January 03, 2011
Young Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum(notes) thinks that Brandon Roy(notes) will "be back." That he'll be an All-Star and everything will return to normal up in Portland. Whatever normal is in a wonderful city so hell-bent on keeping it weird.
Brandon Roy, on the bench for an indefinite absence that could stretch for the rest of the season or the rest of the week, will likely be back. He probably hasn't played his last game as a member of the team, and he shouldn't be fitted for a mic and sideline reporter duty anytime soon.
But he won't be an All-Star again. That's the just the cruel nature of working through this bone-on-bone condition in both knees. And though rumors of surgical procedures surround Roy in his absence from the team, things aren't getting any better, barring an outright miracle. Things aren't changing, and things aren't improving.
I apologize for laying the hammer so heavily, but the Brandon Roy you knew from the 2008-09 season isn't coming back. Worse, the diminished Brandon Roy you saw last season isn't coming back. Roy might play again, but he'll never be the same.
This is what happens when you're working with his condition. Other players, lacking in cartilage, can undergo the dreaded microfracture procedure. If not properly rehabbed, it can rob some players of their quickness, but it also helps address exactly what the player is lacking physically. Bone is broken inside the knee to encourage blood flow, which helps the cartilage grow back. It's painful and it takes forever to return from, but the cartilage does grow back.
Brandon Roy's meniscus won't grow back. No amount of bone-breaking or bleeding will help it grow back. He's stuck like this. Even Danny Manning got to play on cadaver ACLs for the last few years of his career, but no such operation exists for Brandon. And fans of the Blazers, and what could have been a Hall of Fame talent, need to realize that no amount of rest -- in-game, in the offense, for a week, for a season or for a summer -- will put him right. It's over.
It's not unprecedented. We've seen players fall to the ranks of the obscure because of microfracture surgeries. Clark Kellogg even went from averaging nearly 19 points per game on 50 percent shooting for the Pacers at age 23 to out of the NBA a year and a half later due to knee injuries. The game has changed and the injuries and recovery time have evolved as well. An ACL tear isn't a death knell anymore. It's just something that puts you out for half a year, rather than half a career.
But what hasn't changed is the idea that a body's mitigating factors can end an otherwise sparkling career. And even as we deal with the frustrations behind Yao Ming's(notes) and Greg Oden's(notes) legs, there is a sense of indestructibility that is pervasive in the NBA community. Just break the bone, grow something that isn't there, and he'll be back. Training like Amar'e, good as ever.
Sometimes that doesn't work, though. And in the case of the Portland Trail Blazers, they need to figure out what they're doing, sooner rather than later.
Which is an absolute shame. This team, on paper, should be a championship contender. Roy should be up there with Kobe Bryant(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes), and Greg Oden should be changing the game on both ends. But this isn't how things have turned out. And while Portland is doing its job in going over every available option in terms of Roy's rehab and hopeful return, they've got five weeks.
Five weeks until that trade deadline. A time when teams think they have a chance, that they're one player away, and they're willing to gamble on the future in order to make the spring so sweet. Teams aren't going to think that way around the draft, with no games to play the next day. And they're not going to be allowed to think that way this summer with the lockout in effect.
So the Blazers need to act now in figuring out who stays and who goes. And what Roy's role in all of this is. Because he's shot defensively, and (this is so, so sad) probably as good as he's every going to be offensively right now. No amount of rest is going to put that meniscus back.
Portland cannot afford to carry over big contracts, big dreams, and little assets into what is shaping up to be the NBA's longest summer since 1998's work stoppage bled into 1999. This is an incredibly daunting task for newish GM Rich Cho, but it's something he needs to undertake. Sooner rather than later.
The pain in Brandon Roy's bone-on-bone condition is only approximated by the pain we feel when thinking about a Hall of Fame career that has been taken away so swiftly. This is heartbreaking to even consider, much less act upon. But the Portland Trail Blazers will be inviting more and more heartbreak for their team and for their fans if they don't start uncrossing those fingers and making some calls.