Injuries are one of the worst parts of sports. If your starting quarterback goes out in an NFL game, your team is almost guaranteed to lose. A key member of your basketball rotation goes out and everyone's role shifts, upsetting the balance teams work so hard to achieve. In these cases, and more, my reaction is almost always a physical one. I feel it in my gut. My heart sinks. I fret over something I cannot change. But when I saw Travis Outlaw limping to the locker room, and when I heard the dreaded words, "We've got news on Travis' injury, and it's not good," I felt something between nothing and a tinge of excitement. I wanted to spend a few minutes exploring why that is.
With that in mind, I will admit that I have never been an Outlaw enthusiast. He's a guy that often stops of the flow of an offense, takes ill-advised shots (that he admittedly makes at an alarming rate), and plays with inconsistent effort and energy, especially on defense. For all the times that we've seen Travis win us a game with his clutch shooting, you'd think I'd at least feel good about what he contributes. But no matter how many times he wins us a game (opening night this season, for example), I shudder just a little every time he checks into a game.
The things he really brings to the team (3P shooting, unguardable jump shooting, clutch scoring) are tempered by the things he takes away (offensive flow, rebounding, ball security, good shot selection).
His status as Brandon Roy's BFF also plays a role in my reaction to his going down. Whether it is true or not, I often feel like Travis is still around because of his relationship to Roy. As much as I like Roy, I don't think any player should have that much influence over assembling the right team to win a championship. If the team were to trade Outlaw, my instinct is that Roy would sulk a bit. Now, with Travis injured, we all get to see what this team looks like without him ahead of his impending free agency. Should we actually play better, it will be much harder for Roy to bash the front office if they don't resign Outlaw.
Outlaw's injury also opens the door for playing time for other players, all of which I'd like to see more of. Those folks include Rudy Fernandez, Juwan Howard, and even Dante Cunningham. It may even influence Jerryd Bayless' playing time. At first glance, Outlaw is a SF/PF, but he is also a scorer off the bench. Jerryd may be asked to fill in some of those points.
Potential plays a role in my reaction as well. Travis is what he is. He is not on his way to bigger or different things. His game has not changed much in the past three seasons. I feel strongly that we are not getting the most out of Rudy Fernandez or Jerryd Bayless yet. I don't think we've seen the best they have to offer. Dante Cunningham may give us some of Outlaw's jump shooting, but from within the offense and with better defense and rebounding. Howard will be a superior rebounder and more more reliable with the ball in his hands, while also making other people on the floor better (e.g., Oden). There are 20+ minutes that will go elsewhere now.
We might not get any of those things, but that's the point. I don't know. We may find out that this team lost a key player last night, and even that would be a good thing. It may allow us to avoid a potential mistake we'd make by letting Outlaw walk in the off-season. This injury allows us to experience LAT (Life After Travis) without committing to it.
I'm looking forward to learning what this team looks like for the next 4-8 weeks.