The Cleveland Cavaliers called a press conference to introduce their return on the Kyrie Irving trade, and then spent 45 minutes shutting down questions about Isaiah Thomas’ hip injury and refusing to offer a timeline for the All-Star point guard’s return. It was a foolish strategy by new Cavs GM Koby Altman, if only because it left those questions lingering, fueling speculation until they are answered.
And he were are.
Hours later, The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, plugged in like few others on Cleveland’s NBA beat, reported that Thomas’ injured right hip is damaged beyond the “right femoral-acetabular impingement with labral tear” that ended his All-NBA campaign for the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals:
One source with direct knowledge of Thomas’ hip condition told The Athletic last week that he is dealing with more than just a tear. Some of those secondary issues in the hip he has played with for years now, such as a loss of cartilage and some arthritis, are complicating his healing process.
“No one has any idea how quickly this will heal or if it even will heal at all,” the source said. “It’s hard to predict.”
Now, some of this we already knew, none of it should have been news to the Cavaliers, who conducted a physical examination of Thomas’ hip and pushed the Celtics to sweeten the pot due to their resulting concerns before agreeing to the deal, but it sure is fresh information for the general public.
And it will only lead to more questions.
The hip issue, as Thomas revealed after his season-ending injury, is something he’s dealt with for some time. “Like I have an extra bone or something,” he told reporters during his exit interview in May. “I don’t understand what they’re saying.” That “extra bone” is a buildup known as an impingement, which caused the torn labrum and led to the pain of his hip joint’s ball and socket rubbing together.
As for “a loss of cartilage and some arthritis,” the labrum is the cartilage and the most common form of arthritis is defined as “pain, swelling and stiffness” resulting from bone rubbing against bone when the cartilage is worn away. All of which is to say, Maybe we knew this already? It’s all very confusing.
Or, as one anonymous NBA executive put it to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix:
An NBA team exec watching Cavs press conference, texting: "It sounds like they have no idea when he is going to be able to come back."
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixYS) September 7, 2017
So, yeah, expect Altman, Thomas and everyone else in the Cavs organization to be asked about this until we get a satisfactory answer. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor cited sources who offered some hope:
But while there are questions to raise, multiple front-office sources explained Thomas’s decision to forego surgery on the hip as such: He has apparently dealt with the injury for years and still managed to produce at a high level. “The limp he walks with is not swag,” said one source who is familiar with Thomas’s injury history. “He’s got an issue that he just plays through.”
Doubt remains, though, about how much Thomas may have exacerbated the problem by repeatedly aggravating the hip against the Minnesota Timberwolves in March and in Game 6 of the second round of the playoffs, if not more often, before it gave out on him during Game 2 of the conference finals.
ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh wrote a detailed breakdown of torn hip labrums, speculating that Thomas may have suffered the injury even before March. In the piece, Colorado-based Dr. Marc Phillippon, who has performed nine of the NBA’s 13 documented hip labrum surgeries since 2010, told Haberstroh that “the damage of cartilage in the hip” is the most important factor when determining a rehab timeline.
“If you have a patient who has an acute injury and has cartilage damage, I find it’s better to intervene earlier than later,” Philippon says, “because the longer you wait with these injuries, that tends to lead to more problems.”
That knowledge, coupled with this latest “loss of cartilage” report, only raises further questions, especially given this exchange between Lloyd, Altman and Thomas at Thursday’s press conference:
Altman on IT: "Our plan is a non-surgical plan."
Isaiah Thomas: "Y'all hear that? Everybody wants to be doctors now."
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) September 7, 2017
Lloyd: “Yeah, so anyway, with your timeline for Isaiah, can you say that it does or does not include the possibility of surgery?”
Altman: “Our plan is a non-surgical plan.”
Thomas: “Y’all hear that? Everybody wants to be doctors now. Damn.”
The Cavaliers will host their annual media day in a few weeks. Maybe we’ll get more answers then.
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