Elena Delle Donne finally entering offseason focused on training, not rehab

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Delle Donne entering offseason focused on training, not rehab originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The past handful of seasons of Elena Delle Donne's career are primarily defined by her injuries and what they forced her to do off the court. A bone bruise in her knee, breaking her nose, and three herniated discs in her back have all piled up and taken their toll.

Just getting back to this version of herself has been a tremendous journey, climbing back to a point where she was fearful the game might be taken away from her. Years, not months, of rehabilitation have made up her 'down time.'

As a result, there hasn't been a 'normal' offseason for the two-time MVP since the 2018-19 gap between seasons. That is finally going to change.

"There were so many unknowns in the offseason, especially for myself," Delle Donne said of last offseason. "So to know that I was able to sustain a season and build through the season is something that I look back on and I'm very excited about. And I'm excited to now have an offseason that will be more training and not rehab. So then I can be even stronger next year, but I feel like I'm excited about the future and where we can go."

In the months following the 2019 championship, she underwent two back procedures stemming from the three herniated discs she injured in the Finals. As a part of her comeback, she had to re-learn how to properly sit to best position her spine. How to walk, run, jump - all actions she has instinctually done for years had to be adapted so she's not putting pressure on her back.

The prior two seasons saw Delle Donne play a combined three games. This year it was upped to 25 with the forward playing a regular schedule with planned rest days built into the season.

It was less about her playing at an All-WNBA level and more about progressing her back to normal. Even though the first-round playoff exit still stings, many hurdles were cleared for Delle Donne that she was able to appreciate.

"There's been a few moments along the way where I kind of just sit with it," Delle Donne said. "Even when I completed a back-to-back, I was like 'wow, I wasn't sure I'd ever do that the rest of my career.' So to know that my body was able to sustain some of those different challenges was something I was proud of.

"But I also have like a newfound hunger and know that there's so much more I can do, like so much of this had been rehab. And now I can go even more into the training side of it. So I'm just really excited about being able to attack so much more in the offseason."

That gets us back to training. Now, she can work on improving her basketball craft instead of limiting herself in the weight room and not pushing too hard and risking her back.

Delle Donne will look to improve on a season in which she averaged 17.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 apg and was just a few percentage points shy of hitting the 50-40-90 club once again. While she missed 11 games, her statistics suggest she should be an All-WNBA representative this season, possibly even on the First Team.

But, more important than getting better statistically, building strength should be seen as yet another benchmark in her rehab. Perhaps, it can be one of the last.

"I think now that I can build strength this offseason, I won't need as much pre and postgame (work)," Delle Donne said. "Yeah, I'll still be doing more and I feel like a lot of that has been super helpful, kind of getting myself ready for the game and then also making sure I go to bed feeling great... hopefully I won't need as much treatment and through this offseason by being able to get a lot of lifts in and putting the weight room first and the movement first before on-court stuff that'll be super helpful and just building strength."

Next year she'll be entering her age-33 season and the final season under her maximum contract. As we've seen with Sylvia Fowles, Sue Bird and Candace Parker, there are still several prime seasons still ahead of her.