Fans arriving early to Seattle SuperSonics games at KeyArena might be surprised to see Nick Collison joining his teammates during pregame shootaround. After all, the rookie power forward is on the injured list and out for the year after undergoing surgery to repair his subluxed left shoulder on Oct. 14.
Those fans are not alone.
Collison hopes to be recovered from both shoulder surgeries in time for Summer League.
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"Hey, is that Nick Collison?" Sonics assistant coach Dean Demopoulos joked to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
last week after seeing him on the court. Alas, it is, as Collison continues his rehabilitation process.
"Exactly, it really is, because I can do that and I can shoot, because I just have to raise my left arm a bit," Collison said recently when asked whether it's frustrating to be able to practice but not play. "I'm starting to make progress and I'm having fun shooting again and I realize I'm going to have to go in and get operated on again, but, oh well, that's part of my situation. Like I've said all along, there are worse things that can happen to somebody, so I'm just going to make the best of it and be ready to play next year."
As Collison alludes, he's not through with surgery just yet. When Collison and his doctors decided surgery needed to be done on his left shoulder, which slipped out of the socket on multiple occasions early in training camp, they also decided to perform the same surgery on his weakened right shoulder. Thus, just as Collison's left shoulder is beginning to feel normal again, he'll undergo surgery on his other shoulder.
Collison is expected to travel to New York with the Sonics later this week to meet with Dr. Russell Warren, the specialist who performed the first surgery. After examining Collison's left shoulder, Warren is expected to set a date for the second surgery. For Collison, the sooner the better.
"I think he wants to wait and see on my left shoulder, when he feels it's okay to be my only arm that works," Collison said. "Hopefully he'll say soon, because, like I said, I've been able to do a lot more over the last couple of weeks."
Why the hurry to get this surgery over with? Because the sooner Collison's shoulder is operated on, the sooner he'll be able to get back on the court - and not an hour and a half before games. When it was first announced that Collison would need surgery, the timetable given for his return to the court was early summer, possibly in time for summer-league action. The four-to-six month rehabilitation time might get Collison on the court for summer league, and definitely would in plenty of time for the 2003-04 season.
Whether Collison's recovery time from the second surgery is closer to four months or six months will depend in part on whether Warren performs an invasive surgery or just an arthroscopy, a decision he will make on the morning of the surgery.
"He goes in with a scope and looks around and makes a decision that day on what he's going to do," Collison explained. "A lot of times, he said he likes to cut to make sure he does a good job. He said a lot of times, the healing, guys feel better because there's no cut, and they feel like they can do more things, but inside, internally what he fixed, the healing is pretty much the same."
Either way, Collison will not play during what should have been his rookie season. He's trying to make a best of what is obviously a difficult situation, and believes he is doing it.
"I think it's been better than what I expected," Collison said. "When I first realized I couldn't play all year, I thought it was going to be terrible. I was a little worried about how I was going to handle it, just because I haven't been without basketball since I was eight or nine years old. It's been good. I've been able to focus on my rehab, and I can still do other things working out."
There could be a hidden benefit in Collison sitting and, more importantly, watching all season long. The knowledge he should gain about the NBA will almost certainly make him a better player when he gets back on the court. All-Star guard Ray Allen spoke to this idea prior to his own return from surgery, on his ankle.
"(Collison) and I have been brothers for a long time, because we’ve been rehabbing together back in the training room," Allen said. "We talk and that’s been great to spend time with him and get to know him a little better. We sit on the bench and talk about who certain players are and what they do, certain plays of the game and what should happen, what shouldn’t happen. I told him last night, ‘Nick, when you do start playing, you’re going to be one heck of a player,’ because he had the opportunity to see everything on an NBA bench and we talked over so many different scenarios every game."
"Ray's been great," Collison concurred. "It was unfortunate, obviously, for the team to not have Ray healthy, but for me, it was good because I had somebody to talk to, first of all, we could hang out when the team was on the road, but also he's been great, just trying to teach me as much as he knows about the league and the game. During the game, off the court, things like that. He's a great guy to have on your team as a rookie, because he really tries to help you out. I think a lot of star players aren't like that in this league. They don't really care about rookies and they don't try to help them, but I think Ray is very good for a young guy to play with."
As far as Allen's belief that Collison will be more ready to play than the average rookie, that's almost certainly true. Collison was already expected to contribute immediately after his stellar four-year career at the University of Kansas and spending last summer playing with Team USA in this summer's Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Add to that a year spent learning from veterans like Allen and Brent Barry, and Collison should be even more ready. At the same time, Collison recognizes he can't really move forward until he's back on the court.
"Hopefully, as ready as anybody's ever been, I think," Collison said about being prepared for the league. "Four years of college, playing two summers with NBA guys, sitting out a year and watching, I'll be as ready and prepared as anybody has ever been. It will still be a learning process your first year out there. You're not going to start making progress."
Collison and everyone watching him can't wait for that process to begin. Especially when they see him, like a mirage, back on the court.