When one-time star guard Brandon Roy signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer, NBA fans approached the news with a mixture of hope and trepidation. After a year away from the game — described at the time as retirement but later referred to by Roy as a "pause" — there was cautious optimism that Roy had partially recovered from chronic knee woes (including a disturbing lack of cartilage) and could return as a quality contributor, if not the All-Star he had been. It also helped that Roy himself claimed to feel as capable as he had in years, although he was likely a little too bullish on his chances to approach his past abilities.
Early returns on Roy's comeback have not been good. As our Kelly Dwyer noted last week, Roy shot a paltry 31.4 percent from the field for a 5.8 ppg average in five games (all starts) before being shut down with knee pain. Now, after assessing the situation, Roy will undergo yet another surgery — this time on his right knee — which will also cause him to miss his highly anticipated return to Portland. From Jason Quick for The Oregonian:
The arthroscopy will be the seventh of his career, dating back to high school, and the fifth since he has been a professional. It is unknown how long Roy will be sidelined. [...]
On Thursday in Minneapolis, Roy was still hopeful he would be able to play Friday in Portland, where he spent his first five seasons. But he said no matter what happens the rest of this season, he has no regrets.
"I wouldn't be disappointed either way,'' Roy said. "If it ends in three weeks, it ends. It's over. I'm totally satisfied with what I've done. I know the sacrifice and the effort that I put into coming back. It took a lot of discipline to get to where I am, That's all I care about: how hard I've worked.''
Roy had planned to spend Thanksgiving at his Portland home with his wife, two kids and several family members, who would make the three hour drive from his hometown of Seattle. He said he was looking forward to playing his first game at the Rose Garden since his memorable Game 4 performance in the 2010 NBA playoffs, when he scored 18 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter against Dallas.
"It's going to be special. It's going to be weird,'' Roy said on Thursday, before he knew he would have surgery. "I use to walk to that locker room in the Rose Garden... and you know, I felt like I owned the place. Now, I come back as a visitor, so it's weird. It's like you buy a house, sell it, and then go back to the house, but it's somebody else's. Now it's LaMarcus', the new rookie ... it's their house now. But again, that's kind of the excitement in it. There's new blood there and at the same time, I had my moment.''
This is a sad development for many reasons. When the NBA schedule was released several months ago, this game at the Rose Garden stood out as an opportunity to celebrate Roy's hard work, both for the basketball world as a whole and the Trail Blazers fans who still value all he did for the franchise. If he were playing well, it would be especially triumphant. But now his absence will be all too glaring.
The Wolves currently sit at fifth in the West even after sustaining an uncommonly high number of long-term injuries to key players, so it's possible that they won't miss Roy too much. Also, the second year of his deal only kicks in if he passes certain statistical thresholds, so they don't stand to take a significant financial hit if he sits out for vast portions of the season. However, this injury could end up hurting the Wolves quite a bit, and not just because every team has its limits when it comes to missing multiple players on the roster. As a relatively young team with hopes of eventually becoming a major contender in the West, Minnesota can only afford to play without key players for so long. Every game they miss is a game where they can't establish roles, learn to play together, and move closer to those future goals.
What this surgery means for Roy is less clear. In his report, Quick traces this particular ailment back to an incident where Roy banged his knee in a preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks. That earned him a bump and bruise, with subsequent aggravations in a practice and a Nov. 9 game against the Indiana Pacers. On some level, these injuries resulted from specific incidents and not just the everyday slog of the season. Of course, players often bang their knees while playing basketball, and if each similar event is going to require knee surgery then Roy likely won't be able to play in many games. He might need to step away from basketball yet again.
That outcome would be very unfortunate, but Roy is right to say that he shouldn't be disappointed if it comes to pass. Roy's knees are in very bad shape, and this comeback always held the potential to be short-lived. Everyone involved should have known the risks, and if they didn't then they were kidding themselves.
Plus, it's not done yet. For all we know, Roy will return to find himself playing along the equally healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, with whom he can take on a secondary role in which he can thrive. Weirder things have happened. Given how great Roy once was, there's no shame in holding some small sliver of hope.