After Months Of Rehab, Collins Is Popped Back Into Place

by Casey Holdahl
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The amount of time that elapsed between Trail Blazers power forward/center Zach Collins dislocating his left shoulder while fighting for a rebound in the third game of the season and the team’s health and performance staff popping said shoulder back into place could be measured in minutes. A relatively simple procedure, Collins’ left glenohumeral joint, known to the layperson as the “ball” of the shoulder, was placed back into the glenoid, aka the “socket,” which for many of the afflicted, would be the end of a somewhat unpleasant affair.

“When it happened and then they put it back into place, I was like ‘Is that it? Can I go back and play?’ because, while it was sore, I could still move my arm a little bit,” said Collins. “They even told me after the game that it was gong to be sore while I was sleeping and it wasn’t sore at all for like three or four days. I felt great about it.”

But while putting Collins’ shoulder back into place took almost no time, it would take much longer for the 6-11 big in his third season out of Gonzaga to find his place again on the court. An MRI showed damage to the labrum, the soft tissue that holds the “ball” of the “ball and socket” in place, requiring surgery and at least four months of rehabilitation, if not longer. Collins’ season might not have been over, but it was certainly in jeopardy.

“It was a really tough moment, especially first year starting in the NBA,” said Collins. “That in itself is a big accomplishment, especially for me coming up, a young guy. To get that taken away from me -- and I also had a goal of playing 82 games and really taking care of my body this season, that got taken away too.”

Collins can never get back the 63 games that he missed this season, but thanks to the four-month hiatus of the 2019-20 NBA season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he does have a chance to make a difference in his return, something that would have been unlikely had the season gone on unencumbered. After missing out on his initial goals, he set a new one: return before the end of the regular season.

And he was on track to do just that, though the realities of the NBA schedule and Portland’s place in the standings at the time would have severely limited just how useful he would have been in a late March/early April return. Given that, he counts himself as one of the few people who have been able to derive something positive from the NBA pausing for four months and then subsequently restarting in Orlando with 22 teams each playing eight games.

“My body feels really good, every time I got back out there the rhythm comes back a little bit more,” said Collins. “So I’m ready to go. I think having the training camp here, having all the reps, the practices have been tough, I think all of that has helped me a lot. It didn’t all come in one day, but just having the training camp here and having all that time to do individual work in Portland, I’m definitely more ready now than I probably would have been if the season hadn’t been cancelled.”

Had the season not been postponed, Collins might have been cleared to return to the court with a few weeks left to play in the regular season, though he would have been limited. NBA teams don’t go through many live practices in the last month of the season, so finding a rhythm would have been difficult, if not impossible. His return certainly wouldn’t have hurt Portland’s chances, but it’s hard to imagine it would have helped much, either.

But that’s not the case as the Trail Blazers begin their eight-game restart schedule Friday versus the Grizzlies. With an extra four months of workouts and rehabilitation, Collins, along with Jusuf Nurkić and Hassan Whiteside, enters the restart as an integral part of Portland’s rotation. After almost nine months, Collins, just like his left shoulder, is back in the right place.

“I’ve never been out that long with an injury, I felt really bad all year that I couldn’t help my team out,” said Collins. “It’s really frustrating. But to finally get back out there and to have a chance to actually work toward something, it was a good moment to finally get back out there. It was a lot of hours in the weight room and a lot of time not being able to be with the team and being disconnected from them and to be back out there, finally, it was big time. I’m just looking forward to continuing staying out there.”

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