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October 31, 2007
Team Health Reports
Eastern Conference

by Will Carroll and Brad Wochomurka

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It shouldn't surprise you that these medheads love basketball. I mean, we do live in Indiana, after all. Back in 2002, Will started doing "UTK Hoops" for Fox Sports, a short-lived but interesting endeavor. Now that Basketball Prospectus gives us an outlet, it's time to start looking at hoops through the same lens that has been placed over baseball and football. Like those sports, a season or a career can be turned on its head by an injury. How good would a healthy Grant Hill have been? Could the Pacers have held things together if Jermaine O'Neal had been able stay on the floor? Will Greg Oden make it back from knee surgery? Each year, these type of questions come up and finally, we're ready to start answering them. It's time to hold teams and players accountable for health and to hopefully help you avoid and understand the second biggest factor in team success. Talent wins, but talent wearing a suit on the bench is just frustrating.

Squeaky as a new pair of Jordans, here we go:

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics: No team made more headlines with offseason moves than the Celtics did. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen join Paul Pierce in Boston, and the Celtics' success this season will hinge on the health of these three All-Stars. Allen is the biggest concern, as he's coming off of surgery to remove bone spurs in both of his ankles. While the operations may limit his quickness defensively, they have not affected his shooting touch. It appears Allen is ready for his first season in Celtic green.

Pierce had minor elbow surgery at the end of last season, but has been fine since reporting to training camp. He dealt with some foot pain towards the end of last season as well, but the bet here is that Pierce plays through a few more bumps and bruises this year now that he's been surrounded with All-Star talent.

Tony Allen is also a player to watch. After having surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee, Allen says he is getting closer to 100% while trying to regain explosiveness. In fact, Allen is so confident in his return that he's claimed the Celtics will have a "Big Four" and not just a "Big Three" this season. While that may be stretching things, Allen did average more than 18 points in the 14 games prior to his knee injury last January. He's also rumored to be close to a contract extension if he can prove he's healthy. Expect that to provide extra motivation for the fourth-year guard out of Oklahoma State.

New Jersey Nets: The Nets will start the season without backup PG Marcus Williams, who will miss six to eight weeks with a broken bone in his right foot, suffered in late September. Williams complained of a sore foot and an MRI revealed the broken bone. As insurance, the Nets have added veteran Darrell Armstrong to the roster. Despite his age, the 39-year old Armstrong was one of the few bright spots in Indiana last season.

Armstrong could play more than expected early depending on Kidd's back. The All-Star PG suffered an annular tear of a disc in his lower back midway through camp. Kidd was feeling pain as a result of fluid in the disc coming into contact with the surrounding tissue. He was given an epidural for the pain, and at this point the team does not expect him to miss the start of the season.

The Nets are being very cautious with C Nenad Krstic, who's recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee. Krstic was putting up career best numbers in almost every category when he suffered the injury just 26 games into last season. Krstic hopes to be ready by opening night, but he doesn't plan on playing major minutes right away. The team has eased him into practices and games during training camp in hopes that he'll begin to trust the surgically repaired knee. Krstic's confidence in the knee, as much as anything, will determine how quickly he returns to playing starter's minutes.

New York Knicks: The Allan Houston Project didn't last long. After just a week in camp with the Knicks, the 36-year old Houston likely made the move to retire to avoid being cut by the team. He said his knees felt good but claimed he didn't have the timing and rhythm necessary to help the Knicks.

In baseball, "torn labrum" can mean "season over." Not the case in the NBA. C Eddie Curry has returned after missing about two weeks following a labrum tear in his right shoulder. The big man claims his brace is more of a hindrance than the injury itself. He's expected to be out of the brace by the start of the regular season.

Also along the front line, the team is keeping an eye on C Jerome James, who could be in danger of missing the season with a knee injury. While the team initially said James had tendonitis, James feels his knee complications stem from ACL surgery back in 1999. If James is done for the year, it may seal his fate as Isiah Thomas' worst signing ever.

Second-year forward Renaldo Balkman has been out since late September with a stress reaction and small cartilage tear in his right ankle. He should be back on the court around opening night, but may not be ready for game action until mid-November.

Philadelphia 76ers: Philly may be the healthiest team in the division heading into the season. The biggest concern is C Samuel Dalembert, who has a stress fracture in his left foot. Given Dalembert's fragile history, the team is being cautious with their high-energy big man. He recently went back into a walking boot and his status for the beginning of the season is now in doubt. Rookie PF Jason Smith will get a bulk of the minutes in place of Dalembert as he eases back into game shape.

Toronto Raptors: One of last year's pleasant surprises, the Raptors are relatively healthy heading into the new season. PF Chris Bosh entered camp fighting plantar fascitis in his left foot, and has since fallen victim to a lingering knee injury. The foot injury shelved him for most of the preseason last year, after which he got off to a slow start. The swelling and discomfort in his left knee have kept him on the sidelines most of this October and could result in another slow start. Bosh feels his knee injury is a result of trying to compensate for the foot injury throughout last year and into the summer. This may come down to his pain tolerance more than anything for the young All-Star. The Raptors are being very careful with Bosh, but the foot and knee should be monitored closely.

