It has been a long five months for college basketball. The FBI's investigation into a pay-for-play scandal involving shoe companies has been hovering overhead like a tornado cloud. And on the ground, this season has been defined by pivotal injuries, disappointing teams and one national championship vacated because of a scandal from a previous season.
But we finally got some good news Thursday afternoon.
Michael Porter Jr. is coming back!
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports broke the news:
It's important to note that getting "fully cleared for all basketball activities" doesn't necessarily mean Porter will play again. It certainly doesn't mean he's guaranteed to play this Saturday against Kentucky.
But he might. And that's the most palpable buzz that college basketball fans have had in a long time.
Now that we know Porter is medically cleared to return, here's the multimillion dollar question:
The risks are astronomical, as many have discussed since the possibility of his return was first floated two weeks ago.
If the back injury flares up again—as back injuries are wont to do—how will that affect his NBA draft stock?
Every mock drafter under the sun has kept Porter in his or her projected top 10. Some still had him pegged for a spot in the top five, even assuming he would not return to the court this season. But a second injury—or a reaggravation of the first injury—would be a gigantic red flag for a player no one has been able to properly scout since an exhibition game against Kansas in October.
We're not even talking about a major, requires-more-surgery injury, either. If Porter so much as winces too much or doesn't play quite at the same level as he did at Nathan Hale High School, it'll get everyone wondering (more than they already are) just how healthy he actually is. Between Greg Oden, Harry Giles and the current circus surrounding Markelle Fultz's shooting form after his shoulder issues, it's not much of a stretch to suggest NBA execs at the top of the lottery are going to be more wary of injury than ever before.
Even if he does get hurt, there's no chance Porter falls out of the first round. He was too good in high school for that to happen.
But it's conceivable he could drop out of the lottery, which would literally cost him millions.
Using the current NBA rookie pay scale, the No. 5 pick in the 2018 draft will make $15.0 million in his first three years, while the No. 15 pick gets $7.7 million. Granted, the second contract is where guys make the big bucks if they're good enough to stay in the league for four years, but would you risk losing 50 percent of your net worth for the next three years to play a couple of weeks for a bubble team?
The counterpoint to that is the No. 3 pick will make $18.4 million, and Porter could perhaps play his way back up to that level by performing great. However, that's quite the risk for minimal reward.
If you're a Missouri fan, though, you're probably thinking, "He's going to be a millionaire no matter what, and if he plays, we have a much better chance of reaching the Final Four!"
Not so fast. Guys who show up in the middle of the season are rarely (if ever) all they're cracked up to be.
How many times in the past few years has a player who was supposed to be his team's knight in shining armor simply been a non-factor?
Chris Walker is a perfect example.
Walker was the No. 7 overall recruit in 2013, per 247Sports, but because of eligibility issues, he didn't begin his career at Florida until early February. And when he did finally get to play, he didn't do much of anything, logging a total of 87 minutes over the final 18 games of the season. He didn't amount to much as a sophomore, either.
Walker certainly isn't the only one in that club.
Omer Yurtseven is now a frontcourt monster for NC State, but he was ruled ineligible for the first nine games of his freshman season and was then unable to immediately deliver on his immense potential.
Or how about the three examples in the Big 12 alone this year? Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe was a second-semester addition for Kansas who barely even gets on the floor. Silvio De Sousa joined the Jayhawks roster well over a month ago, and he's just now starting to make an impact. And remember when the end of Esa Ahmad's 16-game suspension was supposed to be the start of West Virginia's rise to championship level? The Mountaineers were 15-1 when he came back and have gone 5-7 since his return.
There are probably dozens of other examples, but five should suffice.
Sometimes, the player struggles as an individual. Occasionally, he plays well, but working him into the rotation interrupts the team's rhythm. Either way, when is the last time a guy debuted in the middle of conference play and quickly became the missing piece for a championship-caliber team?
It doesn't happen. And no matter how much potential Porter has, getting on the court now is like jumping on a moving treadmill.
That isn't to say it's impossible for him to become a key contributor for a Final Four candidate. He isn't like any of the other players mentioned thus far, and maybe he'll be instantly great.
Maybe he'll be more like Kyrie Irving, who missed three-plus months of action as a result of a toe injury, returned just in time for the NCAA tournament, averaged 17.7 points in those three tournament games and became the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
But why risk it?
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.