A hectic NBA offseason has led to one of the most anticipated seasons in years, with a handful of teams claiming a legitimate shot at winning the NBA title.
But several big names are dealing with significant injuries, with the news of Zion Williamson’s knee woes the latest to put a damper on the season that gets underway on Tuesday.
With tip-off on the horizon, here’s the latest on NBA stars nursing injuries.
Pelicans F Zion Williamson (knee)
While there are established stars dealing with more significant injuries, the news of Williamson’s knee being worse off than thought may be the most worrisome. What was initially classified as a sore knee turned out to be a torn right lateral meniscus, news that the Pelicans announced on Monday.
Williamson had arthroscopic surgery and is expected to miss six to eight weeks, postponing his much-anticipated NBA debut. The latter end of that outlook would have Williamson ready for the Pelicans’ Christmas day matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
Williamson enters the league with more hype than any player since LeBron James joined the NBA in 2003. His stellar preseason that saw him average 23.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists only heightened the anticipation.
The biggest worries about Williamson’s game when the New Orleans Pelicans made him the No. 1 pick in the draft was his 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame and his body’s ability to support his unprecedented athleticism over the long run.
That he’s dealing with a knee injury before his first NBA game is cause for concern.
Nets F Kevin Durant (Achilles)
There was hope in NBA circles that Kevin Durant could return in time for a potential playoff run after suffering a devastating right Achilles tendon tear during the NBA Finals. But the Brooklyn Nets have all but ruled out Durant for the entire season.
“With Kevin, I think what we're going to say is the expectations are that he'll be out for the year," general manager Sean Marks said in September.
It’s an understandably cautious approach as the Nets invested the future of the franchise in signing Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Considering that Durant rushing back from a calf injury likely led to his Achilles tear, there’s no reason to take unnecessary risks with their franchise centerpiece.
That said, if Brooklyn finds itself in contention late in the season and Durant gets a clean bill of health, the Nets haven’t shut the door on a return for the postseason. Just don’t expect it.
Warriors G Klay Thompson (ACL)
A game after Durant suffered his Achilles tear, the Golden State Warriors were dealt the crippling Game 6 blow of Klay Thompson tearing his left ACL when he landed awkwardly in the third quarter of the deciding game of the NBA Finals.
Like Durant’s injury, Thompson’s was devastating for Golden State. While there was optimism initially for Thompson to return at some point this season – with his father Mychal Thompson, a former player himself, recently saying that he’s hoping to see his son make a March return – Steve Kerr said that he isn’t expecting to have the All-Star guard this season.
"It's unlikely that he's going to play this year," Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area.
"You have to look at it realistically. ... Generally, an ACL for a basketball player is a full-year recovery, and if it's a full year for Klay, that puts them out for the season."
Clippers F Paul George (shoulders)
The Los Angeles Clippers are perhaps the biggest benefactors of the NBA’s offseason moves, having signed reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and six-time All-Star Paul George. While Leonard is scheduled to suit up for Tuesday’s showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers, George’s debut will have to wait.
George underwent procedures on each of his shoulders during the offseason, and head coach Doc Rivers announced last week that he will miss at least the first 10 games of the season.
The news came as a surprise after George gave a more optimistic outlook in September.
“Honestly, I’m a lot far along ... I’m not 100 percent, but if I had to put a percentage on it, I think I’m about 85, 90-ish,” George said in September.
As of Sunday, Rivers said that George wasn’t participating in contact drills and declined to put a specific timeframe on his return. A 10-game absence points to a mid-November return, but with no reports of progress from his shoulder ailments, that appears to be an optimistic timeframe.
Pistons F Blake Griffin (hamstring/knee)
As the NBA prepared to tip off on Tuesday, the Detroit Pistons announced they would be without Blake Griffin at least until the beginning of November. The extent of Griffin’s left hamstring and knee soreness does not sound too severe, though. The team had him “day-to-day” before saying he would not play in their Wednesday opener against the Indiana Pacers, and then having him out for at least a couple weeks. The Pistons are likely playing things safe with their star.
Lakers F Kyle Kuzma (foot)
Kyle Kuzma’s remains one of the hardest injuries to analyze from a distance. The Los Angeles Lakers have ruled him out for Tuesday’s season opener against the Clippers, but have declined to speculate further on the impact of the stress reaction in his left foot that surfaced during training camp with USA Basketball in August.
“Right now, we’re just talking about ramping up his activity, and we’re not going to look past two days from now, which is Tuesday,” head coach Frank Vogel said Sunday. “We’re going to try to increase his workload and activities this week, and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Kuzma’s been participating in non-contact drills at practice and told ESPN on Sunday that he’s optimistic about returning sooner than later.
"I haven't really been doing too much, really, for the last two months, so just being able to shoot jump shots and being around the team a little bit more, it's optimistic, for sure," Kuzma said.
But stress injuries in feet tend to linger and carry risk of further damage. The Lakers are taking a cautious approach that points to a vague timeline for his return, which could arrive as soon as next week or much later.
Pacers G Victor Oladipo (quad)
Victor Oladipo’s NBA breakout hit a big bump last season when suffered a season-ending tear to his right quadriceps tendon in January. He made a significant step in his return to the court Saturday when he participated in 5-on-5 halfcourt drills with the Indiana Pacers for the first time since suffering the injury.
“It was good to see him out there,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan told reporters. “We couldn’t go up and down, but we scrimmaged the first half of practice 5-on-5. He looked good, played about 30 minutes.”
McMillian said that for now Oladipo won’t participate in drills in back-to-back days, according to the Indianapolis Star. But Oladipo plans to travel with the team during longer road trips as he continues to make small steps in his return, which is still weeks away, but does not have a specific timetable.
“I’m just taking my time, my sweet time,” Oladipo told the Star. “I’m talking as slow as possible. I’ve been out nine months, so right now you’re not going to see an ounce of frustration on my face. I’m just happy I can play again.”
Wizards G John Wall (Achilles)
John Wall will miss most, if not all, of the NBA season after having surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles tendon in February. The Washington Wizards announced in February that Wall suffered the injury when he slipped and fell in his home while recovering from a procedure to remove bone spurs in his heel.
A team doctor diagnosed the Achilles rupture during a procedure to clean up an infection from the previous heel surgery. The Wizards haven’t provided any status updates as the season approaches, but it will be a surprise if he suits up this season. The most optimistic outlook has him returning after the All-Star break.
The Wizards plan to get something from Wall as he begins the first of his four-year, $170 million max-contract extension this season. NBC Washington reports that Wall will serve as an unofficial assistant coach as he continues to rehab.
Mavericks F/C Kristaps Porzingis (ACL)
Unlike the rest of the players on this list, Kristaps Porzingis is on the other end of a significant injury. The Dallas Mavericks took a cautious approach after trading for the injured big man last season, and he’ll be ready to go for Wednesday’s season opener against the Wizards after playing in the preseason.
“I feel great physically. I feel 100 percent,” Porzingis said before training camp, via ESPN. “I feel probably better than I ever have in my life.”
Porzingis suffered a torn left ACL in February 2018 while with the New York Knicks and hasn’t played since as the Mavericks chose to let him continue to rehab after last year’s midseason trade. While a significant amount of load management could be in store for Porzingis, the Mavericks are ready to showcase him alongside reigning Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic.
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