Everyone remains one ACL away from the Lottery.
The Oklahoma City Thunder won’t fall off the face of the earth if it has to play a few weeks without Russell Westbrook, who underwent yet another knee operation last week, this one in Los Angeles. Oklahoma City said that Westbrook, who’s had four operations on his right knee before last week’s procedure, would be re-evaluated in four weeks – making it fairly likely Westbrook will miss at least a couple of regular-season games. Not ideal, but the Thunder should survive a brief absence from the NBA’s 2017 Kia MVP winner.
Still, OKC fans remember what it was like to try and play without him. And that’s the same shudder every fan base feels when it sees their best player in street clothes. The Phoenix Suns, able to dream almost all summer about getting off to a quick start and gaining confidence early, now instead must contemplate surviving until Devin Booker returns from unexpected hand surgery last week. Conversely, when a team gets back a key guy, as the Boston Celtics will with the return of Gordon Hayward when camps open, it’s a shot of adrenaline.
So, with camps around the league on the verge of opening in the next two weeks, it’s a good time to provide updates on critical players injured during last season or in the playoffs.
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
Injury: Strained right hamstring
Paul was cleared to return weeks ago and was a full participant during the players’ week-long workouts/get together in the Bahamas late last month (as was Carmelo Anthony). But Houston’s acquisitions of Brandon Knight from the Suns and Michael Carter-Williams in free agency speak to the Rockets’ belief they had to bolster their point guard spot in case Paul is knocked out of action again next season.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Injury: Surgery, left heel; Achilles’
Missed: 70 games
The Grizzlies’ quarterback is, finally, a full go. He’s returned to on-court activities and has played five-on-five recently with no limitations. A return to form for Conley is crucial for Memphis, despite all the good moves the Grizzlies made during the offseason in the Draft (Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Jevon Carter), free agency (Kyle Anderson) and trades (Garrett Temple). None of it will matter if Conley isn’t there to pull it all together and take pressure off Marc Gasol with his shooting and distributing abilities.
“Right now he’s in full participation in everything we’re doing,” Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Monday morning of Conley. “Obviously we kind of keep an eye on him. In training camp, our expectation is that he’s full go. The good thing about training camp is you have enough bodies that the reps get spread out. We don’t have any expectation of Mike missing anything. As the season goes, we’ll keep an eye on him. When we added some of the depth on our team, we don’t have to kill Mike and Marc from a minutes perspective. Rather than getting into restrictions, their average minutes don’t have to be 36, 38 minutes to carry the team.”
DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors
Injury: Ruptured left Achilles’
Though Cousins expressed some optimism earlier in the summer that he could participate in training camp, cooler heads have prevailed, and he won’t be taking part. The whole point of signing him was to have him ready for the playoffs, not Game 22. So while Cousins will be at camp, and shows signs of getting his ups back, he won’t be on the court. Coach Steve Kerr’s plan is for the coaches to watch a ton of film with Cousins, show him the Warriors’ video playbook and concepts and keep him involved during practice. Golden State thinks Cousins watching how the rest of the group vibes with one another will be good for him as he finishes his rehab, and will allow him to transition back to playing easier.
Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
Injury: Knee surgery
Missed: 34 games (including playoffs)
Irving was cleared for basketball activities in late July and expects to be ready for the start of camp. He’ll be under no minutes restrictions once the regular season begins, according to a source. (What remains unclear is how coach Brad Stevens can manage the minutes at point guard between Irving, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier without someone getting out of sorts.)
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Injury: Torn left ACL
Missed: 34 games
The Knicks have not provided an update on Porzingis’s level of physical clearance yet. But he has been rehabbing during the summer in Europe, and it has progressed well so far. People from the Knicks have been in consistent communication with Porzingis’ people in Europe that he’s working with. He will be in New York when camp begins, and the team and its medical staff will meet with Porzingis and his surgeon. It would be crazy for either party to rush, even as the Knicks contemplate how much to offer their young star in a potential contract extension; as a member of the 2015 Draft class, Porzingis is eligible for one. The deadline is Oct. 15.
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder
Injury: Ruptured left patella tendon
Missed: 33 games
The 26-year-old Roberson will be with the team when camp begins. He has been with the Thunder all summer and been on the floor doing drill work and shooting, though he is not yet cleared for either contact work or five on five play. The Thunder will obviously be conservative with him as he nears his return to play. But the important part is that Roberson is progressing toward a return. It’s simple: OKC craters defensively when he isn’t on the court. When Roberson was on the court last season, the Thunder’s Defensive Rating was 96.4. When he was off the floor, that number soared to 107.6.
Ricky Rubio, Utah Jazz
Injury: Pulled left hamstring
Missed: Semifinals vs. Houston Rockets
Rubio has been good to go since mid-summer and is a full go for camp. Good news for Utah, which flourished with Rubio on the floor the second half of the season. After the All-Star break, he had a +10 plus-minus (a lot of that, clearly, is also due to the return of Rudy Gobert to the floor), and shot 40.9 percent on 3-pointers after hitting 32.4 percent of them before the break.
Patrick Beverley, LA Clippers
Injury: Torn right meniscus
Missed: 71 games
Beverley is all the way back and “looks great,” per a league spy who’s seen him (here is more evidence from this summer) from the microfracture surgery of last November. He’ll enter camp with no limitations.
Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic
Injury: Sprained left MCL
Missed: 17 games
Fournier was cleared to return to the court weeks ago; he played for Team Africa (his mother is Algerian) in the NBA Africa Game in South Africa in early August. And Orlando didn’t seriously entertain trade talks for him; a team that finished 24th in the league in scoring last season probably needs to retain its leading scorer.