crittenton that ultimately led to the discovery that Arenas had stored unloaded guns in his locker. While the investigation was underway, he dug himself a deeper hole by making jokes on Twitter and mocking the whole situation in a pre-game huddle. Arenas ultimately pled guilty to carrying an unlicensed pistol outside a home or business — a felony. For this, he was sentenced to 30 days in a halfway house and two years probation, but before the government had its say, commissioner David Stern had his, suspending Arenas for the rest of the season.
Arenas had already been coming back from injury before his suspension (and been inconsistent at best), but now he will have twice as much to prove. Not only will he have to prove that he is healthy and back to the level he was playing at a few years ago when he was shouting “Hibachi”, he will also have to prove that he has grown as a person. This will require a level of maturity he has not displayed since joining the NBA but one that must emerge if he plans to fully recover from his newfound image problem. Washington will have nothing to do with a player setting a bad example for their star rookie, John Wall, so it is shape up or ship out for Arenas.
By: Eric Lorenz
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