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It's Not the End of the World

By now you have all heard about Brandon Roy’s surgery scheduled for Thursday.  The Blazers’ press release says an MRI identified a torn meniscus.  If you have read the thread below this one, covering the first few hours after the news was released, you’ll notice a tendency to take this news in the worst way possible.  That’s perfectly natural given what we all went through last year with Greg Oden.  But this is not the same as the Oden situation.  Let’s talk about what it is and what it isn’t.

Tearing the meniscus is a somewhat common basketball injury.  This type of surgery has happened to at least ten NBA players in the last few years.  A helpful source has updated our information on the matter, letting us know the frequency of the occurrence and also the types of procedures which are common.  Apparently they either fix or remove the affected area.  The removal is a quicker recovery, six to eight weeks being usual.  The fix takes longer to heal, somewhere in the area of three months.  Nine out of the ten players researched by our source had the quicker removal instead of the fix.

In our source’s own words, repeated from the previous post: 

There are two types of surgery like this.  There’s a minor, and a more serious repair.  Gilbert Arenas had a pretty significant tear, and was out three months.  But, there are cases where it’s much more minor.  Minnesota’s Craig Smith just had this same procedure on August 2nd, and they put his timetable at 6 weeks... The team should release a timeline after the surgery in the morning.  They probably just need to get in there and see how bad it is.  Out of habit, we’re all thinking the worst.  But, hopefully it won’t be that bad.

We’ve also been updated that the Arenas surgery involved extra elements which lengthened the recovery time.  In all likelihood this is more serious than what will happen with Brandon.

If you have not read it yet, Jason Quick has more information in this vein, including some specifics on Roy’s history.  (Read it here.) He had the same thing done on the other knee in college and was back playing in three weeks.

Having read all of that, let’s put this into perspective:

Brandon Roy is having surgery.  It’s not an uncommon procedure.  He’s going to take a while to recover, probably between six weeks and three months.  There is no reason to assume at this point that it will be any more serious than that.  We will know more as soon as the surgery has been completed, which should be today.

That’s it.  No more, no less.

Now let’s talk about the ramifications a little.

As our source reminded us, we are still 80-some days away from the start of the season.  At the short end of the recovery time Roy would be back well before the season started.  He’d probably be back before training camp even.  At the long end of the recovery scale Roy would miss the first couple weeks of the season.  Stretching it out to avoid making him take a long road trip first thing, he’d probably miss 11 games out of 82.  The latter would be disappointing, but hardly a fatal blow to our season.

Even if you go ahead and assume the worst, that Roy will miss those first couple weeks, there are still mitigating factors.

First and foremost, those first 2-3 weeks are brutal to the extreme.  Even with a healthy Roy in the lineup we probably wouldn’t expect to win more than 5 of those 11 tops.  That’s assuming wins against Minnesota twice, Miami, and maybe Golden State plus one other great team.  At least three of those games are still winnable even without Roy.  Simply put, there just aren’t that many games in question during that stretch.  If we’re going to amaze and beat an elite team on the road it’s not that much more of a stretch to think we could do that without Brandon.  You wouldn’t want to think that way for the whole season, but anything can happen in a two-week stretch.  On the other hand if we’re going to be logical about it we’d have to say our chances aren’t great of beating those elite teams with Roy healthy anyway.  In any case the net loss would probably be around 1-2 games…no fun, but not a deal-breaker.  If Brandon is going to be out, the first month of the season is absolutely the best time for that to happen.

Second, though you wouldn’t want to replace Brandon for an entire season, we do have a lineup that can compensate in the short term.  Brandon’s main gifts are leadership, poise, scoring, clutch play, penetration, and passing.

Leadership:  We will never replace Brandon’s locker-room presence but for the short term on the court Steve Blake knows enough about running this team to manage it.  He’s not anywhere near the same offensive threat, of course, but he knows how to get the ball up, how to get us in our sets, how to feed Oden and Aldridge, and where to direct the young guys.  The team will not be directionless with him at the helm.

Poise:  This will be the area hardest to replace.  Even on a team of youngsters Brandon stays calm and focused no matter the situation.  He seems to know when to let the game loose and when to take it over.  Frankly without him on the floor I’d expect the team to have a harder time dealing with pressure situations.

Scoring:  This looks like the key aspect to Brandon’s game but it will also probably be the easiest to replace.  Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, and Martell Webster can all put the ball in the hole.  Every one of them would love to take Brandon’s shots and wound be comfortable being called upon as a primary scorer.  None of them individually would match Brandon’s output but between them you’d get close.  Don’t forget you can get more shots for Travis Outlaw  and Lamarcus Aldridge too.  If you look at the Blazers’ shot chart nobody is being overburdened with attempts as it is.  Everybody has more shots in them.

Clutch Play:  In his rookie year Brandon became our fourth-quarter go-to guy.  He still filled that role last season but he shared it with Travis Outlaw.  The way things look like now both Bayless and Fernandez could also shoulder some of that burden.  Granted they’re both rookies but neither one of them seems that intimidated by the spotlight.  If I needed one shot to win the game either one could be legitimate options.

Penetration:  Here again our rookies may come into play, particularly Bayless.  He’s a slicer and dicer and can put the ball on the floor like Brandon does.  He doesn’t have quite the direction-changing ability that makes Roy great but he does have the ability to absorb contact and still create.

Passing:  Rudy Fernandez could provide a temporary stopgap here as well.  He’s every bit as willing to pass as Brandon is, though we might have to put up with some turnovers.

Now let me be clear:  I am NOT saying everything will be fine with this assortment of people stepping in.  I am NOT suggesting that two rookies, two young and developing small forwards, and Steve Blake make a seamless substitute for Brandon Roy.  I am saying this team will probably not fall apart completely, nor be left with an irreparably gaping hole, should Brandon miss a few games.  The whole league will be adjusting in November.  We’ll just be adjusting more than most.  But our young guys will get some burn and a chance to show their stuff in an environment where nobody’s prepared for them.  This is not ideal, but again the timing is as good as it could be if we have to go through this.  Far better at the beginning of the year than in a playoff drive when the opponents are all focused and all of our young guys are well-scouted.

If you put all of that together you see that even though this is a bummer it’s not the demise of all the team’s hopes and dreams even for this season, let alone for seasons to come.  The effects will show, but they’ll show less prominently than they otherwise could have.  You can’t stop these things from happening.  Despite the Blazers seeming specially cursed the truth is injuries happen to every team…yes, to stars too.  But you can hope for the injuries to have as little effect as possible.  Unless something goes really haywire it appears that this, even at its worst, will be at the lower end of the potential effect scale.

--Dave (