Most Devastating Injuries of 2013-14 NBA Season
Even in this season of giving, the basketball world remains a greedy bunch.
For all of the superstars hitting the hardwood on a nightly basis, we can't help but to think of the ones that aren't a part of the action.
The basketball gods apparently don't appreciate this selfishness. After stripping some of the game's greats from us early on, they continue unleashing their wrath on the healthy bodies that remain.
The injury bug holds no allegiances. It's bitten each of the Association's 30 teams in some way, shape or form. But those bites have dug a little deeper and stung a bit harder for certain clubs and their elite talents.
All 10 of these players have impacted their franchises with their absences. But some have hurt more than others.
What makes an injury more devastating than the next? Any number of different elements—statistical losses, emotional letdowns and, in the most extreme cases, far-reaching franchise changes.
There are nine teams on this list with reasons to gripe. But which one has the most reason to be upset?
11. Larry Sanders' Torn Thumb Ligament
It's hard to say any one player can have a devastating effect on the unintentionally tanking Milwaukee Bucks, but if that player exists it's Larry Sanders. Or sorry, LARRY SANDERS! for the Zach Lowe crowd.
He's a rim-protecting intimidator by any stretch of the phrase. Despite averaging less than 19 minutes of floor time over the first three-plus seasons of his career, he's averaging nearly two blocks a night and 3.6 rejections per 36 minutes. Even those numbers fail to capture all of the shots he changes or the ones his presence prevents from even being attempted.
His offensive game is developing (career 11.8 points per 36 minutes on 47.5 percent shooting), but the Bucks are built to win with defense.
That hasn't been an easy assignment since Sanders was shut down with a torn ligament in his thumb in early November. A late-night fisticuffs session outside a Milwaukee nightclub was reportedly the source of his injury.
The Bucks are probably seasons away from doing anything of significance, but a frontcourt of Sanders and fellow shot-block artist John Henson (2.2 blocks per game) promises something sweet for the future. Add rookie phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo to the mix, and suddenly Milwaukee holds a scary combination of youth, length and athleticism.
Blame the Bucks' low short-term ceiling for Sanders' low ranking here. But credit the franchise's bright future—and the possible effectiveness of this injury as an educational tool for the nocturnal readers—for his inclusion.
10. JaVale McGee's Stress Fracture
Shaquille O'Neal might still be bemoaning the loss of his "Shaqtin' A Fool" star, but the Denver Nuggets fans might have a different response.
Denver dropped four of its first games this season with JaVale McGee manning the middle in first-year coach Brian Shaw's starting lineup. But since losing the big man to a stress fracture in his left fibula during that fifth game, the Nuggets have gone 13-7 without him.
So why is McGee still on this list?
Because barring a trade, he remains a pivotal piece of this franchise's future. He's the second-highest paid player on the roster ($10.75 million for this season, via ShamSports.com) and will continue holding that title for the next two seasons.
A freakish blend of size (7'0", 250 lbs.) and athleticism, he has all of the physical tools to outperform his contract. But he's a raw talent in serious of need more seasoning.
Shaw has a strong reputation for developing talent—see: Paul George's and Lance Stephenson's improvements under his watch in Indiana—but there's only so much teaching he can do with the 25-year-old hobbling around on one leg.
9. Emeka Okafor's Herniated Disc
Emeka Okafor might not have as familiar a face as the other players on this list, but how many of them can say they've changed a franchise's makeup this season?
Prior to the start of the 2013-14 campaign, a herniated disc was discovered in the then-Washington Wizards center's neck. Barely a month later, Okafor was sent packing—along with his expiring $14.4 million contract and a protected first-round pick—in a five-player swap with the Phoenix Suns.
The Wizards came away with Marcin Gortat in the end, a proven seven-year vet and offensive presence in the post. But Washington has felt Okafor's loss at the defensive end (102.7 defensive rating, tied for 16th; 100.6, eighth overall last season), and Gortat's less than thrilled about his role in the offense.
Washington (11-13) might still make good on its postseason hopes, but that looks like a byproduct of the Eastern Conference's collective ineptitude more than anything else.
