Reader beware: the following might be the most depressing thing anybody on Basketball Insiders writes this month, but it’s something worth reading to help put into context just how much injuries have completely changed the outlook of the 2014-15 NBA season. All it takes is a cursory perusal of the following list to get a sense of how impactful long-term injuries have been on so many teams this season. Nobody likes to see the league’s biggest stars get hurt, but there sure has been a lot of it going around this season anyway.
Players like Paul George and Joel Embiid aren’t even mentioned here because they were injured before the season even started. Everybody here was hurt once actual regular season games got underway, so it’s not like teams even had much opportunity to try and replace injured players’ production through free agency or the draft.
Even without those guys, the list is a gloomy one. Here’s a look at this year’s most devastating injuries:
#5 – Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks – Only 25 games into a season in which Parker looked like a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year, he tore his ACL, which is unbelievably disappointing considering how well the Bucks have played under Jason Kidd and how much Giannis Antetokounmpo has broken out this season. To see Antetokounmpo and Parker blossom together for 82 games would’ve been something to behold, but long-suffering Bucks fans will have to wait a little bit longer to see that tandem do its best work. On top of it all, fans were robbed of a Parker-vs.-Wiggins showdown for the Rookie of the Year award. Every injury is tough to see, but it was particularly tough to watch Parker get injured so badly.
#4 – Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder – Perennially one of the best defenders in the league, Ibaka had been playing through knee pain in Kevin Durant’s absence all season long, but like all lingering pains, this one eventually caught up to him in a big way. Now, the Thunder must scrape and claw for the eight seed in the West without their best interior defender, who had been averaging 3.2 BPG before the injury. The absence of his 14.9 PPG (on 52.5 percent shooting) and 8.2 RPG are going to hurt quite a bit too, especially because this injury hit right in the middle of an important playoff push.
#3 – Chris Bosh, Miami HEAT – The day Miami made the trade for Goran Dragic, there was a lot of buzz in the media that the HEAT were back in contention for another NBA title. But the day after the trade, rumblings started to slip out that Bosh had been diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung that would keep him out the rest of the season. Bosh and Dragic never even got to play a game together, let alone run the Eastern Conference postseason table like some were guessing they’d do. On the heels of Bosh signing a massive max contract, the HEAT were hoping that keeping him would help them remain in the hunt for another title. That might have been true had he been able to stay healthy, but this fluky, non-contact injury put the kibosh on that notion.
#2 – Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers – Matthews had been having a career year for a Portland team that every NBA fan in the world has thoroughly enjoyed watching all season long. To see him experience something as horrible as an Achilles injury just doesn’t seem fair considering how serious the Blazers have looked as title contenders. Making the trade for Arron Afflalo softens the blow a little, but Matthews, who had been leading the league in three-pointers at the time of his injury, isn’t a guy a team can just replace. This was a stomach punch for the Blazers, who look slightly less formidable without their starting shooting guard. Matthews isn’t the best player on this list, but his late-season loss sure seemed to affect his teammates the most.
#1 – Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder – Ibaka’s injury hurts the Thunder, but his missed time has been the third most frustrating for OKC fans this year. Both Durant and Russell Westbrook spent time in street clothes during the first few weeks of the season. However, Durant’s foot injury has lingered much longer than Westbrook’s has, so while the latter rallies MVP chatter of his own, Durant continues to miss time with that bum foot. He has only played 27 games this entire season after perhaps coming back a little too quickly from the injury for the first time. Today, Thunder GM Sam Presti said that Durant is out “indefinitely” and that he won’t play again until he has no soreness in his foot. “If that takes the rest of the regular season, if that takes the rest of the playoffs, that’s what it takes,” Presti said. Now, the Thunder find themselves in a playoff hunt without arguably the best player in the league. As good as Westbrook has been this season, the Thunder are better off with Durant in uniform. And had he been in uniform all season, there probably wouldn’t even be a chase for the eight seed.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls – Three years ago, Rose’s ACL injury was the worst thing to happen to Chicago since Steve Bartman. Last year, his meniscus tear was a stomach-dropping, oh-no-not-again situation that induced nausea and sent goosebumps up the city’s collective back. This year, though? It has mostly been a bored sigh that sounds something like, “Of course he hurt his knee again.” Chicago had been slumping before the injury, so it’s not like Rose’s loss really damaged the team’s postseason chances all that much (they’d still have homecourt advantage in the first round if the season ended today), nor did it have much to do with any further turbulence between Tom Thibodeau and Chicago’s front office. This was likely Thibodeau’s last season anyway, barring a title. Yes, it’s devastating to know that Rose’s career as a superstar may effectively be over, but it’s not the shock it was the first two times.
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers – At his age, with the miles he’s got on the odometer, nobody was really surprised when Bryant experienced yet another season-ending injury only 35 games into the season. Truthfully, it probably was better for L.A. that he ended up not playing this year, because if their pick falls outside of the top five, they lose it. No Kobe means more losing, and if ever there was a year for that in Los Angeles, this would be the one. It has hurt Lakers fans to see their team put up their lowest season win total in decades, but it’s a necessary step toward rebuilding, and frankly, Bryant’s injury has helped push that along.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks – This one was arguably the least devastating injury of any superstar in the league because the Knicks already were floundering when Anthony decided to pack it in for the year to get his injured knee right. Knicks fans and analysts were more upset that Anthony played big minutes in the All-Star game before shelving himself than they were about him actually shelving himself. It’s a big loss, but not a surprising or particularly devastating one considering the Knicks’ season.
Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers – One would’ve thought that an extended absence from Griffin would put a huge dent in the Clippers’ production, but they were surprisingly effective without him, going 9-4 during the 13 games that he missed. And anyway, Griffin has been back in the lineup for a few games now, so even though it could’ve been an ill-timed injury, the team weathered it and Griffin is playing again. Much worse things have happened to other players and teams this season.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics – This kid just can’t seem to stay healthy, though there was certainly a lot to get excited about this season as Sullinger was averaging 14.4 PPG and 8.1 RPG in only 28.7 minutes a night. His broken foot is a huge bummer, but not one that cost the Celtics a playoff spot or anything. His prolonged health matters to the future of Boston, however, so this one stings a lot more in the big picture than the small one.
Julius Randle, L.A. Lakers – Randle, the fifth player taken in last June’s draft, was injured in his very first game, which is frustrating because he was supposed to be the team’s one beacon of optimism in what a lot of people agreed was looking like a lost season (a lot of people were right, by the way). Even had the Lakers been terrible, Randle would’ve gotten a lot of floor time to develop as an essential building block for the future of this team. The Lakers aren’t losing games because he’s not there, but leaving in the middle of his first game of his career was a pretty dastardly trick by the basketball gods.
Hopefully there won’t be any other awful injuries this season that negatively affect what could happen in the postseason. The league can’t afford to lose any more big names, and fans certainly don’t deserve to have their most important players go down less than a month before the playoffs begin.
So here’s to good health. Let’s hope the future is a much less painful place than the recent past has been.
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