It honestly seems like yesterday that I was yelping on a couch and e-mailing friends one-sentence messages like, “ARE YOU WATCHING THIS?????” as an allegedly washed-up Brandon Roy carried the Blazers to a memorable Game 4 playoff win over Dallas in April of 2011. Roy played only two more games after that, shooting a pedestrian 6-of-13 combined in two Portland losses. He retired before the 2011-12 season due to chronic problems in both knees, and the Blazers used the one-time-only amnesty provision to remove Roy’s hefty long-term salary from their cap and luxury tax numbers.
Since Roy announced plans to retire, rival teams did not place a bid on him during the amnesty waiver process. As a result, Roy is now a true blue free agent, and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reports the Mavericks, Bulls, Timberwolves and Pacers (helmed in part by Kevin Pritchard, the former Blazer GM who drafted Roy) are all interested in signing the former All-Star shooting guard as he attempts a comeback. Perhaps just as important, via Wojnarowski:
Roy’s recovery from chronic knee problems has been recently spurred by undergoing the platelet rich plasma therapy procedure that Lakers star Kobe Bryant popularized with NBA players, sources said. The blood spinning procedure gave profound relief to the knees of Bryant, Tracy McGrady and baseball star Alex Rodriguez.
Bryant actually underwent a slight variation of platelet rich plasma therapy, or PRP, that the U.S. government has not yet approved for use here. Bryant famously went to a German doctor (Peter Wehling) for that treatment and cited it as one key reason for his bouncy play in the 2011-12 season. Gary Vitti, the Lakers’ longtime trainer, described the process in detail in this must-read interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com.
It’s important to note two things here:
• It’s unclear exactly which procedure Roy has undergone. Traditional PRP is a bit different from Bryant’s procedure — click on that link from Trudell or the specifics — and the differences matter.
• It’s very, very unclear whether PRP or any variant of it could have much impact on Roy, who is missing the entire meniscus cartilage in both his knees. As I’ve written before, the meniscus is a band of cartilage that provides cushioning between the knee joint and the bones that make up the leg. It allows for a certain degree of comfort and flexibility, and when players suffer meniscus tears on either side of the knee, surgeons in most cases work to repair those tears or at least limit the amount of the meniscus they remove in any operation. Without that cartilage, players experience bone-on-bone rubbing, which, in turn, leads to decreases in mobility and flexibility, pain, arthritis and general deterioration.
As Vitti notes in his interview (and other doctors have told me), PRP and the version of it Bryant underwent are designed to create a therapeutic effect in injured areas, in part by decreasing inflammation. Vitti himself admits it’s unclear what the process might do for people missing a lot of cartilage in describing how he learned about it:
Dr. Wehling happened to be visiting Los Angeles from Dusseldorf. So I called (team physical therapist Dr.) Judy (Seto) in, and we met with Dr. Wehling. He was visiting a doctor here that was in the FDA study, since the treatment isn’t approved yet in the U.S., and I decided to send one of our older players to see him. This individual had a lot of cartilage damage in his knee, and he thought it helped him a little bit, even though his knees were probably so far gone that there wasn’t much that could be done. It still seemed like it helped him enough that if you went into it with a better joint, you might get a better result.
The therapy or any of its variations would obviously could not rebuild cartilage or repair damage to cartilage that doesn’t exist anymore in Roy’s knees. It might reduce pain levels here and there, but several sports medicine experts told SI.com they were skeptical it could help Roy. “I see no value in it all for him or cases like his,” said Donald Rose, an orthopedic surgeon and professor at NYU who has treated athletes of all kinds, including NBA players.
A few notes on the teams chasing Roy, per Wojnarowski’s reporting:
• Indiana Pacers
The Pacers make a bit of sense, given the cap flexibility they have and the not-too-urgent need for someone to fill Leandro Barbosa’s role as wing scorer to provide some depth off the bench. Barbosa, a free agent, goosed Indiana’s offense but predictably struggled to defend rugged scorers; Frank Vogel had difficulty finding extended stretches for Barbosa against Miami in the playoffs. That wasn’t a crisis on a team already featuring Danny Granger and Paul George on the wing, and with George Hill capable of swinging there, but given the general unreliability of the scoring each of those players provides (especially George), it didn’t help.
Roy was still an All-Star-level player in 2009-10, but in the following season (his last), his game declined in all the ways we’d expect from a player struggling with injuries and an accelerated aging curve — significant drops in assists, shooting percentage and free throw attempts. Even so, Roy was nearly a league-average player statistically, and he clearly had big games in him now and then, provided the Blazers managed his minutes carefully.
He could be a decent low-risk signing for a Pacers team set to have about $10 million in cap space even figuring in holds for free agents Roy Hibbert and George Hill. Re-signing those two first will take Indiana closer to the cap, but they would still be able to make Roy a competitive offer.
• Chicago Bulls
Roy would represent yet another hope that a limited and/or aging player might emerge as the reliable all-around shooting guard the Bulls could place next to Derrick Rose. Kyle Korver brings shooting but no defense. Ronnie Brewer brings the opposite combination, with a dash of off-ball cutting. Richard Hamilton surged for portions of Chicago’s first-round playoff loss to the Sixers, but he couldn’t stay healthy and is only getting older. Keith Bogans is long gone.
You look at those names, think of Roy torching Dallas off the dribble and think: Why not?
One possible reason is obviously the luxury tax. The Bulls have about $65 million committed to nine players next season (eight current players, plus their first-rounder), and that doesn’t include Omer Asik’s coming extension or the full amounts due to Korver, C.J. Watson and Brewer should Chicago decide to guarantee their contracts in full. Doing that alone shoots Chicago about $5 million over the tax line, with Asik’s deal still to come. They’d need Roy to come on the veteran’s minimum in order to minimize the tax hit.
• Dallas Mavericks
Dallas has giant holes in the backcourt with Delonte West, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry all set to enter free agency, but their first priority appears to be getting far enough under the cap to make a realistic run at Deron Williams. Doing that will require renouncing their rights to all three of those aforementioned guards, using the amnesty provision on Brendan Haywood, buying out Lamar Odom for the cool price of $2.4 million (or, better yet, dealing Odom to a team that will do so) and finding another way to clear $1.5 million or so in order to make Williams a true max offer. The math is very, very tight for Dallas, even assuming all of the above, plus a move to buy Vince Carter out for $2 million instead of keeping him for his full $3 million salary.
Going this route would leave the Mavs with either the veteran’s minimum or the so-called “room” exception, worth $2.5 million, for teams that go under the cap and then spend up to it. At that price, Roy might be worth a look, and the Mavs’ training staff is one of the best and most plugged-in among the league’s 30 teams. They will do their diligence.
• Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves cap picture is very muddled for now, but they’ll be over the cap until/unless they renounce their rights to restricted free agents Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph — a decision that would make sign-and-trade deals involving those players (especially Beasley) trickier. What isn’t muddled: Minnesota’s need for production on the wing from any player who is not a converted point guard pressed into duty as a shooting guard (Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea). The wing rotation of Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington and others might have been the worst in the league, forcing Beasley, Anthony Tolliver and even Derrick Williams to moon-light at small forward now and then. (Given Minnesota’s move this morning to acquire Chase Budinger from Houston for the No. 18 pick, it’s unclear how badly they would need Roy at this point, though Roy obviously brings off-the-dribble skills Budinger does not.) Literally almost anything is an upgrade, and Roy often swung to the three spot in smaller Portland lineups during his prime, meaning he can bring some versatility in that regard to a roster that requires it.
He’s worth a look, provided he comes cheap on a short-term deal that does not impact cap flexibility that really kicks in next summer.