Injury report: Comebacks and annual risks
Injuries are an interesting thing. The mere presence of an injury track record can lead to giant drops in perceived value which, when overhyped, can also lead to what is conceived as great value for those very same injury risks -- provided they defy the odds and stay healthy. Funny how things work, isn't it?
This spot is dedicated to pointing out those injury risks, along with current first-time "offenders" and guys coming back from offseason surgery. Whether surgery was necessary to correct flaws (LeBron James and his eyes) or repair injuries (Dwyane Wade and his shoulder/knee), this will help you determine who should be avoided and, contrarily, where the true value lies.
Chris Paul, Hornets: Paul underwent surgery for a stress reaction in his foot this summer. He's been working to regain strength in his foot ever since and just began on-court preparation for the upcoming season, albeit at a slow pace. Paul stayed inactive for the entire summer. The injury isn't considered serious and Paul expects to be ready for the start of camp.
Robert Swift, SuperSonics: Swift missed all of last season due to a knee injury, but was cleared for contact early in the summer. Even then, he wasn't allowed to play basketball, but that has since been added and he's been training ever since. Early reports are all of the positive variety; Swift is said to have gained 30-40 pounds of muscle, and new head coach P.J. Carlesimo was very impressed with how hard he worked while rehabbing the injury. This is the kind of injury that is best remedied by the ability to play basketball again. Swift is there, and should be a much-improved player with the added strength. He's the best defensive center on the roster by a large margin -- something that Carlesimo, a defensive coach, will notice and appreciate.
Greg Oden, Trail Blazers: Oden underwent microfracture surgery in September which likely will sideline the first overall pick for his entire rookie season -- a procedure that came as a surprise to the Blazers. This surgery has shown the best results when performed on young players (case in point, Amare Stoudemire), and it's more than possible to come back from -- it's just a long road. It's worth noting that this surgery was performed by the same man that did Zach Randolph's, and he came back strong.
Kenyon Martin, Nuggets: Kenyon has had two microfracture procedures in recent years, and is attempting yet another comeback. He claims to be healthy and apparently plans on playing in the season opener. There will be minutes available, but this is a different situation altogether than Darius Miles' and Oden's; no player has ever successfully come back after microfracture surgery on both knees. Injuries like this take confidence from players and when you've tried to come back once, failed, and had the same procedure on the other knee things aren't looking good. Martin has been working hard to return, though, and he's still under the age of 30. If this is a success, Martin will be a much different player. More patient and less explosive likely will be characteristics that define him.
Darius Miles, Trail Blazers: Miles underwent the microfracture procedure in November of last year. His, like Kenyon's and Oden's, was of the severe variety. It feels like Darius has been around for a century, but he's still only 25 years old. Reports have him working out like crazy, conditioning with the team and shedding serious pounds -- Miles is down to 225 from 260 according to some. His mind is, by all means, in the right place, and his work ethic and physical state are both working in his favor as he tries to overcome this injury. He still hadn't been cleared to jump or make cuts as of two weeks ago, but he's getting there and could be back on the court well before midseason. There have been plenty of guys that never returned to form after microfracture surgery (for every Jason Kidd there's a Penny Hardaway), so even a return is no guarantee, but given the advancements made in the surgery in recent years, Miles (Martin and Oden as well, for that matter) is in good hands. With good work ethic and drive, a successful comeback is more than possible.
These three guys are the consensus injury risks as we enter each season. If they aren't hurt as the season is beginning, odds are they will be when it's ending. That's why there's generally value here on one side or the other. They're either going to outperform the expectations based on where they were drafted by staying healthy, or waste your draft pick by missing half the season.
Hill is with Phoenix now, where it's possible he will start. He is, as of this second (I say second because he could be hurt a second from now), healthy. Knock on wood. Since the new millennium, Hill has yet to play more than 67 games in a season, and has logged fewer than 30 games in five of seven seasons. In late April, he was contemplating retirement because of lingering pain in his ankles post-surgery, so as always, pain is present.
Boozer is coming off a hairline fracture in his fibula suffered in January. He has missed at least 12 games in three of the past four seasons, and 30 or more on two such occasions. This is only a 4-6 week injury and lingering effects are not usually felt eight months after the fact, but there is evidence supporting the allegations of frailty as far as Boozer is concerned. He's healthy as of right now and is coming off one of his more injury-free seasons in quite some time, so value will be at an all-time high -- and that's not something I want a part of.
Camby is 33 years old and has suffered from more injuries during the course of his career than your average team. Not once has he missed fewer than 10 games in a season, but Camby, unlike the other two guys, is actually trending upward somewhat with age. He's played 56-72 games in each of the past four seasons -- money in the bank by his standards -- despite averaging 30-plus minutes per game all four seasons. He declined an invite from USA Basketball this summer, likely a smart choice at this point in his career, and he enters this season completely healthy by all accounts. If Camby produces another season of 60-70 games in 2007-08, we can remove him from the "serious injury risk" category for good.