A late-season appendectomy slowed Andrea Bargnani, just as last year's #1 overall pick was looking like a future star. His continued emergence could help ease the load for Bosh this season.

Central Division

Chicago Bulls: Ben Gordon, Chicago's leading scorer a year ago, has missed almost all of preseason with a sprained left ankle. Gordon is taking a cautious approach and hopes to be ready for the start of the season. Gordon, however, won't insist on playing unless he feels close to 100%. The Bulls certainly hope Gordon is ready to open the season, as the team's biggest weakness appears to be finding points outside of Gordon and Luol Deng.

Speaking of Deng, the third-year pro dealt with a minor wrist injury during the preseason. He's expected to be 100% by the start of the regular season. With so many young bodies, the Bulls don't figure to experience some of the same aches and pains that more veteran teams will throughout the season. The Bulls have depth to overcome frontcourt injuries, so keeping their two best scorers (Gordon and Deng) healthy will be key.

Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James is healthy. Next.

In all seriousness, is there really any injury, other than one to James, that would impact this team's performance? After James led a ragtag group all the way to the Finals last season, it's clear this team begins and ends with him. The Cavs did nothing in the offseason to change that formula. That means anything that sideline James for more than two or three weeks will likely be fatal to this team's chances.

Backup PG Eric Snow is the only major injury concern at this point. Snow underwent surgery at the beginning of October to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee. Best-case scenario would have him back around the first week of the season, but expect things to take a bit longer for the 34-year-old veteran.

Detroit Pistons: When you look at the Pistons streak of five straight Eastern Conference finals appearances, what really stands out is that the team has not had any major injuries during that run. There's a reason it feels like Detroit's core is getting stale: it's always on the court.

PF Rasheed Wallace has dealt with foot and ankle injuries in the past, and he was rendered largely ineffective during the Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland due to a badly sprained ankle. Wallace came into camp 25 pounds lighter with the ankle fully healed. The hope is that the weight loss will take some of the burden of his balky ankles and feet. The body part Detroit will watch the closest, though, is his mouth. As it goes, so do the Pistons, more often than not.

SG Richard Hamilton rolled an ankle midway through camp and basically shut things down for the rest of the month. He's expected to be ready for the start of the season.

One other concern for Detroit is 20-year-old F Amir Johnson. The Pistons thought so much of his potential, they gave the third-year pro, who's played in just 11 career games, a three-year, $11 million deal in the offseason. Johnson sprained his left ankle very early in camp and missed nearly the entire month. It's the first significant ankle sprain of his career--hence the long recovery time--and it may have cost him a rotation spot to begin the season. The Pistons sorely need the infusion of energy and athleticism Johnson can provide, so expect Joe Dumars to push Flip Saunders into getting Johnson minutes as soon as possible, even if it means some growing pains along the way.

Indiana Pacers: The good news is that no Pacer has been arrested since the start of training camp. (Shawne Williams just missed the cut as he was arrested for illegally operating a vehicle the week before camp. He's been suspended for the first three games of the regular season). The bad news is that the Pacers are again suffering from nagging injuries.

We'll start with Jermaine O'Neal, the cover boy for nagging injuries. O'Neal underwent offseason surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. Not surprisingly, his rehab took longer than expected and he missed several practices and a few preseason games due to soreness in the knee. O'Neal then hyperextended the knee midway through October and missed even more time. O'Neal has battled through multiple ailments at once several times in recent seasons. Don't expect the knee to be his only concern during the season.

C Troy Murphy strained his left Achilles tendon midway through camp and was shut down with hopes he can be ready for the start of the season. Murphy added several pounds of muscle during the offseason, which could be one of the reasons for the soreness. This is another injury that could linger and force Murphy to be a game-time decision throughout the early part of the season.

Newcomer Kareem Rush was on and off the court all throughout camp with a sore right Achilles tendon. He's expected to be a primary scoring option off the bench this season. C David Harrison has missed significant time with a right ankle sprain. A long injury history has likely forced Harrison out of the rotation and possibly even off the team.

Those nagging injuries that keep guys out for three- or four-game stretches and last a few months have plagued this team for years. Several of these already, plus an offseason list of additions that includes Rush, Travis Diener, Andre Owens and Stephen Graham, and you can see why fans in Indy don't have high expectations for this group.

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks lost a combined 154 games last season from Michael Redd, Charlie Villanueva and Bobby Simmons. Simmons missed the entire year after having multiple surgeries on his right foot to clear away bone spurs, remove a cyst and alleviate plantar fascitis. Although Simmons has been brought along slowly in camp, he has not shown any ill effects from the surgeries as he works his way back towards heavy minutes.

Redd missed 29 games last year with a knee injury. However, after being shut down late in the season and getting rest through the early parts of the summer, Redd was able to help Team USA win the FIBA Americas Championship. He has not shown any lingering issues with the knee during training camp.

