The old adage "injuries are a part of the game" certainly held true during the 2011-2012 NBA season. The condensed schedule—a result of the lockout—caused players to return to the league in less-than-peak condition and slog through a grueling season of basketball.
Last year more than prior seasons, the NBA had to watch many of its elite, transcendent talents spend time in street clothes on the end of the bench. Players ranging from the chronically hurt to young stars who had barely missed games in their careers all suffered troubling injuries throughout the past six months of basketball.
Who gets hurt versus who stays healthy has always been a major part of professional basketball. Countless games, playoff series and even championships have been swung by one guy being unable to suit up when his team needed him.
Heading into the 2012-2013 season, here are a dozen players whose health is a major question mark.
Stoudemire proved during his stellar 2010-2011 campaign that when he is fully healthy he is one of the league's top three power forwards and an electrifying offensive player. However, he simply was not that same player when he returned for this past season.
Stoudemire averaged 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and a block per game while missing 19 contests. Though those numbers would be solid for most 4s in the league, they are pedestrian for a talent of Stat's caliber and a troubling sign for a player that the New York Knicks gave a $100 million, fully-guaranteed contract in the summer of 2010.
No stranger to injury, Stoudemire has struggled through major knee surgery during his career that has left him in a very precarious situation. He had microfracture surgery in 2005 and struggled to get back on the court afterwards, needing extended rehabilitation sessions. Though he was able to shrug that off and return to his level of effectiveness, last season Stat's lack of explosiveness was evident.
Not only are his knees an area of concern, but Stoudemire has dealt with back problems on and off over the past few years. In the 2011 playoffs against the Boston Celtics, Stoudemire was a shell of his former self, playing in severe pain and with his mobility extremely limited.
He spent the offseason recuperating, but he just was not the same player that he has been in the past, going stretches of the year barely resembling the dynamic athlete he was in his prime with the Phoenix Suns.
If the New York Knicks are going to make any noise next season, they need a fully healthy Stoudemire, but that is something the team simply cannot count on. Even if he never goes near another fire extinguisher again, Amar'e's long injury history makes his health one of the bigger unknowns in the league heading into next season.
Before last season, Dwight Howard had lived up to his "Superman" moniker and then some, missing just three games in his first six NBA seasons. However, Howard finally found his with a kryptonite in the form of a troubling back injury that knocked him out of the playoffs and the end of the regular season.
Howard initially claimed the injury occurred after a shove from Dallas Mavericks center Brendan Haywood, but clearly the cause was far more severe, as the presence of a herniated disk resulted in surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation road ahead.
A back injury is far more severe than a badly-turned ankle or a broken bone; it lingers and can have major effects on a player's career down the road. Just ask a transcendent talent like Larry Bird what a serious back ailment can do to one's abilities. Bird struggled with back problems and was never the same player thereafter.
When healthy, Howard is easily the NBA's best center, averaging 20.6 points and 14.5 boards last season to go with two assists and two blocks per game. When he's locked in, the Orlando Magic are very difficult to beat and he is one of the few players in the league who can singlehandedly change the course of a game due to his physicality and prowess on both ends of the floor.
While Magic fans may hate Howard for what he's put the city through, fans of great basketball should be hoping for a speedy recovery for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
The progress of Howard's back will be a key storyline next season, and he should do everything possible to avoid re-injury.
After a breakout year where he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists on his way to an MVP trophy, Chicago's Derrick Rose struggled through a slew of maladies that looked like the injury report for an entire NFL team. The explosive point guard dealt with foot problems, turf toe, back spasms and ankle troubles before finally tearing his ACL in the team's first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rose only played in 39 games last season, and it is awful to see such a breathtaking talent so greatly hampered by injuries. Obviously he was still an elite point guard, but Rose just did not look like himself when he was out on the court for a lot of the year; he was not the same player who could use his unmatched body control to absorb contact and finish at the rim, nor could he carve up defenses off the dribble like he did in the 2010-2011 season.
Rose is projected to miss significant time for his ACL tear—between eight and 12 months—and that is the kind of injury that has huge implications on the career of a player as reliant on his athleticism as Derrick Rose. He had surgery a few weeks ago and has been progressing nicely, but is still a long way away from being back on the court for the Bulls.
When he eventually returns to the court, the main question with Rose is if he'll be able to stay healthy, and that will be a tough task for a player as physical and aggressive as Derrick Rose.
Chicago needs him at 100 percent to contend for a title, but there is just no way of knowing how he'll hold next season.
It seems that ever since coming into the league in 2005, Andrew Bogut has been hampered by one injury or another. This season was no different, as the defensive-minded center was having another solid season before succumbing to a fractured ankle that caused him to miss the brunt of the year.
Bogut played in just a dozen games last year, averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds along with a pair of blocks.
The Milwaukee Bucks finally gave up on the seven-footer ever living up to his potential and dealt him to Golden State for Monta Ellis. The Warriors are desperate for a long-term solution in the middle to complement Steph Curry and David Lee, but trading for Bogut was a major leap of faith for the franchise.
