Szczerbiak Moves Past Injuries
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Kevin Pelton, SUPERSONICS.COM | October 11, 2007
As the Seattle SuperSonics prepare to continue preseason play with a two-game road trip to Cleveland and Indiana, veteran newcomer Wally Szczerbiak is anticipating his preseason debut. Sonics Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo said Thursday that he plans to start Szczerbiak, who sat out Tuesday's preseason opener in Sacramento, tomorrow against the Cavaliers. Szczerbiak, for his part, is ready to go.

"That first preseason game, going up and down the floor. There's nothing like it," Szczerbiak said after the Sonics held a relatively brief morning practice before flying to Cleveland. "Just get the butterflies out of your stomach and get the adrenaline pumping. I always love the first one."

"That first preseason game, going up and down the floor. There's nothing like it."
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty
Szczerbiak sat out of the team's community practice last Saturday after experiencing some swelling in his left knee, which he had operated on after the 2005-06 season. Carlesimo decided not to use Szczerbiak or the other most experienced Sonics veteran, Kurt Thomas, on Tuesday. Szczerbiak missed only the one day of practice, however, and is feeling good as he returns from the ankle surgery that ended his 2006-07 season.

"It was just a little bit of swelling that crept up in training camp during two-a-days," Szczerbiak explained. "Coming off of ankle surgery and knee surgery the year before, that's what training camp and two-a-days will do. We knocked it out and I've been fine the last five days.

"We've just been being smart and being careful with the veterans. It's just something that, with so many miles and so many years in the league, you realize that although these games are important, they don't count. You've got to be ready when it counts."

Health has been Szczerbiak's biggest issue in recent seasons. His 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons were interrupted by a dislocated toe and a strained plantar fascia, respectively. He returned to full health in 2004-05 and averaged a career-high 19.0 points per game the following season despite spending more than a moth playing through the knee injury that eventually required surgery.

Last year was something of a lost season for Szczerbiak individually as well as his Celtics team. He sprained his right ankle in December, just days before teammate Paul Pierce was sidelined. Boston lost 18 straight games in January and early February and, just like that, a season that had begun with the playoffs as a legitimate goal was suddenly focused - at least in the eyes of fans - on the lottery. Surgery on the ankle ended Szczerbiak's season in March after 32 games. Pierce and Szczerbiak, the two leading scorers for the Celtics, played only 19 games together. Boston went 9-10 in those games, 15-48 the rest of the season.

Coming off of the injury-shortened campaign, Szczerbiak's stated goal is to play in all 82 games this season - something he hasn't done since 2001-02, his third NBA season when he was selected to the Western Conference All-Star team. (Szczerbiak did play in 81 games in 2004-05, missing only one game with the flu.)

"I've had a couple of tough years with surgeries the last two seasons," he said at Sonics Media Day. "That's something I've got to do - just stay healthy. When I stay healthy, I can be a pretty good player in this league. That's my focus this year."

Over the course of his career in Minnesota and Boston, Szczerbiak has proven himself to be one of the NBA's most efficient scorers. Despite shooting just 41.5% through injuries a year ago, he's a career 49.3% shooter from the field and a 40.4% three-point shooter. Still, he figured, the surgery would make teams reluctant to pick him up, meaning another season with the Celtics. On the night of the NBA Draft, Szczerbiak was planning to go to bed early, but his wife turned on the TV coverage and they quickly heard the rumored deal between Boston and Seattle. Not long later, Sonics GM Sam Presti called to confirm that Szczerbiak was coming to Seattle.

"We were pretty shocked," he recalled. "We weren't expecting it. I thought and pretty much everyone in my camp thought with the injuries that there wasn't going to be too much of a chance that I could get traded, but in this day and age you never know in sports. We were prepared for it, we're excited about it and we're looking forward to a fresh start up here in Seattle."

Szczerbiak spent the summer at home in New York, playing in a local summer league to help rehabilitate his ankle as he prepared for training camp. He hasn't reported any difficulty with the ankle so far.

For the latest on the starting lineup P.J. Carlesimo will use Friday in Cleveland, check out the Sonics Beat blog, which has notes from Thursday's practice.
In Seattle, Szczerbiak finds himself as part of a spirited competition for playing time on the wings. Carlesimo has used him primarily at small forward, but Szczerbiak is competing for playing time not only with small forward Jeff Green but also swingmen Kevin Durant, MickaŽl Gelabale and Damien Wilkins as well as guard Delonte West. Szczerbiak is prepared to earn his playing time with his performance.

"Honestly, I don't think anyone's really worrying about it," he said. "I think everyone has complete faith in the coaches to make those decisions. Whatever decisions they make are going to be to help us win. That's the bottom line. I think if you go out there and work hard and earn your playing time, you're going to be rewarded for that."

Given his injuries, Szczerbiak has something to prove this season. So too do the Sonics as a team, given the inexperience of much of the roster and the departure of key veterans. Szczerbiak sees that as motivation that can help the Sonics.

"I think people aren't really giving us a lot of credit," Szczerbiak said. "We have some pretty good players on this team. I think we have a lot of young guys that are excited and hungry to show what they can do. I know that myself personally I have some motivation to show that I can stay healthy and get back to the player I was when I was an All-Star back in 01-02. I think we have a lot of guys in that same situation. I'm really excited and motivated."