From the Basement | NBA’s ongoing struggle to return from injury

Benny Greenspan, Staff Reporter

Fans and football pundits are still mad about the Super League.

As the New Orleans Pelicans are neck and neck in a series with the league leading Phoenix Suns, the question that has been looming over the Pelicans is still relevant: when will Zion Williamson come back? 

The first overall pick a few years ago has been out all year, despite rumors of him progressing towards a return. With videos of him 360 dunking pregame surfacing on the internet, the question should be framed as “Why isn’t Zion back already?” 

The discussion of how teams should handle their star player’s injury is one that has never been more relevant in the NBA than now, as the rise of player empowerment has given players increasingly more leverage over their respective organizations over time. But is that necessarily a good thing? Should players have the ability to hold out despite an entire medical team giving them the green light? 

Here are a few recent examples that exposed how contradictory both organizations and players can be when dealing with this:

Kawhi Leonard: 

The first recent example that dealt with this was between Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs during the 2017-2018 season. Throughout that season, Leonard was dealing with a right quadriceps injury, which kept him out of all but nine games that season. 

However, as that season went along, questions regarding his injury and its severity began to surface. According to an article on ESPN by Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright, Leonard completely went away from the San Antonio medical staff in favor of his own. This frustrated Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich, who answered all questions relating to Leonard’s injury with simply, “You’ll have to ask his group.”

Ultimately, Leonard’s decision to never report to the Spurs about his health resulted in both sides getting increasingly more angry at each other, to the point where Leonard forced himself out of San Antonio and was traded to the Toronto Raptors that summer. 

Kevin Durant: 

The complete other side to Leonard in the 2017-2018 season is Durant during the 2019 playoffs. During Game 5 in the second round against the Houston Rockets, Durant went down with a calf strain, forcing him to be held out the rest of the series as well as the following one against the Portland Trailblazers. 

Going into the Golden State Warriors’ 2019 NBA Finals matchup against the Raptors, Durant’s return loomed over the entire series. After going down 3-1 and heading back to Toronto with their season on the line, Durant was finally cleared to play by the Warriors’ medical staff. 

In this case, Durant’s return was way too soon, as midway through the second quarter, Durant went down on his right leg again, only this time it was just below the calf, the dreadful achilles injury. 

While there were still several questions regarding the severity of the injury going into that game five, Steve Kerr claimed post game that nobody on the Warriors’ medical staff predicted that Durant was risking an achilles tear: “He was cleared to play by everybody involved. Now, would we go back and do it over again? Damn right. But that’s easy to say with the results.” 

However, many have looked back anyway and questioned the Warriors’ decision to bring him back in the first place, with people believing that his initial injury was closer to the achilles than the calf in the first place. 

The stories of both Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant offer both teams and players a warning about how they should go about dealing with injuries. While there is no true right answer when one’s entire career is at stake, one way to resolve most of these issues is continuous open communication between the organization and the player’s camp, which can be increasingly difficult with reports constantly circling around the media.

Avoiding conflict with Williamson should be the Pelicans’ top priority, as we’re yet to see the true potential of this Pelicans team.

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