Charlotte Hornets: Not The Only Team


Charlotte Hornets Only One Face Of The Injury Problem

Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee. He had surgery on January 28th. The injury was a severe blow to a Hornets team that had been dealing with players in and out of the lineup the entire season.

Now, however, their best player and star point guard would be out a minimum of six weeks. Charlotte fans groaned. Players cursed the seeming bad luck of their team.

Nevertheless, the team went out and continued fighting to get back into the playoff race. Eventually they would claw their way all the way to the number seven seed in the Eastern Conference before a brutal schedule and another injury to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led to the current losing streak.

While fans might feel like this is a cursed season, and players are disheartened by the derailing of a once promising year, a look around the Nation Basketball Association reveals that this is an all too common problem.

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Derrick Rose

After coming back from two different knee surgeries the last two years, surgeries that limited him to just ten games in that time, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls was finally healthy this season. He was in and out of the lineup early, dealing with the rust and soreness that comes with a long layoff.

Still, Chicagoans and NBA fans everywhere were hopeful that this was finally a return to form. After all, Rose is a player that won the Most-Valuable-Player award in 2011.

The city of Chicago and the entire association was dealt a blow, a real punch to the gut, when the Bulls announced that Rose had re-injured his knee again, and would need another surgery.

"The team announced Tuesday night that Rose was feeling pain in his knee, and an exam and MRI confirmed a medial meniscus tear."

Rose’s once promising career is now in question, with people everywhere questioning if he will ever be able to play a full season again. Chicago, meanwhile, has gone from dark horse title contender to also-ran East pretender.

Brandon Jennings

The Detroit Pistons, a team in direct competition with the Hornets for that eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, had gotten off to a terrible start this season.

After they reshuffled their roster and their starting lineup, Detroit was starting to roll. They had won 12 of their last 16 games when their starting point guard, Brandon Jennings, planted his foot and immediately collapsed, writhing in pain.

It would later be revealed that he had ruptured his Achilles tendon, and would need surgery. He will be out for the entire season, and it is unknown if he will be ready for training camp in October.

While the Pistons are still in the playoff hunt, since the Jennings injury, they have gone only 6-8 and currently sit in 10th place. The injury not only rocked the Pistons playoff hopes, but it forced them to make an in-season trade, acquiring disgruntled former Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson, sending out quality role players D.J. Augustin and Kyle Singler, along with a couple of second round draft picks.

If Jennings does not injure himself, then the trade probably never happens. The Pistons keep their draft picks and their players. Perhaps they still falter over the course of a long season, but there is no question the injury changed the organization’s plan.

Paul George

Let us not forget another contender for the final playoff spot, the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have been to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals, giving eventual East champion Miami all they could handle.

Indiana rolled into this season expecting a small dip, due to the loss of Lance Stephenson(I see you rolling your eyes, Hornets’ fans, but its true), however they were still a legitimate playoff team.

Then came the devastating news that their star, Paul George, had injured himself while practicing with the United States national team, in preparation for international competition.

George would now miss all or most of the year. The Indiana Pacers hopes for another long playoff run were crushed. They now cling precariously on the edge of contending for eighth seed, hoping that George can come back and help lead their team into the post-season.

Whether they can make it or not, this is definitely not how Pacers’ fans envisioned the season unfolding.

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What Can Be Done?

This is a tough question, as the life of a professional athlete is tough during the season. In the NBA, from roughly early October through at least mid-April, longer if you make it into the NBA Finals, players are subjected to daily practices, erratic sleep schedules, 82 regular season games, a handful of pre-season games(around seven for most teams), and then however many playoff games.

The players are compensated very well for this long grind, and even staying in the NBA for just a few years will often set up a player to live in luxury the rest of his days. So no one is feeling sorry for these guys, even when they do suffer terrible injuries and are forced to play through pain.

After all, they can walk away whenever they want, with a thousand other guys ready to take their place.

In reality, it is the fans who suffer the most when injuries ravage through the league, as they have this year. Paul George, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Kemba Walker, Ricky Rubio, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kawhi Leonard, and Blake Griffin. All of them all-star caliber players who have missed a significant portion of the NBA season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, an NBA Title contender and arguably the favorite to win the Western Conference, watched its season go up in smoke as their two best players sat in street clothes for the first month.

Even now, Durant is still out with another foot issue, and its questionable if he will be ready to play by April. LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers suffered a thumb injury that was supposed to keep him out for a month. However, Aldridge saw this year as his chance to finally go deep into the playoffs, and so he chose to endure the pain and keep playing.

While he initially saw success in doing so, he then injured his other thumb and was forced to miss  some time after all.

Sometimes, it is just random bad luck, but can the NBA offer any solutions?

Is It The Hardwood Court?

Chris Sheridan, of, wrote an interesting article on synthetic surface courts, and how they might help prevent leg injuries.

