Best-Case, Worst-Case Franchises for Aging, Injured NBA Ballers to Land

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 16, 2012

Best-Case, Worst-Case Franchises for Aging, Injured NBA Ballers to Land

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    Injuries are the most unfortunate byproduct of professional sports. The inherent dangers associated with the rigorous physical demands exerted on the human body during a professional sporting event leaves even the world's greatest athletes at risk of serious injury.

    Injuries can derail both real-life and fantasy seasons, frustrating fans, coaches and players along the way.

    But given the wealth of information available in today's society (and thanks to some serious legwork by Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus), some statistics seem to suggest that injuries affect certain franchises more than others.

    Why is it that some NBA teams seem to string together injury-free years while others would settle for an injury-free week? Luck is clearly a factor, but consistent injury-plagued seasons highlight the fact that some organizations simply employ superior training staffs.

    The 2013 NBA free-agent class features a large crop of aging stars who will (or can) hit the market next summer. Manu Ginobili (35 years old), Ray Allen (37), Richard Hamilton (34), Paul Pierce (35) and David West (32) are just some of the aging players who could be spending their summer home shopping.

    While opportunity, system and economics will all factor in their decisions, it would behoove these ballers to research how well their prospective employers have battled injuries.

Best-Case Scenario: Miami Heat

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    Before assuming that the Heat have stayed largely injury free simply because they employ some of the game's best athletes playing in their primes, consider the fact that a big portion of Erik Spoelstra's rotation has been past-their-prime players.

    Heck, even Miami's younger players have more mileage on their legs than their age would suggest. Nine players on the Heat's 2011-12 roster had played at least eight NBA seasons.

    So the fact that their training staff helped their aging roster miss the seventh-fewest games of any NBA franchise in 2011-12 is nearly as impressive as the club's championship run. They kept 30-somethings Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and James Jones from lengthy absences. Their nutrition staff even helped Eddy Curry eat his way back in to the league.

    Add a solid training program to the growing list of free-agent draws at Pat Riley's disposal.

Worst-Case Scenario: Golden State Warriors

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    The oft-cited references to the health of the Golden State Warriors being the main key for their 2012-13 season has been a common theme in the Bay Area.

    From Monta Ellis' moped incident to Stephen Curry's bum ankle, the Warriors have been an injury or two removed from postseason competition for years. Perhaps the fans' lack of faith in the team's trainers sparked the chorus of boos that infamously greeted co-owner Joe Lacob last season shortly after the team's acquisition of the injury-prone Andrew Bogut.

    The 2009-10 Warriors were decimated by injuries, and their players missed more games due to injury that season than any other NBA team. After finishing the past two seasons in the top 16 in terms of fewest games missed, though, things appeared to be looking up on the injury front.

    But the 2012-13 season has already seen a season-ending injury to sixth-man Brandon Rush and an indefinite absence from Bogut. And, of course, Curry's recent history suggests that it may be just a matter of time before he makes his (now annual) trip to the locker room.

Best-Case Scenario: Dallas Mavericks

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    The 2011-12 Mavericks featured seven players in their regular rotation who were at least 32 years old: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Brendan Haywood and Lamar Odom.

    Yet somehow Dallas finished the year with the ninth-fewest games missed because of injury. Nowitzki, Terry, Carter and Marion all played in at least 61 of their 66 games. Two years before that, Dallas trainers managed to get 75-plus games out of Kidd, Terry, Nowitzki and Marion.

    The 2012-13 season began with an ominous tone after preseason knee surgery sidelined Nowitzki indefinitely. And the team's training staff will continue to be challenged with the additions of Elton Brand (34), Troy Murphy (32) and Chris Kaman (30).

    But if there are injury worries around this club, those feelings have yet to enter the locker room. Dallas owner Mark Cuban told ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon that there is a reason his franchise "invested in the best medical and training staff in the league".

Worst-Case Scenario: Washington Wizards

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    Washington emerged as a popular sleeper pick over the 2012 offseason. With veterans Nene, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor filling both leadership roles and a solid starting five, the Wizards appeared to have at least an outside shot at a playoff berth.

    But injuries have kept Nene and John Wall from making their season debuts. Not coincidentally the Wizards have the league's final winless record (0-7).

    Aging veterans would be wise to note that this is far from an anomaly for this organization. Washington has endured the fourth-most missed games over the past three seasons, and the 2012-13 season is off to another frustrating start.

    Given that Ariza and Okafor both missed significant time during the 2011-12 season, the injury situation could get a lot worse before it gets any better.

Best-Case Scenario: Phoenix Suns

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    The Suns' ability to add veteran talent and keep those players on the floor has been unmatched in the NBA. From elongated exposure with Steve Nash and Grant Hill to short stints with Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Redd, the training staff in Phoenix has resurrected or prolonged the career of countless aging players.

    Pelton's research showed that a ranking by games missed fluctuated wildly from year to year. But the Suns were the clear exception to the rule.

    They were the only franchise to finish in the top 10 in terms of fewest games missed due to injury over the past three seasons. They were also one of just three teams with two top-five finishes over the same stretch.

    General manager Lance Blanks may not be able to sell free agents on his club's wealth of talent or coaching pedigree. For veteran players looking to prolong their careers, though, Blanks holds the ultimate trump card.

Worst-Case Scenario: Portland Trail Blazers

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    The 2012-13 season has brought a rare healthy stretch for Portland. All six of Portland's minutes-per-game leaders (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard, J.J. Hickson and Meyers Leonard) have played in each of the club's first eight games.

    Recent history suggests, though, that Portland fans should approach this clean bill of health with caution. Pelton's study showed that the Trail Blazers were the only team with two 28th-or-worse finishes in the past three seasons in games missed.

    But basketball fans know that this organization's bumpy injury history dates back well beyond 2009.

    Former Portland standout Bill Walton's Hall of Fame career was cut short by nagging foot and ankle injuries. Portland made injury-prone big man Sam Bowie the second overall selection of the 1984 draft, just one pick ahead of Michael Jordan. Bowie played an injury-riddled, 10-year career, and Michael Jordan went on to become...well...Michael Jordan.

    More recently, the organization selected the injury-prone Greg Oden with the first overall pick of the 2007 NBA draft, one pick before Kevin Durant. Oden was waived by the Trail Blazers on March 15, 2012, while Durant has captured three consecutive scoring titles.