The 2013 NBA preseason is well underway and with the regular season starting in just two weeks, our summer-long hibernation period without the Association is nearly over.
But with that excitement for teams, fans and those around the league, comes the game's harshest reality: injuries. For some reason, there is no nationwide hand-wringing about the state of the NBA preseason when players go down with injury but it happens all the same.
Russell Westbrook was the first big domino to go down—albeit due to complications of a previous injury—and the notable names have continued to flock toward the injury list. Blake Griffin, Al Jefferson and Tyreke Evans (among others) have been hampered throughout the preseason, though none are expected to miss any serious regular-season time.
There are, however, a couple recent injuries that are expected to last longer than the next two weeks. While none of these players are All-Stars, the connotations of their ailments are just as interesting as the initial reports themselves.
With that in mind, let's check in on some of the league's most recent injuries and what they mean for their teams going forward.
Trey Burke Injured, Jazz Left With Bereft Island of PG Misfits
The Utah Jazz front office believes in Trey Burke. A lot. It believed in him enough to trade two first-round picks to move up five spots in June's draft, enough to essentially hand him a starting job unimpeded and enough to think it would be A-OK without so much as a single above-average backup.
Now Utah is realizing that strangely laid plans sometimes come with unwanted consequences. Burke broke the index finger on his right (shooting) hand, and will miss a still-undetermined amount of time. An ESPN report committed to a range from anywhere between six and 12 weeks, while Burke himself gave an optimistic four-to-six-week time fame:
It's very possible the Jazz were already in trouble at the point guard spot. Burke struggled mightily in summer league and didn't look all that much better in two preseason games. The national collegiate player of the year made only a third of his 24 shots, had a hard time getting to the rim and struggled amid big bodies. We're talking about the most limited of samples here, but I definitely wasn't enamored from a scouting perspective.
One quick thing: The Jazz are definitely worse at the position without Burke even with his struggles. John Lucas III was miserable last season in Toronto after a semi-competent run as a backup with the Bulls in 2011-12, and undrafted rookie Scott Machado is the only other natural point guard on the roster.
ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Jazz could revisit their interest in trading for Chicago backup Marquis Teague. To which I say good luck. Utah is a team that pushed the "no thanks" button on the 2013-14 season from the moment it added the gag-worthy combo of Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins in exchange for a few picks. So it's unlikely that being incompetent at the point guard spot is going to hurt the front office's feelings all that much.
One interesting thing Ty Corbin could try, however, is nudging Alec Burks back over to the point guard spot. Burks has spent time at the 1 in both of his NBA seasons, and has fared far better there than in an off-ball role. He's not a natural shot-creator for teammates, but he does well when getting a head of steam toward the basket on pick-and-roll opportunities.
What Corbin does here will be interesting. Burks could struggle to get playing time as a full-time wing player this season with Gordon Hayward looking to emerge, Brandon Rush coming on as a sneaky-good two-way player and Marvin Williams returning at some point from his Achilles injury.
The Jazz have until Oct. 31 to decide whether to pick up Burks' $3.03 million salary for next season. Odds are they will—teams hate giving up on young talent so early—but Corbin would be wise to use the remainder of the preseason to move Burks around a little bit and see where he fits best with this team. Burke's injury will allow him even more freedom to do so.
Carl Landry Out 3-4 Months, Kings Hit Repeat on 2012-13
The Kings are another team fully aware they're rebuilding. They have a fancy new owner, a fancy new coach and promises of a fancy new arena. They even jettisoned former potential franchise player Tyreke Evans, and bid against themselves to guarantee Sacramento would be Boogieland for the next half-decade.
It was an offseason full of moves that made sense (Evans, drafting Ben McLemore, getting rid of Keith Smart, etc.) juxtaposed by ones that usually follow ownership changes. Vivek Ranadive handed off basketball operations to Pete D’Alessandro, who promptly made two of the offseason's most curious acquisitions: forwards Luc Mbah A Moute and Carl Landry.
Both players add multiyear holds onto the Kings' salary cap, and have exactly one dimension to their game. Mbah a Moute might as well not even run down on offense, while Landry arguably doesn't on defense.
The latter move was placed under an even more glaring spotlight on Monday, when the team announced Landry would miss the first three or four months with a torn hip flexor. Injuries are a part of the game, so Sacramento can't be criticized on that front. The ramifications within this season could simply make a questionable signing even worse.
Mike Malone was brought over from Golden State not only because of his relationship with Ranadive—the current Kings owner was a former minority shareholder in the Warriors—but because of his reputation around the league as a smart defensive coach.
Malone took over a wretched defense with the Warriors, eventually crafting them into something resembling respectability. He did this by implementing a rigid defensive approach, where bigs stay a step back toward the paint on pick-and-rolls and guards blue—get between the roll man and the ball handler—on side PNRs.
The adjustments in scheme did wonders for masking Andrew Bogut's fundamental inability to move without shattering a foot bone and David Lee's...David Leeness. The goal in Sacramento will be to do the same for Boogie Cousins, who has consistently struggled to defend pick-and-rolls since entering the league.
Landry has a good grasp on the system after a year under Malone in Golden State. But he'll be an afterthought as the Kings try coalescing into a passable defense this season. Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson will take a lion's share of the power forward minutes in his absence, and neither player is appreciably worse than Landry.
Paying nearly $7 million per season isn't bad if it's for your starting power forward. That contract could become a dreaded mid-tier albatross, though, if Malone finds a rotation he likes before Landry returns.
Brandon Jennings Out for Few Weeks, the World Weeps
The Pistons are your favorite team. They're my favorite team. We're all one big Detroit-loving, League Pass-watching family now that Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond are playing basketball in the same city. This will be the most entertaining, baffling, frustrating, exciting, awesome, terrible team in the league.
Well, it will be. At least after Jennings returns to the lineup. The enigmatic guard will have his jaw immobilized for the next three weeks after being diagnosed with an impacted tooth with a fracture at the base, per Keith Langlois of the Pistons' official website:
Jennings will be reevaluated after the three weeks is up, at which point he could be thrust into the starting lineup or kept on a shelf.
What this ultimately means for the Pistons' season depends on how that check-up goes. In the interim, it means nothing good. Detroit's once-overloaded backcourt is now dangerously thin, with Rodney Stuckey's status for the season opener up in the air after breaking his thumb in a car door last week.
For now, the Pistons might have to resort to a combination of Chauncey Billups and Will Bynum as their starting backcourt. Billups shouldn't be playing any more than 15-20 minutes per night at this point in his career, and Bynum probably never should have been playing more than 15 minutes at any point in his career. A worst-case scenario situation—Bynum and Billups being the team's two top guards for the first month or so of the season—would probably be enough to sink Detroit's playoff aspirations.
Luckily, it shouldn't ever get to that point.
Jennings could return as early as Nov. 5 against the Indiana Pacers if everything checks out. This isn't an injury that's going to become chronic or even recur. Once he's given clearance by doctors, he should be fine; a toothache isn't the type of injury that can fundamentally alter a season. Jennings' return would all but wipe out the worries about Stuckey, as the Pistons have multiple players who can float on the wings.
But for now, let's save most of our reaction for the disappointment of knowing the NBA's best-worst team will be without one of its best-worst players on opening night. Not to worry, though, Maurice Cheeks: Josh Smith knows a perfect place where some of Jennings' shots can be redistributed.
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