NBA Teams That Can Least Afford a Major Injury in 2012-13
Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life in the NBA, just as they are in any sport. A game as acrobatic as basketball is bound to yield more than its fair share of hard collisions and awkward landings.
And, in turn, the bodily harm that often follows.
No team ever wants to lose a key player for any amount of time, though such misfortune is particularly costly for those teams with big plans for the season. Just ask the Chicago Bulls, who looked like title contenders in the Eastern Conference last season before Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL in their first playoff game. That injury derailed Chicago's dreams early on and has subsequently forced the Bulls to reshuffle their timetable for a return to the championship chase.
Likewise, these five teams, like any, are ill equipped to handle a major setback to one of their star players.
That is, if they're to have any hope of living up to lofty expectations and, in some cases, make the most of their window of contention before it slams shut.
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The time is nigh for the Nets to make their triumphant debut in Brooklyn. No more stinkin' up the joint in New Jersey or tanking for tanking's sake.
Well, that's the plan, anyway—for the Nets to open up the Barclays Center with the team's first trip to the postseason since 2008.
That could all change, however, with one strange turn of an ankle or, say, one crack of Brook Lopez's bad foot. The 24-year-old center missed 61 games last season after breaking his foot in training camp and hurting his ankle shortly after his return.
Of course, that didn't stop the Nets from inking him to a four-year, $61 million deal this summer. Nonetheless, a recurrence of issues in Lopez's lower extremities could easily derail Brooklyn's basketball hopes. Its front line is thin to begin with—Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans are the only other traditional bigs on the roster—and Lopez is the only forward at Avery Johnson's disposal who's particularly proficient at scoring on the interior.
To be sure, having the NBA's best backcourt, between Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, would help Brooklyn to overcome such bad luck, if not shift pressure away from Lopez from Day 1.
But those two All-Star guards have had injury concerns of their own over the years. Any significant setback between them could push the Nets dangerously close to the wrong edge of the playoffs.
Los Angeles Clippers
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The 2012-13 season may well be the most important in Clippers franchise history.
And that includes all the years back in Buffalo and San Diego.
The organization is still without a full-time general manager after Neil Olshey took his talents to Portland. Vinny Del Negro is still the head coach, even after proving time and again that he might be the worst in the business.
Most importantly, Chris Paul is heading into the final year of his deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2013.
All of which leaves the Clips under the gun to make the most of this coming season.
Another injury to Blake Griffin's surgically-repaired knee during Team USA's training camp didn't help to ease L.A.'s worried minds any. Should the knee prove to be a recurring issue during the season, the Clippers' burden would shift almost entirely onto the shoulders of CP3 and perhaps leave L.A. scrambling for a low seed in the Western Conference playoffs, just as Paul's New Orleans Hornets once did.
The more worrisome scramble, though, would come in the summer, when Paul would be free to explore future employment with a more stable, championship-friendly franchise.
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The Chicago Bulls are already close to the brink of the lottery after losing Derrick Rose this past spring. He isn't expected back on the court until midseason (at the earliest) and will likely need several months beyond that to return to the MVP-type force that he was prior to the injury.
In the meantime, the Bulls should be able to hold the fort, thanks in no small part to the terrific coaching of Tom Thibodeau.
That is, unless someone else on the roster goes down for a significant stretch. Luol Deng seems like the most likely candidate at this point. He opted against surgery on his gimpy wrist so he could play for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics and won't undergo any repairs prior to the start of training camp in the fall. That leaves the All-Star swingman vulnerable to further, much more serious damage should he mishandle his wrist in the season to come.
Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer both managed to stay healthy last season after struggling to do so the year before. Their respective injury histories render them risks at every turn.
Though, to be fair, if there's any player the Bulls should expect to be without for much of the season, it's Richard Hamilton. The 34-year-old shooting guard has missed at least 27 games during each of his last three campaigns.
Let's not forget, either, about Kirk Hinrich. Rose's temporary replacement sat out 18 games last season after undergoing shoulder surgery while with the Atlanta Hawks. Any shock to Hinrich's system would leave rookie Marquis Teague to run the show in Rose's stead.
Throw in Omer Asik's offseason departure to the Houston Rockets, and it becomes ever clearer that the Bulls' prospects for success are frighteningly fragile.
San Antonio Spurs
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It's practically become a rite of fall to write off the San Antonio Spurs before the season starts. Last year, the Spurs were supposed to fail because they fell to the No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in 2011 and their core wasn't getting any younger.
Instead, they captured the top seed in the West again and came within two wins of reaching the NBA Finals.
This time around, the presumed preeminence of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the massive improvement of the Los Angeles Lakers are both expected to keep San Antonio out of the championship conversation.
Their own health, though, may be the Spurs' biggest impediment to capturing a fifth crown under Gregg Popovich. It's safe to assume that, at 36, Tim Duncan will miss at least a handful of games, if only because Pop will choose to sit his future Hall of Famer from time to time to keep him fresh.
But the Spurs aren't Duncan's team anymore. Rather, they belong to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both of whom will be on strict injury watch this season. Parker should be ready to go after wounding his eye in the crossfire between Drake and Chris Brown at a New York nightclub earlier this summer, though the burden of carrying France through the Olympics figures to exact a more serious toll.
The same goes for the 34-year-old Ginobili, whose onerous ankles haven't always held up well under his Argentine duties in the past and may well crumble again at some point.
The Spurs have managed without their dynamic backcourt duo before, but they would be hard-pressed to hold open their fleeting championship window in their absence this time around, especially with the way the rest of the West continues to rise up.
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The Miami Heat, too, are well versed in how to succeed while some of their stars are sidelined. Dwyane Wade missed 17 games with leg issues last season and missed the Olympics on account of knee surgery. Chris Bosh sat out a handful of regular-season scrapes as well, along with a crucial playoff stretch between the conference semis and the Eastern Conference finals.
And yet the Heat still managed to come out on top in the end.
Of course, it helped that LeBron James had a season (and postseason) for the ages to carry Miami through rough patches without its Big Three intact. James shouldered an enormous burden throughout, jumping from 37.5 minutes per game during the regular season to 42.7 per game through the playoffs.
That load lightened considerably over the summer, though the fact that he played such a crucial role in Team USA's run to gold at the London Olympics might not bode so well for his body. How will it hold up after back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals and a long summer abroad?
His load should lighten somewhat with Ray Allen coming off the bench, but if James is forced to drag his team for too long this time, he and, in turn, the Heat will likely have a significant price to pay.
Especially considering how the Boston Celtics reloaded in the East, and how the Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder figure to disrupt their title defense out of the West.