Okafor, meanwhile, continues his long road to recovery and has yet to make his 2013-14 debut. Given how the Suns (15-10) have played without him, he may never be more valuable to his new franchise than his contract is.
Still, it isn't hard to see his injury's impact on his last employer.
8. Anthony Davis' Broken Hand
Maybe the basketball gods have a bit of compassion after all. That, or they have the same mix of sweet and sour as those crazy Sour Patch Kids.
First came the sour. Anthony Davis, in the midst of his meteoric rise up the superstar ranks, broke his left hand early in the New Orleans Pelicans win over the New York Knicks on Dec. 1.
On second thought, sour's not the right word. This was nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.
The 6'10" sophomore and top pick in 2012 surged out of the gate this season. Prior to that early exit, Davis had been putting up All-NBA numbers over his first 15 games: 19.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 1.7 steals and 1.7 assists.
It was impossible to not think about the 20-year-old's brilliant future, even while taking full appreciation of his present.
But that present seemed in danger with that broken mitt. The initial diagnosis said he could miss up to six weeks and as many as 20 games.
Yet, just seven games and less three weeks later, Davis was back. He tallied 24 points, 12 boards and three steals in his return—how's that for sweet?
He deserves a place on this list off of name (and talent) alone. But luckily, the injury was more scary than significant, so he won't climb any higher than this on the devastating scale.
7. Steve Nash's Nerve Root Irritation
Steve Nash's injury is hard to quantify.
On the one hand, he's a past-his-prime 39-year-old latching onto a career that his body appears no longer capable of supporting. He's played just six games on the season and just had another four weeks added to his rehab schedule while recovering from nerve root irritation in his back.
But on the other, it's this showing of mortality that makes his absence significant. Well, that and the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers have been forced to give the starting point guard spot to Xavier Henry (!).
It's been a while since Nash looked like his old self. But he's still a multiple MVP award winner—an honor he shares with just 11 other players in NBA history—and a true generational talent.
Nash's absence, on its own, might not have made a damning effect on this Lakers team. L.A.'s ceiling only extended so high with the roster in place.
But devastating is still a fitting term to describe his injury. While he's saying that he isn't considering retirement "at all," via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, Father Time might be making the decision for him.
6. Tyson Chandler's Fractured Right Fibula
Tyson Chandler isn't the most versatile player in the league. After 12-plus NBA seasons, his basketball book is pretty well-written at this point.
But the things he does best—protecting the interior, cleaning the glass and finishing above the rim—are exactly what the Knicks need most.
So when a fractured fibula put him on the shelf in early November, alarm bells were rightfully ringing. Between Amar'e Stoudemire's own health problems, Kenyon Martin's age (35) and Andrea Bargnani's inability to stop being Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks had no one to replace Chandler.
Chandler's injury ultimately cost him 20 games. New York lost 14 of them.
Luckily, the big man is back, swatting shots and back-tapping rebounds like he never left.
Now, if he could only figure out a way to stop that blaze under coach Mike Woodson's seat. Too bad Chandler isn't a miracle worker.
5. Marc Gasol's MCL Sprain
File Marc Gasol's MCL sprain under the it-could-have-been-worse category. Anytime the letters "MCL" pop up on the injury report, they're accompanied with a collectively held breath.
Now, this is not an attempt to downplay the significance of his injury. It is serious, for the big man and the Memphis Grizzlies.
"(His absence) makes a team lacking depth even leaner, diminishes their physicality, (and) takes away their high-low game with him and Zach [Randolph] of which they are the best in the league," a Western Conference scout told USA Today's Sam Amick.
Memphis wasn't playing like championship contenders with him (7-6), but did appear to be hitting its stride. The Grizzlies won four of their last five games with Gasol in the lineup, a stretch that included victories over the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. They've lost nine of the 13 games he's missed.
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had taken on more offensive responsibilities, holding career-best marks in both scoring (16.0) and assists (4.3). He's been Memphis' unstoppable force and immovable object.
Losing a player like that is never easy, even if it could have been worse.
4. Andre Iguodala's Hamstring Strain
Andre Iguodala's strained hamstring shouldn't rank this high on the list. Considering the broken bones and torn ligaments cropping up here, a strain that cost him all of 12 games seems a bit out of place.
