Emeka Okafor Injury: Battered Veteran Won't Bounce Back from Latest Setback

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

December 28, 2011; New Orleans, LA, USA; Boston Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett (5) has his shot blocked by New Orleans Hornets center Emeka Okafor (50) during the fourth quarter of a game at the New Orleans Arena. The Hornets defeated the Celtics 97-78.  Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Yet another injury could provide the final nail in the coffin for Emeka Okafor's tremulous career.

According to The Washington Post's Michael Lee, the Washington Wizards' center is "out indefinitely" due to a herniated disk in his neck. Lee wrote:

Okafor had been experiencing discomfort in his neck from his offseason workouts before an MRI exam revealed the problem. After meeting with specialists and team doctors, Okafor will now begin rehabilitation to reduce inflammation and correct the injury.

Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports said that Okafor does not expect this ailment to end his nine-year tenure in the NBA.

Okafor averaged 9.7 points per game last season on 47.8 percent shooting, making his presence felt down low with 8.8 rebounds per game and 1.0 block. The big man combined with Nene to solidify Washington as the NBA's eight-most-efficient defense with 100.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.

Selected right after Dwight Howard in the 2004 NBA Draft, the former No. 2 pick has averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 boards per game over his career. He's performed amicably when on the court, but this neck injury threatens the veteran's ability to maintain that effectiveness.

The fact that retirement is even on the table is never a good sign, which means it's time to address the possibility that Okafor will not recoup from this obstacle.

Although he logged the full 82 games for three-straight seasons, health has eluded the big man lately. A knee injury limited him to 27 games during the 2011-12 campaign, causing him to net a career-low 26 minutes per game last season.

Another tick against him lowers his stock more, even upon a successful return. If he can meet his lofty expectations of returning this season, it will come in a severely restricted capacity.

Centers are especially vulnerable to their bodies deteriorating, often relegating them to a bruiser who only comes off of the bench for 10 minutes a night. The underrated Okafor will probably be forced to succumb to this role.

The NBA continues to intensify the pace and stretch the court with as much athleticism as possible. A banged-up center with little offensive ability will struggle to receive a heightened role upon his return.

Okafor is slated to earn a team-high $14.5 million during the final year of his contract. That's a lot of reasons to delay retirement as long as he can.

Once that contract expires, he'll struggle to touch such a lofty payday. Don't expect to see Okafor grace a team's starting lineup again.