If Healthy…: The biggest qualifier in any prediction in sports usually starts with the phrase “If healthy…” There are several players entering the 2014-2015 NBA season with that phrase tattooed to their resume and some of them will play huge roles in their team’s success or ultimate failure. Here are a few worth talking about:
Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls
An ACL tear and a meniscus surgery later, Derrick Rose has missed most of the last two seasons, leading most to label the Bull’s franchise player to be injury prone.
The truth about Rose is that he and the Bulls took the most conservative rehab path possible. It cost him more games than anyone would have liked, but both surgeries were done with the future in mind. Rose is 836 days removed from his ACL surgery and 274 days removed from his meniscus surgery, so the rehab and recovery window is more than complete.
That however doesn’t remove the cloud of doubt hanging over the Bulls franchise or Rose himself. Rose has looked incredible in Team USA play, but even the National team is taking a deliberate and measured approach with Rose, trying to insure that he is ready for the World Cup games in Spain.
If the Bulls have to play things the same way, the Bulls may run into some issues.
Until Rose proves he is completely healthy and can handle a full NBA workload there will be doubt and with the Central Division now significantly better with a much improved Cleveland Cavaliers team, the Bulls won’t have much margin for error and they will absolutely need a healthy Rose to win the Division.
Kobe Bryant – LA Lakers
Laker star Kobe Bryant turned 36 last Saturday. He is entering the first year of his two-year contract extension that will pay him $23.5 million and $25 million next season.
The Lakers need Kobe to rebound from not only his Achilles injury, which he played six games on last season, but his fractured lateral tibial plateau that cost him the rest of the season as well.
The Lakers have fielded much of the same squad as last year, with a few interesting additions, but if the Lakers are going to make any noise this year they need Kobe to be on the floor to look something like Kobe is supposed to look.
If Kobe plays the “in and out of the lineup” game because of nagging injuries, not only will the Lakers season likely be lost, but that final contract year may become a huge deterrent in free agency. The Lakers need Bryant to look good for a number of reasons; some of those are about this season, some are about the future.
Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder star Russell Westbrook missed 36 games last season trying to recover from knee issues that haunted him for the last season and a half. Fortunately for the Thunder guard Reggie Jackson stepped up admirably and the Thunder ended the season with the second best record in the West, just three games out of the first chair.
As the clock ticks down on the eventual free agency of Thunder star Kevin Durant, the Thunder need Westbrook on the floor and need to get back to the NBA Finals.
Injury created opportunity last season and that may open the door for Westbrook and Jackson to play together, which is a far more potent and efficient look for the Thunder. The problem becomes if Westbrook’s knee starts acting up.
The Thunder stayed above the waterline without Westbrook, but given how many teams in the West improved this offseason, spotting the competition 36 games may not work out as well as it did a season ago. For the Thunder to get where they want to be Westbrook has to stay healthy.
Al Horford – Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks did the improbable last year, making the postseason without the services of arguably their best all-around player in Al Horford. Horford missed 53 games last season to a torn pectoral muscle. Prior to that injury Horford was putting up monster numbers for the Hawks and was arguably one of the more productive players in the East.
As his injury created opportunity, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver all rose to the challenge. With Horford expected back and healthy, the Hawks could be significantly better this season than they were last year.
The problem is Horford has had some nagging injuries over the last three seasons that make him far from reliable.
For the Hawks to improve on last year, they will need Horford to be Horford and stay healthy. That is far from a given and could be the biggest question lingering around the Hawks when camp opens.
Chris Paul – LA Clippers
The LA Clippers have two lingering issues: The first is forward Blake Griffin and the status of his back. It was reported that Griffin left Team USA to a back issue that was later classified as a fractured vertebrae. Griffin later clarified that it’s wasn’t anything serious and he was taking it cautiously.
The other is point guard Chris Paul. Arguably one of the best players in the NBA, Paul has a history of missing games. Last year Paul missed 20 games, the season before that he missed 12 games.
The Clipper were able to lean on backup guard Darren Collison last year who played really well without Paul as Griffin and Collison really picked up the slack.
With Collision now in Sacramento, the Clippers backup is Jordan Farmar.
The Clippers ended the season with 57 wins and the Pacific Division title, however if Paul misses a sizable chunk of games, it’s hard to imagine that in an improved Western Conference that the Clippers end up with the third seed without Paul on the floor.
Durability has been Paul’s biggest weakness. As much as other have improved around him, the Clippers need Paul on the floor. Spotting the competition 20 games is the easiest way to lose home court and that is absolutely something the Clippers will be focusing on in their quest to get to the NBA Finals.
Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies had two major issues last year: The first being some systemic revolt as veteran Grizzlies players pushed back on changes from first year head coach Dave Joerger. Eventually they found a balance and started to progress, but the second issue absolutely killed them in the end and that was losing big man Marc Gasol for 23 games to a pretty nasty MCL sprain.
Without Gasol in the lineup the Grizzlies really struggled; fortunately they were able to stay in the hunt winning their final five games and securing the seventh seed in the west.
If Gasol misses time again, things could get problematic for the Grizzlies as many of the teams the Grizz were able to pass up last season got markedly better in the off-season.
Another worry for the Grizzlies is that Gasol is playing for the Spanish National team, who is hosting the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Assuming that tournament goes the distance for Spain, Gasol could be playing high level basketball well into mid-September, meaning he’ll have extra wear to worry and fatigue to worry about coming into training camp.
The Pelicans’ Starters
The New Orleans Pelicans were decimated by injuries last season. Anthony Davis missed 15 games, Ryan Anderson missed 60 games. Jrue Holiday missed 48 games. Tyreke Evans missed ten games and Eric Gordon missed 18 games. The most durable Pelican last season was Al-Farouq Aminu and he’s in Dallas now.
The Pelicans really believed they had the make up last season to contend for a playoff spot, and without all the injuries they might have achieved that.
As they enter the 2014-2015 NBA season, injuries are the Pelicans biggest hurdle. If the Pelicans starters can play 80 games, they may have a chance to make some noise, but if the injury bug continues to plague them, they don’t have enough to spot teams in the West and that’s exactly what they did a season ago.
A Couple Of Things You May have Missed: Throughout the offseason, Basketball Insiders spends a lot of time with players away from the game, whether at training sites or offseason tournaments.
Here are some of the NBA guys we caught up with at Adidas Nations earlier this month:
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