Frustrated by an ankle that won’t heal, Jon Leuer faces a decision he’s dreaded

Jon Leuer has been out since the end of October as he deals with an oft-injured left ankle.
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

NEW ORLEANS – Jon Leuer does the same pregame shooting drill he’d be doing if he were actually going to play each night. The giveaway is when he does it. It’s in the final 30 minutes before tipoff, when everyone else has concluded their pregame work – when fans are settling in their seats and Leuer has to dodge the junior dance teams going through their paces to the delight of a pocket of parents poised with cell-phone cameras.

Then he goes in, showers, changes into street clothes and takes his seat behind the Pistons bench. He’d rather have a root canal.

Injuries are the enemy of the professional athlete, eating into his life expectancy. But with most injuries, there’s a relatively definitive timetable that applies. Not with this one. Oh, there was – initially. When Leuer rolled his left ankle on Halloween night – fitting, the way it’s turned on him – the expectation was he’d be out 10 days to two weeks.

He even went through practice on Nov. 14 and expected to play the following night in Milwaukee, where he broke in to the NBA in 2011. But the ankle flared up that day. He’s still out, more than two months later, with no end in sight.

“The uncertainty has been killing me,” he said after Monday’s workout before the Pistons 112-109 loss to the Pelicans. “It’s the most frustrating part of it because you get back to doing a little bit and you really want to push it and get back to playing – because that’s obviously, as a competitor, what you want to do. But then … it just doesn’t allow you to do that.”

“It” is the left ankle that Leuer has sprained before, too many times to count, dating back to before high school even. This time – and probably as a result of the cumulative effect of all those incidents – something else happened. It’s not really a sprained ankle he’s been dealing with all this time.

“I’ve rolled this ankle a lot – since I was a kid,” he said. “I don’t know necessarily if it was from this last one or if it was from ones before, but there’s a bone fragment that’s stuck in my ligament that is causing the majority of the pain. There are some other things, too, but that’s the main thing me and our training staff and our doctors have been trying to alleviate.”

Leuer saw a specialist in Indianapolis more than a month ago who recommended an injection. He recently started taking another anti-inflammatory. Every time some progress is made and they accelerate Leuer’s work load, though, the problem reappears.

Surgery has been broached. Leuer keeps pushing back, hoping the ankle he’s rolled so many times responds as it always has before.

“I haven’t been even trying to think about that,” he said. “I try to just eliminate that from my mind while I’ve been going through this rehab process. Doctors have said that may be the only option, but I’m not trying to think about that yet.”

If surgery is necessary, Leuer is looking at another extended absence.

“Hopefully not the whole season, but that’s something that … I would cross that bridge when I get there.”

D-Day could be coming, sooner rather than later, Stan Van Gundy said.

“We just don’t know where we are. Certainly not even close to anything imminent in coming back,” he said. “We’re going to have to talk about some things, probably, when we either get back from this trip (Thursday) or get back from Chicago (Sunday) and see where things are.”

The New Orleans game – like a lot of games recently against teams that pair two big men, or teams that feature mobile big men with shooting range – is one Van Gundy knows Leuer would have been of great value.

“When you lose a guy for a long, long period of time, people just sort of forget about that guy. So they talk about Reggie (Jackson) being out and Andre (Drummond) being out and Stanley (Johnson) being out – we’ve missed Jon. And especially we’ve missed him in terms of the defensive flexibility he gives us. At times, we’ve had to play (Anthony Tolliver) too many minutes. He’s been our guy against big fours and he’s not even that big. He just has to go to battle. So it’s been tough. Jon gives us that extra guy defensively, but that’s the way it is. You deal with it.”

It’s not lost on Leuer that he could help in games like Monday’s when New Orleans lines up with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Leuer almost surely would have been the desired matchup for Davis, who torched the Pistons for 30 points on 14 shots while grabbing 10 rebounds in 29 minutes before exiting midway through the third quarter – with, coincidentally, an ankle injury.

The frustration is as evident in Leuer’s face as the pain is, every now and then, as he goes through the shooting drills. He doesn’t elevate much on his “jump” shot these days, just sort of gets up on tip toes, but it’s enough to activate the ankle joint – and maybe once every seven or eight shots, Leuer winces and instinctively reaches for his ankle.

“That’s the problem. It’s just a sharp pain. When the pain does come, it’s really sharp,” he said. “Not a whole lot you can do for that. We’re trying everything. We’re going to exhaust every option. I’m going to do whatever I can. Told them whatever we can do from a treatment option, I’m open to it. Hopefully, be back playing.”