Unlike a Dwight Howard or Derrick Rose, Bogut has rarely been healthy in his NBA career. He has played in more than 69 games just twice and has missed time for injuries to his right hand, ankle and a gruesome elbow dislocation in 2010.
It is always risky to bet on an injury-prone player to fill a glaring need on your roster, but the Warriors were willing to role the dice because of the impact Bogut can have in the paint when he does manage to stay on the court.
In a league that lacks many dynamic big men, Bogut has proven to be a very special player when capable of suiting up. However, the only constant of Bogut's career has been him getting hurt, and it seems to almost be an inevitability at this point.
Ricky Rubio has only suffered one injury in his brief NBA career, but it was a very significant one. Rubio tore his ACL during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers, missing the end of the season and costing the overachieving Minnesota Timberwolves a shot at the playoffs for the first time in years.
Rubio had surgery to repair the knee and has been rehabbing diligently over the past few months, readying himself for another NBA season. During the period when he was healthy, Rubio exceeded all expectations and showed he could be the franchise point guard the Timberwolves have desperately needed.
He averaged 10.6 points, a surprising 4.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game, all while making at least two passes per game that nearly blew the roof off the Target Center in Minneapolis.
Rubio was not a stellar athlete, but he did rely on his lateral quickness on the defensive end of the court, something that could have been impacted by the injury. The main aspects of his game—the court vision, unselfishness and ability to deliver the ball exactly where it needs to be—will not diminish, but he may not be able to sustain the same fast pace of play as easily.
An ACL tear for a guard like Rubio is not nearly as catastrophic as it is for one like Derrick Rose, but it is still very disheartening to see such a promising young player go down this early into their career. Minnesota's success will hinge on Rubio's health, as he is the kind of player who could turn them into a perennial postseason contender if he can stay on the court.
In his 16th NBA season, Ray Allen had one of the most tumultuous stretches of his career. Dealing with painful bone spurs in his ankle, Allen missed 20 games this season, ultimately losing his starting job to defensive stalwart Avery Bradley for the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
Though Allen has returned to his starting status following Avery Bradley's pair of shoulder injuries, he is simply not the same player he has been for Boston over the past few years. He is not getting the same lift on his jump shot, connecting on just 29.6 percent of his three-pointer attempts, and is having difficulty developing much rhythm on the court.
Normally renowned for his ability to come off picks and run his defender ragged, Allen is moving less fluidly on the court, making him a much easier target to guard. Defensively, he has always been able to hold his own, but he has simply looked a step slow and a little hesitant during the postseason.
Allen's ankles will require offseason surgery, but for the 36-year-old sharpshooter, it is unclear just how well he will be able to come back and to what degree of effectiveness. Some team, possibly the Los Angeles Clippers, will look into adding the NBA's all-time best three-point shooter for his floor spacing and championship pedigree, but it is unclear just what he will be able to provide and how much he has left in the tank.
There are plenty of contenders that will still be inquiring about Allen, but his health over the course of the season is certainly something to consider when inking the veteran 2-guard.
Much like Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving had a sensational rookie year that exceeded the expectations of many fans and pundits. The 20-year-old point guard put up 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game while winning the coveted Rookie of the Year award. The only dark clouds over Irving's first NBA season were the handful of injuries that kept him off the court for 15 games.
Irving missed time for a sprained shoulder, as well as a concussion and a brief bout of the flu. While his illness can't be held against him, the shoulder issue and concussion may be cause for concern.
Injuries and Kyrie Irving cannot be brought up without mentioning the badly damaged ligament in his toe that caused him to miss the vast majority of his one season at Duke.
The toe injury was the only thing that may have kept Irving from being the first overall pick, but Cleveland knew that he was easily the best player available and someone they could groom into a franchise point guard with a few seasons under his belt. Still, a player who has missed time for several different injuries needs to be cautious and make sure to know their limitations.
The Cavaliers simply need Irving on the court; he is the cornerstone of the rebuilding ball club and the engine that drives their offense. As long as Irving can stay healthy, Cleveland should be a solid young team next season, but that isn't necessarily a given.
Dwyane Wade has been a magnificent player to watch during his nine NBA seasons, a physical guard who is willing to put his body at risk on every possession in order to help his team win. He takes a beating every night trying to get to the rim and finish in the paint, while not shying away from contact defensively as well.
However, Wade's aggressive style of play has been slowly catching up to him. The perennial All-Star shooting guard missed 17 games this season, suffering injuries to his finger and legs, in addition to dealing with soreness in several body parts.
Wade's stats took a hit as well, his 22.1 points per game were his lowest since his rookie season, as were the 4.6 assists he put up.
Fans often forget that Wade is 30 years old and has already dealt with several bad injuries in the course of his career. A sprained shoulder caused him to miss more than 30 games in the 2006-2007 season, and he has also problems with his ankles and knees that have forced him off the court.
Wade's game is predicated upon getting to the foul line by attacking the basket, but that is not the best way for him to maximize his longevity and preserve his career.
Dwyane Wade still has plenty of good basketball left to play, but the Heat need to understand that if he does not modify the way he plays he will be dealing with more and more injuries in the near future. Though LeBron James has become the team's first option, they still need Wade to win a championship and his health is one of Miami's biggest question marks headed into next year.