But devastating doesn't seem to be a strong enough descriptor of how his loss impacted the Golden State Warriors
This team went from being championship contenders to now sitting outside the playoff picture without him. These players do remember that Iguodala wasn't a part of last season's Western Conference semifinalists, right?
Including the game that the injury happened, the Dubs went 5-8 without Iguodala. Adversity struck this franchise, and the Warriors ran from it as fast as they could.
"I'm finding that the guys in suits and ties want it more than the guys in uniform," coach Mark Jackson said, via Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News. "Enough is enough at some point."
The Warriors had more than enough to compete without Iguodala—have you seen what Stephen Curry's been doing?—but looked rattled and lost without the Swiss Army knife.
Iguodala's injury shouldn't be on this list at all. But Golden State's atrocious response to it leaves it sitting in the top five.
3. Kobe Bryant's Fracture in Left Knee
This one hurt. Not just for Kobe Bryant or the Los Angeles Lakers, but for the basketball world as a whole.
Only six games back after an eight-month rehab from the torn Achilles he suffered back in April, Kobe Bryant suffered yet another devastating injury in his left leg. A fracture in his left knee will now sideline Vino for the next six weeks.
At least, that's the hope. But anything is far from a guarantee for the 35-year-old, 18-year NBA vet.
It's too early to speculate—and impossible to do so with the man in question—but long-term concerns are unavoidable with a player of his age.
"There's complications in that it could alter both his gait, which could affect his Achilles, or it could create new issues inside his degenerative knees," B/R's injury expert Will Carroll wrote.
Some will call for Bryant's retirement. It's the same reaction that came from the Achilles injury.
Just like he did then, the Mamba will probably use that to fuel his recovery. It's never easy to bet against him, but you can only hope that his body allows him the type of end to his career that he wants.
Look, we spent eight months waiting for him to come back last time; six weeks will feel like a breeze. Still, it sucks that we have to wait again. And it's scary to think to think about the long-term effects for this transcendent player, this franchise and this global community of basketball fans.
2. Brook Lopez's Broken Foot
Brook Lopez's loss ahead of Kobe Bryant's? What am I, crazy?
Well, no. Not really.
On a micro-level, this is a brutal blow for the Brooklyn Nets. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov's $190 million championship plan was already going awry, but this is the knockout blow the Nets had been trying to avoid. Brooklyn has other big bodies to throw in the mix, but none that can match Lopez's two-way dominance.
But Lopez's loss can't be viewed through a one-year lens. Not even by a franchise that took such a narrow view in its roster construction.
This is the twice in three seasons that Lopez has lost a year to a foot injury. In fact, it's the third time the 7-footer has suffered the same injury in the same foot. The basketball gods have not treated big men with foot/leg problems well before; it's scary, but unavoidable to think that Lopez could be facing a similar fate.
Still, it gets worse. The 25-year-old is the only piece the Nets have to lead them into the future. Brooklyn is two offseasons away from financial relief and doesn't own their first-round pick until 2019.
The Nets lost their present and their future when Lopez went down. Hard to get more devastating than that. But there's still one player who could make that claim.
1. Derrick Rose's Torn Meniscus
Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose hasn't played in a game since Nov. 22. And I still can't believe that he's out. Again.
Why is Rose sitting in the top spot? Because he has both the repeat cruelty of Kobe Bryant's injury and the ominous long-term forecast of Brook Lopez's loss. To top things off, the former MVP just so happens to be the most talented player on this list.
How's that for devastating?
Rose missed the entire 2012-13 while rehabbing a torn ACL that ended his 2012 playoff run. Just 10 games into his return, he went down with a torn meniscus. It was the opposite knee than he injured the last time, but the same season-stealing timetable.
Rose has left the door open for a possible playoff return, but it's hard to say if the Bulls will even give him that option.
The temptation for a rebuild is real. Luol Deng's an impending free agent, Carlos Boozer is an annual amnesty candidate and help could be on the way if the Bulls can climb the stacked 2014 draft board. Even though a source close to Rose has said he wants no part of a rebuild, that's not his call to make.
The Bulls waited all last season with the hope that Rose could lead them to the championship podium. By the time his body allows him to come back, he might not even be enough help to think about that journey.
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