Posted Aug 10 2010 9:00AM
They all want to be the next Manu Ginobili. More precisely, to rally just like Ginobili did last season under similar circumstances.
Ginobili wobbled through the season before, playing only 44 games and getting a reputation for being brittle. The Spurs had their doubts; they wanted to see Ginobili get through a season in one piece before extending his contract. So the stakes were high for 2009-10: More money, and a chance to keep the Spurs among the league elite, were on the line.
Well, it was a charming season. Ginobili played 75 games, had the second-highest scoring average (16.5) and highest assist average (4.9) of his career. Plus, he never strayed from his rugged, floor-burn style, which was captured on the hustle play of the year in the NBA, when he dove out of bounds to prevent a turnover in the last moments of a Spurs victory.
A handful of players who missed games with bruises last season certainly noticed, because they're now in Ginobili's high-tops, hoping to distance themselves from the injured list.
Here are 10 players, all crucial to some degree to their teams, aiming to rebound in 2010-11 from injuries that stole a precious stretch of their careers.
A.J. Price, Pacers. Had a promising and underrated surge as a rookie, only to see his immediate future clouded by an offseason knee injury. The Pacers were counting on Price to compete for big minutes, if not starter's minutes, at point guard in camp. Larry Bird is still high on Price but is left with no choice but to look elsewhere for a solution to the Pacers' most pressing problem. Price's role with the club will rest on his recovery; knee surgery is always tricky for point guards, especially those who depend on quickness.
Jonny Flynn, Wolves. He played the last month of his rookie season with a labrum tear in his left hip, and summertime surgery will keep him benched until sometime in November. When he returns, the Wolves will either divvy up the point guard minutes between Flynn and new arrival Luke Ridnour, or just have them slug it out. Fans would rather see both players step aside for Ricky Rubio -- wishful thinking at this point, and perhaps never gonna happen.
Michael Redd, Bucks. It's pretty evident the Bucks are moving past the Redd Era, even if he returns fully healthy and frisky from his second serious knee injury in three years. At this point, he's a big contract ($18 million) waiting to melt from the payroll next summer. Before his latest injury, Redd was no longer the team's first option, anyway, and in a best-case scenario, he'll be a valuable backup upon return. The only issue now for Redd is whether he can play his way into a decent free-agent contract next summer, or if this is the end.
Kendrick Perkins, Celtics. Insult and injury happened on the same play when Perkins landed badly in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and missed the decisive game, won by the Lakers. Celtics fans will debate forever whether his injury cost the club another banner. The second-biggest question, though, is how the surgically-repaired knee will limit Big Perk this season. He isn't due back until the All-Star break, and Boston is hoping Shaquille O'Neal, an old 38, will stay intact until then. If Perk can assume 30-35 minutes a night soon after returning, the Celtics will make noise in the spring.
Kenyon Martin, Nuggets. Martin has never played a full 82 games since he's been in the league, and only twice in six years has he played 70 or more in a season with the Nuggets. Basically, K-Mart can't stay on the floor, surprising given his tough-guy demeanor. The Nuggets could use whatever he has left to do some damage in the Western Conference, and the incentive is there for K-Mart, a free agent next summer. Martin has settled into a defensive-minded role and is one of the best when he isn't limping toward the bench.
Andrew Bynum, Lakers. Bravely sloshed through the NBA Finals on one leg, and at times out-played the Celtics' big men in the process. But to paraphrase Drake: "Bad knee ain't nothin to play with." Summertime surgery was a given, and this time, the Lakers will bring 'Drew along extra slowly. The injury helped him in one regard; L.A. could not deal him to Toronto for a sign-and-trade with Chris Bosh. Three years into his NBA career, Bynum has been known more for hobbling than for owning two championship rings. Would be very interesting to see how effective he could be (All-Star?) if and when fully healthy.
Andrew Bogut, Bucks. His elbow injury was squeamish-looking and at first appeared worse than it was. It also ruined what was a career-turning year for Bogut, who finally emerged as a low-post force and consistent shot-blocker for the team that drafted him No. 1 overall. His injury did have a silver lining; the Bucks managed to bum-rush the postseason without him and took the favored Hawks to the 7-game limit in the first round. A healthy Bogut could take the Bucks much deeper than that, and his return is the reason Milwaukee is everyone's favorite sleeper this season.
Greg Oden, Blazers. Is this the year? The Blazers can only hope. Oden is deserving of sympathy if only because he has been tremendously unlucky when it comes to injuries. His NBA career really hasn't taken off because of one leg mishap after another. Folks in Portland are tired of hearing about Kevin Durant, taken one spot after Oden in the draft, and how the Blazers blew it (even if the jury is still out). Because Oden only played one season at Ohio State -- and even that year was interrupted because of a broken finger -- he's still developing as a player. That's why it's unwise to toss him into the heap prematurely. Still, with his contract soon to come up for extension, Oden needs his body to cooperate this season. For once.
Yao Ming, Rockets. Has had one healthy season in the last five and missed all of 2009-10 with a dreaded broken left foot. Nobody is quite sure how Yao will return; either refreshed from having so much time off, or perpetually rusty after missing so much high-level competition. The Rockets have changed almost completely since he last suited up, too (no more Tracy McGrady), so adjusting to new teammates and a possible new system will be another speedbump. Best-case scenario is Yao gives 20 points and 10 rebounds and collects blocked shots, which was his typical production before the foot injury. But that's only if the Rockets run their offense through him, a strategy that might be a thing of the past.
Blake Griffin, Clippers. All signals point to a healthy start for yet another victim of the Clippers jinx. Or maybe we should wait until Opening Night to announce the coast is clear. In any event, Griffin saw rosy projections before knee surgery canceled his rookie season; no reason why that should change now. The Clippers could enjoy a solid front line with Griffin and Kaman and making a run for the playoffs isn't such an outrageous thought.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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