By Jeff Stotts, Rotowire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The final week of the NBA season has mercifully arrived, ending what has been an injury-riddled campaign. The year got off to a poor start with Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Lin each suffering season-ending injuries in their team’s first outing. The injuries would not relent as the league lost over 5,000 total man games due to injury or illness. Unfortunately the recovery for multiple ailments will spill into the offseason and carry over into the 2018-19 season.
Here are a few I will be closely monitoring over the summer.
The Boston Celtics
Boston emerged as a top threat in the East despite losing Hayward five minutes into the season. The team’s big offseason signing suffered a gruesome left ankle dislocation and fracture. Surgery was needed to stabilize the area effectively ending his season before it even really began. Hayward’s recovery has been well-documented online with the former All-Star posting videos of the process.
Despite some optimism that he would make a late-season return, Hayward only recently began jogging and has yet to resume basketball-related activities. Those final hurdles will likely be cleared over the summer with a preseason return likely. However, the Celtics will likely handle his return to play conservatively, carefully managing his court time.
Paul George’s return to an elite level of play following his devastating lower leg fracture provides an encouraging template for Hayward’s return. However, Hayward’s injury is a bit more complicated due to the accompanying damage to the ankle ligaments. As a result, Hayward will have an elevated level of risk upon his return, limiting his overall fantasy value. His progression through the offseason should help better establish his ADP entering next season, though I’m guessing he falls to the fourth or fifth round in most drafts.
Joining Hayward in the training room will be teammate Kyrie Irving. The All-Star guard was unable to finish his first year in Boston after his troublesome left knee required a pair of late-season surgeries. The initial procedure was necessary to remove a tension wire inserted around the patella during Irving’s 2015 surgery for a fractured kneecap. It was believed that removing the wire would provide the point guard with relief from ongoing soreness in the joint. However, testing done following the procedure revealed a bacterial infection at the injury site. A second surgery was then needed to remove the additional surgical hardware still in the knee and treat the infection.
Bacterial infections following surgery are uncommon, though there have been a few cases in the NBA. Al Harrington and Quincy Pondexter both developed staph infections following their respective knee surgeries though neither was linked to surgical hardware. Both players eventually returned to action after prolonged recoveries. Fortunately for Irving there has been no indication his infection is staph or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Irving is expected to miss four-to-five months recovering, putting his return on the cusp of training camp and preseason. The prolonged recovery will be necessary to insure the patella is free of infection and stable. Rehab will focus on building up the surrounding musculature to aid in stability and functional movement. Irving should be a top-tier fantasy talent if the infection was minor and his recovery goes as expected. However, Irving’s propensity for injury is a red flag and he will remain an inherently risky option because of it.
Just when it seemed we would finally get a chance to see Boogie in the postseason, the All-Star big man suffered a torn Achilles in late January. Cousins has spent the last two and half months rehabbing his injury following a surgical repair and will enter free agency with questions about his long-term health lingering.
An Achilles tendon rupture is a historically problematic injury with a lengthy associated recovery. The average time missed by NBA players to tear the Achilles in recent seasons is just under 10 months with the number improving in several cases, including Kobe Bryant (back in 240 days), Rudy Gay (261) and Wesley Matthews (231). However, these players were at different phases of their career and were each perimeter players. A better comparison for Cousins is former All-Star Elton Brand who, like Boogie, tore his Achilles in his eighth professional season. Both players were 27 years old at the time of their injury, though Brand had played more games and minutes. Cousins stands a few inches taller than Brand, but both players weigh between 270 and 275 pounds.
Brand played eight additional seasons following his injury, including 81 games during the 2010-11 season in which he averaged 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds. He never reported lingering problems with his surgically repaired Achilles.
Cousins has an outside chance to play on Opening Night of the 2018-19 season, but his final landing spot could dictate the approach. Multiple teams will be interested in signing Cousins despite the risk and landing with an elite level medical team could help prolong his career. Still, whether he remains in New Orleans or not, a dip in productivity next season seems likely, and routine rest days will be considered.
Mike Conley: The Grizzlies endured a lost season without their floor general after Conley underwent an Achilles debridement to remove a problematic bone protrusion on his calcaneus (heel bone). It is believed the enlargement was the culprit behind his recurring Achilles problems. With the root of the issues removed, Conley could be in line for a bounceback campaign.
Jeremy Lin: A ruptured patellar tendon prematurely ended Lin’s season. The Brooklyn point guard spent the year rehabbing and is targeting a 2018-19 return. While the timing of the injury should allow him to be an active participant in training camp and preseason, the magnitude of the injury shouldn’t be ignored. Players often struggle in their first season following a patellar tendon tear with some players failing to return to their previous level of play. As a result, Lin’s fantasy value for the upcoming season will remain diminished.
Kristaps Porzingis: The face of the Knicks seems likely be sidelined to start next season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on February 6. The recovery is expected to take at least eight months, meaning an October return is possible but improbable. This season, both Zach Lavine and Jabari Parker missed over 11 months following their respective ACL tears, with Parker nearly missing a full calendar year. The success of the Knicks could influence Porzingis’ return as well. It wouldn’t be surprising to see New York opt for an overly conservative treatment plan if the team finds itself once again struggling to win games early in 2018-19. Long-term, Porzingis should be fine, but we may not see him back to peak form until the 2019-20 season.