The amount of stars the NBA lost last season due to injury could fill an All-Star Game roster. If the names were put on paper, it would indeed be longer than Pippen‘s arms… to borrow a quote from Jay-Z.
Fans were lucky to enjoy a great season full of drama, but what ifs loom in the shadows of the minds of fans whose teams were affected by serious injuries.
They say it’s not wise to live in the past so we will focus on the future. Broken but not forgotten, 10 players standout as the most intriguing and compelling injury returns next season.
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10. ANDERSON VAREJAO, Cleveland Cavaliers
He suited up in just 25 games last season but was well on his way to a career year and potential All-Star selection before a quadriceps injury and blood clot sabotaged his run. The intrigue with Varejao isn’t just with his ability to come back from injury but also in determining what his role will be next season. A new coach (sort of) with Mike Brown and a new big man (Andrew Bynum) put Varejao’s starting status in question. While he could potentially play some power forward if Bynum is healthy, it’s just as possible Varejao could be traded midseason. The key will be his own health and if he can show the same value that had him posting 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds before injury last season.
9. ANDREA BARGNANI, New York Knicks
Many were perplexed when the Knicks brass traded for Bargnani, especially knowing he is coming off his worst season in six years. The former No. 1 pick’s campaign was mercifully cut short by an elbow injury that limited him to just 35 brick-filled appearances. The hope is that the Knicks’ deep roster can relieve any pressure that Bargnani might face and that he can regain his touch from the outside.
Is there is anything worse than a shooter who can’t shoot? That is what Bargnani has become as his field goal percentage has submarined in each of the last three seasons. Interestingly enough, he is supposed to provide some insurance to another Knicker injury risk, Amar’e Stoudemire, but has only played in 66 total games in the last two seasons. The Knicks are gambling big but watch out if it actually works.
8. AMAR’E STOUDEMIRE, New York Knicks
So technically he finished the season last year and played spot minutes in the playoffs. In reality, he was a shell of what the Knicks hoped he would be. It might be time to give up on thinking Stoudemire will ever be a healthy, reliable option again. Still, the Knicks have too much invested in him to give up completely, so they have gotten him some hobbled help with Bargnani to help eat minutes in the frontcourt. We still have no idea if he and Carmelo Anthony can truly co-exist because both have missed significant time when the other was healthy. This is hopefully the year the Knicks faithful can get their answer… assuming Stoudemire can play in more than the 29 games he played in a season ago.
7. RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Oklahoma City Thunder
The knee injury that sidelined Westbrook in the playoffs ultimately crushed the Thunder’s hopes of returning to the NBA Finals. There are few players more stubborn than Russ and it would be surprising to not see him return to form immediately if for no other reason than to spite his doubters. OKC is entering their most important and uncertain season since Westbrook’s rookie year. They lack a proven third scorer so the pressure is solely on him and Kevin Durant to keep the Thunder elite. I wouldn’t bet against Westbrook becoming an All-Star again and that’s why he isn’t higher up on the list; We KNOW he’ll return to form.
6. DANNY GRANGER, Indiana Pacers
Remember him? Granger’s knee never strengthened the way he and the Pacers had hoped after detecting patellar tendonitis before the season started. He managed to play just five subpar games before needing to shut it down. The Pacers in turn have taken on a completely different persona without Granger and now he finds himself as the guy who will need to fit in. A reduced role might suit him because he has not been a picture of shooting efficiency in recent seasons. His scoring and shooting percentage have dipped in each of the last four seasons. Still, the Pacers’ organization loves him and that includes the management, coaching staff and other players. He really is a quality dude by all accounts. Indiana will do everything possible to assimilate him back into the system, but they must be careful that it doesn’t cost them too many wins in the early going.
5. GREG ODEN, Miami Heat
Oden last played a full game on December 1, 2009, posting a monster double-double with 13 points and 20 rebounds against the team he is now attempting to come back with. The Heat are the perfect choice for Oden because they have proven they don’t need him to win. They are back-to-back champions, after all. Oden, now almost three full years removed from the league, has a chance to ease his way back into playing regular minutes with Miami. The aura of the former No. 1 selection has vanished but fans of the league will want to tune in to see exactly what Oden has to offer. He didn’t ask or want to be hurt and people seem to understand that more for him than other players. For the most part, everybody seems to be rooting for him.
4. RAJON RONDO, Boston Celtics
Consider this: Rondo is trying to come back from the same injuries suffered by Iman Shumpert and Derrick Rose. Shumpert has long since returned and Rose, well, we are still waiting. Nowadays, torn ACLs have a way of sometimes doing more mental damage to a player than physical damage. Questions about Rondo’s mental state don’t usually seep into his confidence as a player, but he has never had to return from an injury like this. Rondo is obstinate to a fault but that same trait may propel him to an early appearance in Boston’s TD Bank Garden next season. Combining his comeback with all of Boston’s changes in personnel lends to one of the more interesting storylines next season, despite the Celtics fall from power.
3. KOBE BRYANT, Los Angeles Lakers
Nobody doubts that the Black Mamba will manage to thrill the NBA with his play again next season. Nobody. The only question is how soon he will be able to drill midrange jumpers in the eyes of defenders. After the Lakers were so unceremoniously dismissed in the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs and then spurned by Dwight Howard in free agency, you better believe Kobe has a Hollywood-sized chip on his shoulder. Anxious doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of how ready he must be for the season. A future Hall of Famer coming back from major surgery at age 35 is provoking enough and even more so when that future Hall of Famer is Kobe.
2. ANDREW BYNUM, Cleveland Cavaliers
Bynum was more (in)famous last season for his flamenco dancing, bowling and hair than he was for his job as a basketball player. A job that paid him $16.9 million for which he was unable to suit up for at all due to injuries in both of his knees. He refused to workout for teams this summer, which just seems insane given the debacle that was his season last year. The Cavs took advantage of his reduced value around the league and signed him to an amazingly cap-friendly deal worth just $6 million guaranteed. Credit the Cleveland management for getting a favorable deal despite having to rely on blind faith with Bynum’s brittle lower extremities. If he can produce anywhere near the 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks he posted in his last healthy year, he could easily make the Cavs a playoff contender in the East.
1. DERRICK ROSE, Chicago Bulls
On October 29, the incessant jokes, memes and tweets can finally cease about Rose’s return. The hype surrounding “The Return” videos chronicling Rose’s rehab last year was really unprecedented. Rose probably should have come out and said brutally and honestly that he wasn’t going to play last season. But by keeping the door ajar just slightly with vague comments, he opened himself up to criticism from anybody with access to social media. His name received more mentions than the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones and was even more talked about than Miley Cyrus who is still twerking — somewhere. The former MVP will get to address his detractors by making his return against the Heat on opening night of the NBA and that’s no bull. Everybody is ready to see him; no other player’s comeback will be more watched than his next season. Prepare to see the Rose bandwagon reengaged.
What do you think?
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