"Obviously, everyone is wedded to hardwoods such as maple, and there have been advances in hardwood court technology over recent years. However, outside the NBA, high-performance synthetic surfaces are becoming more popular, in part because of ease of installation and maintenance.Critically, however, these types of basketball courts can offer better grip than hardwood courts, and also provide extra cushioning – which reduces repetitive strain injury. No one is suggesting that the NBA should throw out hardwood courts, but surely it is worth while taking a look at synthetic court technology to see what can be learned from it."

There is a link in the article Mr. Sheridan wrote for Versacourt. Reading through their site, it sounds like an idea worth investigating, but truthfully, I do not know enough to verify the claims made.

"Our shock absorbing plastic tiles feature expansion joints and a spring tabbing mechanism that allows slight side-to-side movement and forgiveness on joints and lower back."

In fact, running through some different sites, they all claim their products are safer and cause less injuries than traditional hardwood courts, but I have yet to see any hard data. I did, however, find an interesting article coming out of Seattle.

The Seattle Times reported on Juanita High School basketball players, who play on a synthetic surface, and how hard the surface has been on the legs and backs of the players.

"“Running down the court, it just wears and tears at you until you start aching,” says Justin Browning, a 6-foot-4 junior who plays on Juanita’s junior varsity team.Says Wildenborg, a senior: “I’ve been having back problems ever since I started playing here. There’s not as much give on that floor. You can feel it.”McDonald says he sees it in the number of injuries. Already this season, McDonald estimates nine players have suffered minor floor-related injuries. He shortens practices and has all but cut wind sprints from the practice routine because of it, he says."

That certainly does not sound very promising, although the court in question in the article is an older court, installed in 1985. Still, the players clearly hate the surface, and blame it for an increase in injuries.

What About The Minutes?

This one seems more promising, as it is not exactly a leap in logic to think that playing more minutes will lead to more injuries. Look at the aforementioned Chicago Bulls, for example.

I found this post on the NBA Hangtime blog from last year, as it talked about the Bulls and how head coach Thom Thibodeau wore down the players via too many minutes.

It is a fantastic article that shows how the Bulls suffer more injuries due to the demands of their players put forth by the coach and organization. Look at an excerpt about Luol Deng, for example.

"Deng, after averaging 39 minutes through 211 games in Thibodeau’s first three Chicago seasons, got so worn down that he became sick, leading to the spinal-tap exam and complications that put him in the hospital in what some termed a life-threatening crisis?"

On the other hand, BasketballProspectus talked to Dr David Altchek about the correlation of wear and tear, and a significant type of knee injury, the torn ACL.

"From an intuitive standpoint, the connection between tired athletes and injuries appears obvious, which made it surprising when Dr. David Altchek from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York–who serves as the Mets’ medical doctor and has served as a consultant to the NBA–told the Associated Press he saw no relationship between the two.“There is no evidence that wear and tear, or that kind of issue, playing too much, really has any correlation with ACL injuries in any sport that we’ve ever studied,” Altchek said. “In fact, I think if you’re tired, you’re a lot less likely to tear your ACL because you’re not going to be as explosive.”"

Now, that is only one specific injury, and one opinion from one doctor. The anecdotal evidence is massive for too many minutes leading to too many injuries.

Even the NBA commissioner recognizes this fact, as before the All-Star Game, he held a press conference and brought up the issue of the NBA schedule.

"Let me begin with scheduling. It’s been a discussion long before I was involved in the League office, and that is the wear and tear on the players of a long season: The issue of back‑to‑back games, the issue of four games out of five nights. One of the things we’re hoping to address, even for next season, is to come close as we can to eliminating the four games out of five nights. It’s a math formula at the end of the day in terms of the number of days in the season and the number of games we play, but we think we can make a dramatic reduction there. And while I don’t think we can completely eliminate four out of five nights. We hope to make tremendous progress."

That is good news for fans, as it would eliminate what Steve Nash once famously coined “schedule losses”, where a tired team walks into a buzz saw with virtually no chance at a victory.

Eliminating the four games in five nights might be better from a competitive standpoint, but until NBA coaches lessen the minutes demands on the league’s best players, it will not solve the injury plague.

The only real solution might be a San Antonio Spurs like approach to minutes, resting players on back to backs and overall reducing the minutes load by balancing out the player rotations.

That style of coaching has worked for the Spurs, as they are the current NBA champions despite having one of the oldest rosters in the league.

The NBA and the league office, under David Stern, rejected that approach, fining the Spurs organization a ridiculous $250,000 for resting players for a national TV game.

However, Silver seems less inclined to go to such extremes, and is more open to fixing the real underlying issues. So there is hope on the horizon, but until a better schedule exists, coaches will still need to be cautious.

Overall, the Charlotte Hornets may have felt snake-bitten this season, but injuries are just a reality of the NBA season, and every team, or at least most of them, have been forced to deal with this problem.

Deep rosters and better minutes management certainly help to minimize the damage, and new court design may help reduce injuries. However, no matter what happens, there will always be season derailing situations.

Charlotte has done well in fighting through their own problems, and hopefully what happened to Derrick Rose will not happen to their own star, Kemba Walker.

Next: Charlotte Hornets: Time To Step Up