Blake Griffin has stepped away from USA Basketball in order to heal a stress fracture in his back. The news sounds shocking, but it doesn't appear to be any surprise to the Los Angeles Clippers, as first reported by ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne:
Griffin suffered the previously unreported injury during the playoffs. He's expected to make a full recovery, but not in time for USA camp— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 29, 2014
Griffin released a statement about his decision to withdraw (via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times), saying, "Right now, I want to focus and dedicate 100 percent of my energy on improving and preparing for the upcoming season with the Clippers."
Unreported is not unknown, and Griffin has been treated for this and associated back issues for some time. As far back as March, the Clippers med staff were treating Griffin for back spasms. While it's impossible to say these were directly related, they likely were.
The injury itself is a stress fracture in the lower back or lumbar region. While the Clippers have not released specifics on the location of the injury, the vast majority of these injuries tend to have two things in common. First, they occur lower in the spine. Second, they tend to happen on an area of the vertebrae called the transverse process.
The spine is stressed by the forces of running and jumping—amplified by the speed and power of Griffin in this specific case—but also by the forces of the opponent. Taking an elbow in the back or being knocked to the floor adds a little bit to the stress, and a weak point can eventually develop. That's the stress fracture.
The term "stress fracture" is a bit of a misnomer here. While most fractures result from a single definable trauma, stress fractures tend to be the result of the body breaking down due to repeated stresses. In Griffin's case, it was probably an unknown traumatic event, but there was likely some buildup to the event—a straw that broke the camel's back, almost literally.
The rehab for this kind of stress fracture is simple rest. Griffin has already gone through significant healing and was even able to play through it for a time, but the doctors must have seen incomplete healing at this point.
After almost two months, a normal stress fracture would have healed by now, but Griffin may have exacerbated the condition through continued play or simple workouts.
At worst, Griffin could be forced to take some time off, but there's still plenty of time before the Clippers return to camp. Not playing for Team USA is a long-term plan, but there's no sign at this point that there will be any further complications.
The NBA has seen a number of similar issues in the last few seasons.
Last season, Andre Drummond recovered from a lumbar stress fracture and had a solid rookie season. Joel Embiid dealt with a stress fracture in his back at the end of his season at Kansas. It kept him out of the NCAA tournament but didn't significantly hurt his stock in the NBA draft. Both were lumbar fractures in the transverse process.
In the World Cup, Brazil star Neymar was kneed in the back and had a significant fracture in a similar but higher area of the spine. It forced Neymar out of action, and he may not be ready for the start of Barcelona's season, though reports of him being nearly paralyzed seem spurious.
Griffin's unique combination of size and athleticism makes him a star, but the way he moves often disguises his size. At 6'10" and around 250 pounds, Griffin is an outlier physically and is subject to many of the same problems we see in men just a few inches taller, such as Embiid, Greg Oden and Amar'e Stoudemire.
While Griffin has been durable since missing his first year in the league with knee problems, that may not always be the case.
If the fracture heals normally, which is likely, Griffin will suffer little in the way of effects on his game. The Clippers medical staff will keep a close eye on the area, looking for any sign of problems, including muscular spasms. Griffin will seek to protect the area with more strength and flexibility, something he can begin to work on once the bone has healed.
While Team USA will miss Griffin's presence, it's likely the Clippers won't have to do the same. Expect Griffin to come back without issue in time for the start of the season. We'll likely get a good look at him in camp in order to determine if there will be any changes to his game, but it's more likely that Griffin will be back on the floor doing Blake Griffin things.