It's been a rough few seasons for Yao Ming(notes). After missing all of last season with a broken bone in his left foot, Yao returned this season with a strict 24-minute-per-game playing time limit imposed by Rockets management and staff. He managed to play five games in the first few weeks, but a left ankle injury has kept him out of action since November.
Yao is anxious to return. But while he feels ready, the team's physicians and trainers have not yet cleared him to practice. From Jonathan Feigen in the Houston Chronicle:
"I'm waiting for the green light," Yao said. "When? I don't know. I feel better. It still has some weakness. I'm just not ready to sit out for almost 20 games, particularly when I feel I'm OK. I know when I was in the walking boot, on the crutches, OK, I understand.
"I won't push the trainer or the doctor. They all try to treat me the best that they can. I know they try to find the best way for me to get back on the court."
Yao would not say if he would be playing if the decision were his to make, but when asked if he has made it known how he feels, he laughed and said, "I tell them every day."
It's a tough situation for all parties. The Rockets are likely correct that coming back now could exacerbate Yao's injuries. At the same time, if Yao thinks he can play, then maybe he should get the chance to prove it.
Yao's a competitor, so it's possible that he just wants to play no matter how weak his ankle is. But he also probably realizes that his recent run of injuries suggests he doesn't have much time healthy left in the league. Even if he comes back with his ankle mostly healed, what's to say that he wouldn't reinjure it or his foot soon after? Yao wants to play as much as he can before it's too late, no matter if he's fully healed or not.
Ultimately, this is the team's decision, just as it was the team's choice to set a minutes limit in the wake of his foot problems. But as the ankle injury showed, there might not be much sense in limiting playing time when even a few minutes on the court carry a high risk of injury. Perhaps it's better to play Yao as much as possible now without worrying too much about the future.