Villanueva was plagued by a shoulder injury all season and ultimately missed 43 games due to a variety of injuries. In the offseason, he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and declared himself 100% by the start of camp. Villanueva has shown his trademark inconsistency during camp but figures to get the bulk of the power forward minutes early as rookie Yi Jianlian gets his feet wet in the NBA.

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks: What the Hawks have are some of the nicer looking new uniforms in the NBA. What they don't have is any major injuries to start the season. Speedy Claxton is the biggest concern as he continues to deal with knee issues. In June, he had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee. Now soreness in his right knee has forced him of the court and into several doctor's offices during training camp.

While Claxton tries to get his knee issues sorted out, the Hawks will try to sort out their point guard position without him. Rookie Acie Law IV figures to get more minutes, but he has been slowed of late by a sprained right wrist. Tyronn Lue also has been banged up as he deals with a sore right knee. That leaves veteran Anthony Johnson, who's shown he's more than capable of filling in as a starter for long stretches of time. Once the Hawks get healthy at the point, expect them to be players in the trade market as they try to move veterans and clear the way for Law.

Another rookie who could see more playing time early is big man Al Horford. C ZaZa Pachulia sprained his left knee late in preseason which means Horford could get more minutes early on. Joe Johnson shouldn't be a concern. He missed the final 21 games of last season with a right calf injury, but the team held him out towards then end of another lost season to avoid further injury and allow younger players to get time. Johnson hadn't missed a game in the four seasons prior to last year.

Charlotte Bobcats: Outside of Portland losing Greg Oden, no other team has been hit as hard as the Bobcats by injuries before the start of the season. The Bobcats have lost forwards Sean May and Adam Morrison for the season due to major knee injuries. Like Oden, May underwent microfracture surgery and will being a lengthy rehab process on his right knee that could last into next season. Morrison was injured late in the preseason and an MRI revealed torn ligaments in his left knee.

The Bobcats trade for Jason Richardson and re-signing of Gerald Wallace show they're serious about competing this year, which makes the May and Morrison injuries that much more disappointing. Look for fantasy darling Walter Herrmann to get most of Morrison's minutes. PF Othella Harrington is dealing with a knee injury of his own which could mean Wallace plays some power forward early in the season.

Miami Heat: How worried are the Miami Heat about Dwayne Wade? Answer: Ricky Davis. Yea, the Heat appears that desperate for scoring help as they monitor the health of their franchise player. Wade underwent offseason surgery on both his left shoulder and left knee. He severely dislocated the shoulder last season and was dealing with patellar tendonitis in the knee. It was thought Wade would return sometime in mid-November and Pat Riley recently denied reports that said Wade could be out until January. However, Wade's recent assessment that he may not return until early December, coupled with the team's trade for Davis, may suggest a more exaggerated timetable.

This much we know about Shaquille O'Neal: He'll likely battle various ailments most of the season. What we don't know is how he'll play through various bumps and bruises. O'Neal has already dealt with knee tendonitis and a quad contusion in training camp. That means it will likely take him more time to get into shape once the season begins. Miami desperately needs Shaq to stay healthy and perform at a high level until Wade returns. Once that happens, Shaq can probably dial things down a bit to save some wear and tear on a body that's played in just 99 regular-season games the last two seasons.

Orlando Magic : C Tony Battie has been lost for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. The injury may force Dwight Howard to bang away at center a bit more, but Adonal Foyle will get the majority of Battie's minutes.

Trevor Ariza has long been an intriguing player who many around the league feel could put up solid numbers if given more minutes. That may not happen right away this season. Ariza went into camp as the leading candidate to start at shooting guard, but left foot tendonitis caused him to miss most of the preseason. Ariza has returned to practice, but this situation is worth monitoring as Ariza said he felt a "pop" in his foot during the team's trip to China. The injury could be worse than the team is letting on.

Prized free-agent acquisition Rashard Lewis missed two weeks with a right ankle sprain. Although any Orlando fan may gasp at the sight of another big-money free agent getting hurt (Grant Hill), Lewis should be fine, albeit a bit sore, once the regular season starts.

Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee at the end of last season. The second-team All-NBA selection took it easy throughout camp and even had some fluid drained from the knee towards the end of the month. He's practicing and playing at full speed, so don't expect the injury to slow him down at the start of the season. Arenas plans to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, so "Agent 0" will likely push through any discomfort to stay on the court.

C Etan Thomas is likely done for the season after undergoing heart surgery to repair a leak in his aortic valve. Thomas should be able to play again at some point, much like the Lakers' Ronny Turiaf, who underwent surgery to repair an enlarged aortic root in July 2005. However, it's unlikely it will be this year as Thomas will require several months of rehab before beginning basketball activities, let alone getting in shape to play in an NBA game. Andray Blatche and Oleksiy Pecherov stand to see more minutes with Thomas out.

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Brad Wochomurka is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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Eastern Conference Pre... (10/30)
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Big 12 Preview (11/01)

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