Understandably expectations are going to be all over the map for everybody's favorite small forward. Some expect him to call it a career, bowing out gracefully under medical pressure. A few folks expect (or at least want) him to come back in his old form, providing the veteran athleticism we need at the small forward position. Naturally the truth will probably be somewhere in the middle.
I do not expect Darius to take medical retirement. As we've said before, there's abolsutely no advantage to him or his agent in doing so. Signing those forms guarantees he'll never play in the NBA again. That signature doesn't earn him one extra dime. Why in the world would he do it? If you're one of those folks who badly wants him to do it chances are you feel that way because of his attitude: lackadaisical, overeating, Cheeks-bashing, or whatever vein you prefer. So all of a sudden this guy who is supposedly a cancer is going to turn around and get introspective and altruisic? I have a hard time envisioning the Darius that people complain about saying, "This is what's best for the team. I really blew it. It's over." If you think he's capable of such thoughts you probably also think he deserves one more chance and shouldn't sign. Either way, he's not retiring.
On the other hand the idea that we're going to see anything approaching the old, athletic Darius is probably wishful thinking. His weight issues have been widely rumored and photographed. But assuming he overcomes them he still faces a comeback from one of the most brutal surgeries a basketball player can have. Nobody's good in their first year after microfracture. And it's not like Darius traded on a lot of things besides his freakish athleticism. He didn't play smart or hard or within the team framework much. He simply did things out there that nobody could cope with. That's out...at least for this year.
Despite that I think Darius will get some run this year. I expect a comeback midway through the season. It would not surprise me if it were short-lived. It wouldn't surprise me to see him drip through the second half of the season enjoying the road and playing intermittently either. I think he could get a stint in the starting lineup by virtue of our lack of experience at his position but it would shock me if that lasted. It's too bad too because the old Darius just might have been able to fit in with this new squad. At some point Nate will probably throw up his hands and say, "Let's try this." Three games later he'll probably be saying, "What was I thinking?"
And that's about the long and short of my expectations for Darius this year. He will play. It won't be much. I expect to see him blown by on defense and hobbled on offense. I don't expect to see him run the court much. Maybe he can get a couple rebounds and make some of the inevitable jumpers he'll be taking. Anything he gives us will be gravy.
Having lost his running mate in Zach I expect it will be a relatively quiet year for Darius in the locker room and in the papers as well. Hopefully he'll be a non-issue all around and we can all enjoy Roy, LMA, and Oden in peace. Rehab hard...be the nice, quiet, family-oriented Darius...don't chuck too many shots. Those are the goals for this season. I'm sure Darius and the organization would say different, but I'd be plenty happy with just that.
A bigger question, I think, is what happens to Darius next year. Prepare for speculation in the summer of 2008 that he's recovered from surgery and ready to go. That will put an interesting spin on the roster...at least until the start of the season when it becomes obvious that it's either untrue or only half true. I think it's possible to debate whether Darius ever averages more than 17 minutes a game in the NBA again and that's sure to be a hot issue heading into 2008-09.
Obviously there will be more to say on all sides. Does Darius play? Do you want him to play? Are any higher expectations at all reasonable? Chip in as you wish.