We shared video Tuesday of Cleveland Cavaliers rookie forward/center Tyler Zeller catching a ferocious welcome-to-the-NBA present from Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan in the form of an inadvertent elbow smash that forced the former North Carolina star to miss the closing stages of the Cavs' impressive 108-101 road win on Monday night. Postgame X-rays were negative, giving Cavs fans hope that the No. 17 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft would be right as rain in no time flat.
Unfortunately, the news got worse on Wednesday, when the Cavaliers announced that a subsequent CT scan revealed Zeller had suffered a fractured cheekbone on the play, and that follow-up tests showed he'd received a concussion. As a result, the rookie big man will be held out indefinitely, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:
Zeller's fracture is non-displaced, essentially meaning the pieces of the bone are still aligned. Non-displaced fractures typically heal a little faster, although there is no timeline yet for his return. He has been placed in the league's concussion program and will need to be cleared by a league doctor before he can return.
It's unclear which injury will keep hm out longer, but the Cavs have already discussed the likelihood of Zeller playing with a mask. He certainly won't play in tonight's game against the [Golden State Warriors] and he'd seem doubtful for Friday's game at Phoenix.
"The timing sucks," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "If there's any silver lining to the whole thing, it's early. Hopefully we'll have him back before this road trip is over."
The Cavaliers' road trip features four more games and stretches through next Tuesday night in New York against the Brooklyn Nets. While Scott hopes to have a masked Zeller back in action before the team returns home to Cleveland midway through next week, the league's concussion policy stipulates that the rookie will have to clear a few benchmarks before he gets there:
Once he is free of symptoms, the player must make it through increasing stages of exertion — from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills — while ensuring the symptoms don't return after each one. Then the neurologist hired to lead the NBA's concussion program needs to be consulted before the player is cleared.
The process will likely take at least several days, if not weeks.
Returns have largely skewed toward the earlier side of that spectrum. Kobe Bryant famously returned to work three days after suffering a concussion in the most recent NBA All-Star game. James Harden suffered a concussion after catching a swinging elbow from Metta World Peace on April 22; he was cleared to play on April 25 and made his return on April 28 in the Oklahoma City Thunder's playoff opener against the Dallas Mavericks. They can also, however, prove more troublesome and longer-lived — Kevin Love sustained a concussion in an April 11 game and missed the rest of the Minnesota Timberwolves' regular season. (Granted, the lottery-bound Wolves had no reason to take any chances with their franchise player, but still.)
The Cavs' last two concussion cases have each spanned a week. Star point guard Kyrie Irving missed three games after suffering a concussion this past February, and after reporting concussion-like symptoms prior to the Cavs' Oct. 23 preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, guard Daniel Gibson was back in the lineup for Cleveland's regular-season opener against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 30.
Zeller is the second rookie big man to suffer a concussion in the season's opening week. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis caught an inadvertent elbow from fellow lottery pick Austin Rivers during the New Orleans Hornets' Friday night victory over the Utah Jazz, missed the team's Saturday win over the Chicago Bulls and will again sit out Wednesday night's matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers.
After word circulated that Davis' injury would keep the vaunted first-year forward on the sidelines for an undetermined amount of time, Hornets coach Monty Williams railed against the league's concussion policy, saying the league treats "everybody like they have white gloves and pink drawers and it's getting old." The NBA responded on Tuesday by fining Williams $25,000 for his comments. One suspects we won't hear similar talk from Scott as he waits for Zeller's return.