Many fans won't think of Avery Bradley's shoulder issues as a major injury concern, but for a Boston Celtics team that will be dealing with much roster change, Bradley's chronic problems are very troubling.
The second-year combo guard came out of nowhere this season to become one of the league's best on-ball defenders and a player the team can pair with Rajon Rondo to make their backcourt of the future.
Bradley averaged 7.4 points per game for the season, but as a starter, he boosted that to 12.3 while knocking down a blistering 46.5 percent of his three-point attempts and grabbing nearly three rebounds per game. He only missed two regular-season games, but the shoulder problems became a major factor in the playoffs.
Bradley dislocated his shoulder during the Celtics' series with the Atlanta Hawks and missed time then, but the injury eventually became too much to bear and Bradley was shelved for the rest of the playoffs as Boston fought past the 76ers.
During that series, Bradley injured his other shoulder, and he now requires surgery on both of them in the offseason.
Reportedly, his rotator cuffs have been causing regular dislocations, something that surgery should hopefully prevent from being an ongoing problem in his NBA career. Bradley will need about four months of rehab, and the team should be praying he can make a full recovery.
Chronic injuries like this are always cause for alarm, and with Bradley being such an important piece for Boston's future, their season may hinge on his successful recovery.
Tyson Chandler is in a different situation than many of the other players on this list. Chandler has managed to stay healthy for the past two seasons, playing in 136 of 148 possible games and making a tremendous impact on the defensive end of the court.
Chandler transformed the Dallas Mavericks into a defensive juggernaut on their way to the 2011 NBA championship and helped to change the culture of the New York Knicks to one based around grit and swarming defense.
Chandler played through a few minor injuries—problems with his wrists and elbow caused pain, but nothing that he needed to miss much time for. However, Chandler has suffered through a wealth of injuries, including a bad problem with his toe, that forced him off the court for long stretches during his time with Charlotte and New Orleans.
To put it simply, the Knicks are an awful defensive team without Chandler, this season's Defensive Player of the Year. In three of the four games without him New York gave up over 113 points, only against the woeful Bobcats did they put up a decent effort without their star center.
His presence goes beyond just altering shots or snagging rebounds, though he did grab just under 10 per game, Chandler organizes the team's defense and is the vocal leader out on the court. He brings an edginess and determination that complements coach Mike Woodson and is essential for the team's success.
The Knicks have made the playoffs the last two years, but they still have steps to take before they are a bona fide title contender. They were lucky with Chandler last season, but they must be cautious with the seven-footer, because if history repeats itself and he suffers another injury, the Knicks will be hard pressed to find someone that can make that kind of impact.
The Los Angeles Clippers brought in Caron Butler to be their starting small forward and the kind of well-tested player that could help their young team grow over the next couple seasons. In his first season with Lob City, Butler averaged a solid 12 points and 3.7 rebounds while staying healthy for most of the regular season, playing 63 total games.
Butler is a crucial part of Los Angeles' success; he is often the X-factor that can determine the outcome of a game when the opponent keys in on Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Despite his success last season, Butler has not shaken the injury-prone label that has haunted him during his career. Butler played in just 29 games for the Dallas Mavericks before watching them win a title without him on the floor.
He fractured his hand in the first game of the team's series with the Memphis Grizzlies, but managed to play through it. Still, he only averaged 8.6 points and three rebounds on 36 percent shooting from the field—not exactly stellar numbers. His perseverance was certainly admirable, but Butler was not himself when he was playing the postseason.
The Clippers have big expectations for Butler to be the team's third option, but they should look for a quality backup because of Butler's troubling injury history.
Kobe Bryant's ongoing battle with a myriad of injuries in the 2011-2012 season was well documented. Bryant flew to Germany in the offseason to have a radical procedure performed where his own blood was removed from his body, filtered and injected back into the weaker areas of his knees.
Whatever work Kobe had done, it clearly did the trick, as he had another phenomenal season, averaging 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists, just barely missing Kevin Durant for the NBA scoring title.
The injuries did pile up for Bryant, who played through torn ligaments in his fingers, a concussion courtesy of Dwyane Wade and chronic pains in his knees, while showing little signs of breaking down for much of the year. A problem with his shin forced Bryant to rest down the stretch, but he still played through more physical issues than anyone in the league by far.
Kobe's problem is one of mileage. He's played 1,381 professional basketball games and roughly 50,000 minutes since coming into the league fresh out of high school. Bryant has not dealt with many crippling injuries, but he has gotten banged up thanks to his aggressive playing style and his willingness to play with physicality when necessary.
Though Andrew Bynum emerged as a dominant center this season, the Lakers will still go only as far as Kobe Bryant takes them. Bryant finished fourth last season in minutes played per game and Los Angeles should be aware that the 33-year-old is not as spry as he once was.
Bryant is undoubtedly still lethal on the court, but it is unrealistic to expect him to keep playing through injuries. The team should be looking to reduce his minutes, because it is unfair for Kobe to keep taking this kind of physical beating night in and night out.