Return of the walking wounded (cont.)
Al Jefferson, Timberwolves, right knee surgery ('08-09 stats: 23.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 50 games)
Good thing for the Timberwolves that they're still based in the Twin Cities, where the operative precipitation is snow. One rainy morning in June, three months after his surgery, Jefferson woke up to a throbbing that concerned him. He phoned teammate Corey Brewer, who had the same surgery after tearing his ACL in November. Brewer assured him that, yes, his surgically repaired knee also acts like a TV weatherman's Doppler radar when temperatures dip and the rain comes. "It made me feel better because I thought I was having a relapse,'' Jefferson said.
Wolves fans wouldn't be thrilled about having Granny Clampett in the frontcourt, though, so it will be on Jefferson between now and the start of the season to be ready rain or shine. At coach Kurt Rambis' introductory news conference earlier this month, Jefferson proclaimed himself 90 percent ready to go and said he was cutting his playing weight from 288 to 265 to keep up with Minnesota's intended faster pace.
"We've got a great young big man [himself] on the block, and we have to take advantage of that,'' Jefferson told me. "But I'm working on getting in shape so I'll be able to run with them.''
Despite the arrival of raw Ryan Hollins from Dallas, Jefferson still figures to log most of his minutes out of position at center. New team president David Kahn has talked openly, too, that if the Wolves are going to become serious contenders in the next few years, Jefferson needs to be their second-best player, not their cornerstone.
Mike Dunleavy, Pacers, right knee surgery ('08-09 stats: 15.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 18 games)
Reports of Mark Twain's demise were exaggerated; reports of Dunleavy's resilience were underestimated. After a breakthrough '07-08 (19.1 ppg), Dunleavy played just 18 games before having surgery to remove a bone spur and repair a tendon in his knee, with a projected return target of January 2010. Last week, though, coach Jim O'Brien acknowledged that he could be back in time for the regular-season opener Oct. 28 at Atlanta.
"I've changed my viewpoint from a pessimistic one from a standpoint of him being ready in the middle of the season to one that I'm hoping he'll be ready to go for game one,'' O'Brien told the Indianapolis Star.
A month ago, Dunleavy said the most difficult part of his rehab was reining himself in vs. doing too much. Lately, he has been dunking. "I want to do more than they are allowing me to do,'' he told the Star. "I understand the process, though. I have to be patient.'' Just less patient, maybe, than a lot of folks thought.
Michael Redd, Bucks, left knee surgery ('08-09 stats: 21.2 ppg, 2.7 apg, 33 games)
Andrew Bogut, Bucks, stress fracture, spine (11.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 36 games)
No one is rushing anything in Milwaukee these days, where sharpshooter Redd still hasn't been on a basketball court eight months after his season-ending injury in January and center Bogut hopes, but doesn't know, that he can be ready for the start of the season.
"I think it's on pace,'' Bogut told reporters at the news conference for summer acquisition Carlos Delfino. "If I can be ready to go then, the goal will be achieved. But obviously it'll be re-evaluated all throughout September.''
Bogut missed the Bucks' final 31 games last season and felt stir-crazy at times heeding his doctors' orders to rest. Recently he has done some shooting, while consulting with a back specialist in Vancouver.
Redd, who shredded his knee when he landed on Milwaukee guard Luke Ridnour's foot in a late-January game, has kept his spirits strong while being stuck in that back room of all rehab players, doing the grind work without any fun payoff.
"I'm doing a lot of scar-tissue work, machine work and cardio,'' he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It's getting the scar tissue to heal. I'm making progress. The whole process is good because it's a chance to build your body up again.''
Amar'e Stoudemire, Suns, detached right retina ('08-09 stats: 21.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 53 games)
The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/James Worthy look might be back in vogue if Stoudemire is able to master the goggles he intends to wear this season, a precaution based on the eye injury he suffered against the Clippers in February. The Phoenix forward had gone to the goggles after enduring a partially torn iris in the preseason but discarded them after seven games.
It's a pivotal year, obviously, for both the Suns as they retool and for Stoudemire as he heads toward a possible change of scenery (he holds the option on his $17.7 million contract for 2010-11).
"If [this is my last year with Phoenix], I'm going out with a bang, baby,'' Stoudemire told students at a local grade school this week. He said he wasn't satisfied with his "legacy'' to this point. "So now, I'm back with a vengeance.''
The power forward also had a build-up of fluid removed from his eye this summer, so he won't start contact work -- or generate any serious contract extension talk -- until sometime in the next several weeks.
Luol Deng, Bulls, right tibia fracture ('08-09 stats: 14.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 49 games)
There had been talk that, if Chicago's playoff run lasted long enough, Deng might have been able to return in time to help. Which explains all those overtimes in the first round against Boston. The bad news is, Deng never played again after Feb. 28. The good news is, Deng opted not to play for Great Britain's national team this summer, focusing his rehab on the start of Bulls preseason games. Makes sense, since international summer workloads can cause breakdowns even in otherwise healthy players.
If there is anything positive about breaking your foot in your team's first preseason game, it lets you get a head start on the healing process. Or, in Webster's case, the first of two healing processes. He thought he was on his way back when, exactly two months after breaking his fifth metatarsal, he came back for five minutes in a game at Toronto -- and broke it again.
The timetable for his return kept getting pushed back until he and the Blazers ran out of season. But they'll be glad to have him back this fall; Webster brings an energy and reliable three-point range to a team that, while improved and developing, still figures to have a need for his bundle of skills. That's why, while he's a role player rather than a star, he's on this list too.
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