One of the happier stories of this season, along with Dwight Howard's continued personal journey towards self-realization, has been Brandon Roy's return to the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Roy's knee injuries have kept him from continuing on the superstar career path he once had, but he's still a capable player with plenty to offer. Having him back in the league after his short one-season retirement is a very good thing.
Except, as Roy tells it, he was never really retired. At Tuesday's introductory press conference in Minneapolis, he instead referred to his year off as a "pause." From Jerry Zgoda for The Star Tribune:
Roy retired last December, when the Blazers exercised a one-time-only "amnesty" clause on Roy that allowed them to pay him the remaining $63 million on his contract and wipe that huge sum from their salary-cap books once he sat out a season.
In retrospect, Roy suggests it was a decision prompted by a team doctor who recommended it was best for Roy and his damaged knees. It also was in the Blazers' best financial interests as well.
"It was never really officially my decision to retire, you know?" he said. "It was never a situation where I said, 'I'm done forever.' It's just more of a pause."
Just to be sure it was only a pause, Roy worked out privately for two months last winter before he quietly put out feelers to NBA teams that he might be interested in a comeback. He underwent the therapy in Los Angeles in May and worked out with Wolves assistant coach Bill Bayno -- a Blazers assistant for four of Roy's seasons in Portland -- there for three days in June.
Roy's account of what happened squares with the retirement news at the time. Initial reports said that Roy had been diagnosed with a career-ending injury, which is what he says the Blazers doctor told him at the time. (More quotes from the original Star Tribune blog post on Tuesday's introduction suggest as much.) When they used the amnesty clause on Roy, he was left as a free agent, and his choice was simply to work out on his own and return to the NBA when he felt the time was right. That would be accurately classified as a break, not a full-on retirement. The Blazers might have just wanted it to seem that way so as to make it seem as if they weren't casting off a one-time star.
As Tom Ziller writes at SB Nation, this situation does not make the Blazers look particularly good. Retirement should be a player's decision, and if they tried to force it upon him as cover for using the amnesty clause then it's some shady activity. The fact that Roy has found potentially effective treatment means that Portland might not have exhausted all possible options. That doesn't mean they wouldn't have been justified in waiving Roy, but it does make them seem more concerned with public relations than putting together a quality basketball team.
On the other hand, that doesn't mean their diagnosis was wrong. We don't yet know if Roy can play at a high level, despite his pronouncements that he can. Roy still has plenty of ability, but his ability to hold up over a full season has not been proven at all; his knees feel good now after this treatment, but he hasn't had to play 82 games since receiving it. Plus, Roy has often thought very highly of his remaining abilities even as his play suggests that he's not able to perform like the All-Star he once was. It's nice that Roy expects to start and play at a high level, but the last time we saw him on an NBA court he wasn't able to do those things consistently. Assuming that he's fine now, and that the Blazers were wrong to tell it was in his best interests to retire, could be a case of optimism trumping the facts on the ground.
Roy has many reasons to be confident in himself, and the Wolves have every right to consider him a valuable part of their rotation over the next two seasons. But his success is far from a sure thing, and taking a break from basketball for a year doesn't mean everything is suddenly fine. In Portland, Roy had serious knee injuries that made his team very antsy about his future. A pause only put off those concerns for another year — it didn't serve as a rewind back to his star form.
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