Posted Mar 17 2011 11:52AM
No one can ever say Michael Redd didn't work hard enough to get himself back, all the way back, as a productive, valuable NBA player.
No one can say at this moment, though, just how successful he will be. Now or ever.
Redd, the Milwaukee Bucks' veteran shooting guard, has been largely absent the past three seasons (appearing in 51 of 231 games, none since Jan. 10, 2010). Anyone who wants to see him on a court better show up early, for that's where Redd logs his minutes. Long minutes, lonely minutes, because even with cheerleaders stretching out at midcourt, photographers on ladders for that final camera adjustment and teammates warming up nearby, what Redd goes through, he goes through alone.
Sweat drips off him as he takes pass after pass from a Bucks assistant, cutting, stopping, launching jump shot after jump shot. It has been 14 months since Redd shot one of those for real, an 0-for-4 night at Staples Center that ended early when his left knee crumpled beneath him -- the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments shredded -- for the second January in a row.
One year earlier, against Sacramento, he had torn the same ligaments, same troublesome knee, banishing him to the rigors of rehab he has come to know -- and loathe -- so well.
"I'm on the brink, man," Redd said, his court work down, catching his breath on the Bucks bench an hour before tipoff against Orlando Wednesday. "Words can't describe. What I've been through over the last year and a half, two years, to be healthy -- healthy healthy -- it's a blessing. It's an incredible story, actually."
Two surgeries, either of which might have been enough to end many athletes' careers, did more than jeopardize Redd's playing career. They put him in awkward territory with the Bucks and their fans. His plush salary -- $18.3 million this season, at the end of a six-year, $91 million contract -- was alive and well, complicating Milwaukee's salary-cap considerations, keeping his name in play for trade rumors. And as the Bucks' other injuries have undermined their ambitions for 2010-11, Redd has taken blame even while he's been out of sight, out of action.
Guilt, criticism, pressure -- they've been tough to deal with, too, right there with every little twinge in his left knee.
"My faith in God has been the main thing," Redd said of his endurance. "The first time when it happened, you think, 'I'm going to bounce back. No problem.' Second time it happens kind of devastates you. But I've relied on my faith, the Lord, and also on my wife and parents, my family. The Bucks organization has been terrific, just supporting me.
"One of the challenging things this time around has been mentally. Being mentally prepared to go through rehab again. It's rigorous, it's hard but it's worth it."
Redd looks to be in terrific shape. After shedding 25 pounds he is leaner than he's been in years. Even though old teammate Ray Allen chided him when the two went to dinner earlier this month in Milwaukee. That night, Allen asked Redd for his body-fat number and, upon hearing it was 10 percent, said to Redd: "Well, I'm at 4 ½ [percent], so you have some work to do."
Said Redd, laughing: "I told him that's too low. For what we do, we need some reserves. If you're between 9 and 12 [percent], you're in great shape."
As Redd works his way back, the question remains: Just what is he coming back to? Deep in a dismal season, the Bucks still have a shot -- it is the Eastern Conference, after all -- at the final playoff berth. Their 93-89 overtime loss to the Magic at Bradley Center Wednesday left them 2 ½ games behind Indiana and two back of No. 9 Charlotte. Might Redd return as a bonus player, a late-season addition like Mike Bibby or Troy Murphy or another buyout guy who shows up for a stretch run with a jolt of something-something?
Or might he disrupt the Bucks' rotation, their offense, maybe their defense? The results have not been pretty at the scoring end, with Milwaukee ranking last in the NBA in scoring, in field-goal percentage and in assists. What success the Bucks have had, they've had with defense and that -- along with coach Scott Skiles' demands for ball movement -- have not been Redd strengths.
Redd has been a volume shooter, averaging 18.3 field goal attempts in his five full seasons scoring more than 20 points per game for Milwaukee. His career numbers in both true-shooting percentage (.560) and effective field-goal percentage (.505) rank down the list from the game's most efficient marksmen. So as desperate as the Bucks need buckets, Redd -- even the old version of Redd -- might not be the slip so easily into a team that has had to play without him.
Can Redd's personal agenda -- to prove he can play again, without restrictions, without undue fear of re-injury -- mesh with the club's priorities of either grabbing that last postseason run or using what little time remains to set up 2011-12?
"I'm not real worried about it either way," Skiles said Wednesday, confirming that Redd might begin contact work in practice Thursday and scrimmage in full next week. "More than likely we're going to know more, mid-to-late next week, where we stand. That's going to play a part in it. What, medically, they tell me about limiting his minutes early on -- there's a lot of things that go into it. I don't see any reason to spend a whole lot of time thinking about it till it's green-lighted."
The Bucks have low-keyed Redd's rehab. He has been a one-team guy, spending all 11 seasons with them since arriving in the second round (No. 43) in 2000. Through various comings and goings -- Allen, Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, Desmond Mason, Mo Williams, Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings -- Redd has been the closest thing to a "face" for the franchise. He has played for five different head coaches.
But now, when he does get back in a game, it will be a curtain call. With the five-year contract given to shooter John Salmons last summer, there appears to be no role for Redd in Milwaukee. He will hit free agency -- whenever it begins this year -- as more of a question mark than an exclamation point.
"Michael needs to show people he can get on the court and be healthy," Bucks general manager John Hammond said. "When I was in Detroit, we took a chance on [Antonio] McDyess, with his knee. All I wanted to see was how he moved on the court, how he moved laterally, how he ran."
The NBA has a shadow squad of once-electric players forever altered by injuries, guys such as McDyess in San Antonio, Tracy McGrady in Detroit and Gilbert Arenas in Orlando. Redd got to watch Arenas up close Wednesday as he shuffled through a five-point, 2-of-6 shooting night for the Magic. They aren't who they once were, their teams aren't organized around them and it can be a humbling, difficult experience.
"There's a lot of challenges," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Obviously there's the physical challenge. There's also the mental challenge of both the confidence in your leg and everything else. And trying to figure out sort of where you fit when you come back, if you're not that same guy that you were before. So yeah, it's a tough challenge ... and it takes time."
Redd, who will be 33 in August, has put in that time. Right now, he isn't thinking about coming back as "just an average player." He expects to still have his fastball, so learning to hit the corners with junk just to stay in the game isn't something that worries him.
"You can't allow yourself to think like that," he said. "I'm fully healthy now to where I can do whatever I did before. I asked the doctors, 'Will I be able to play like I'm normally able to play? If I can't, I don't know if I'll be able to come back.' "
The doctors all have nodded yes. But it will be Redd out there on the court, cutting, jumping, landing. Facing tougher competion than ever, both in the opponents he's matched against and in his old self, running free and easy in his memory.
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