Six Players On The Comeback Trail in 2013-14
We continue exploring all of the intriguing NBA storylines heading into what is almost certain to be another epic NBA season with a look at six players on the comeback trail. While there were plenty of injuries in the 2012-13 season (and before), these are some of the individuals with the biggest question marks regarding their return.
With several of these stars reportedly well ahead of schedule, the speculation and uncertainty surrounding these players should only last a bit longer. Some of these players will get a fresh start with a new organization next season, while others have seen their role change overnight due to significant roster changes around them.
Again, while there are plenty of players attempting to make healthy returns from injury, here are six we’ll be paying close attention to:
#6 Andrew Bynum – Cleveland Cavaliers
2013-14 Expectations: When we last saw Bynum in action, beyond the intriguing hairstyles and videos of him dancing the Flamenco in Madrid, he was enjoying (by far) his best personal productivity of his injury-riddled career. In his sole year playing for Lakers head coach Mike Brown, Bynum was finally able to put everything together to the tune of 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game.
After a one-year hiatus, Bynum at least sounds as though he is excited to return to action. This time, not only will he be playing for Brown again, but he will transition from being one of the younger players on those Lakers teams to one of the Cavaliers’ more experienced veterans. Even with the championship pedigree and the fact that Bynum is heading into his eighth season, there are many that would say he still has plenty to prove. If Bynum is healthy, even if splitting time with Anderson Varejao, expect productivity. No guarantees as to a repeat of his career-high numbers from a couple years ago, but Bynum’s skill-set should still be enough to place him right back into the discussion as one of the league’s top centers.
There have been no reported setbacks during rehab. An understandably cautious Bynum won’t place a firm date on his eventual return. At last report, Bynum is still ‘targeting’ the start of the season to return to action.
#5 Danny Granger – Indiana Pacers
2012-13 Outcome: After a November report of patellar tendinosis (also known as “jumper’s knee”) in his left knee that would hold him out for three months, Granger was only able to play a total of five games before being ruled out for the remainder of the season in late-March.
2013-14 Expectations: Following the outbreak year of teammate Paul George and early-April knee surgery, Granger is reportedly right on schedule to return at the beginning of the season. With seemingly constant trade rumors swirling, Granger returns to a team that is definitely on the rise. Even without Granger’s services, the Pacers were able to push the eventual-champion Miami HEAT to the brink behind the stellar play of George.
With the organization reportedly in favor of seeing how a returning Granger and an emerging George can co-exist as a potential tandem, Granger finds himself in the favorable position of going from shouldering the “franchise player” moniker to simply being one of several weapons at head coach Frank Vogel’s disposal. The Pacers definitely seem to embrace a “we over me” mentality, as Lance Stephenson was on record as being fine with returning to the bench in order to create space within the starting lineup for Granger.
Less responsibility combined with monitored playing time could lead to even more efficient play from the former All-Star. If he can stay healthy and avoid the trade winds, Granger’s added productivity could be a significant factor for this year’s Pacers, even in a support role.
#4 Kevin Love – Minnesota Timberwolves
2013-14 Expectations: Plenty of Love’s teammates also missed time due to injury in 2012-13, but 64 games without one of the league’s most skilled power forwards was simply too much to overcome. After openly questioning the direction of the franchise just prior to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Love seems very positive about the team’s future at this point. After fracturing and eventually re-fracturing his right hand while struggling through 2012, Love surely cannot be faulted for his newfound optimism.
If Love can remain healthy, he and recently re-signed Nikola Pekovic could make for one of the better starting center-power forward combos in the league. There have been many predictions regarding 2013-14 being the year Love finally breaks through and proves his worthiness of the term “star.” The numbers and individual statistics are certainly impressive, but Love could do himself a tremendous favor by finding a way to get his incredible statistical productivity to translate into more actual wins while on the court. Having yet to qualify for the postseason in his career, Love could go the furthest in “proving” himself by finally playing in late-April.
#3 Rajon Rondo – Boston Celtics
2012-13 Outcome: Rondo tore his ACL in late-January, and was only able to play in 38 games last season. In Rondo’s absence, his Celtics went on to qualify for the postseason, and even put up a valiant effort in an eventual six-game loss in the first round at the hands of the New York Knicks.
2013-14 Expectations: In the NBA’s swiftest version of “out-with-the-old,” the Celtics were able to completely revamp the franchise over the offseason. Rondo stands as the team’s elder statesman, as the Celtics will be without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers all at once. Newly hired coach Brad Stevens has been pretty ambiguous when asked if the team’s new offense will center around Rondo, but if the seven-year veteran is healthy and available, conventional wisdom still places the ball in his hands on most, if not all, possessions at some point.
No definitive timetable has been set for his return, although teammate Jared Sullinger recently mentioned hoping to have Rondo back sometime in December. Regardless of when he makes it back, as the Celtics’ roster is currently constituted, Rondo remains the most talented player and will undoubtedly have an serious impact upon on where Boston ends up not only for this upcoming season but for the foreseeable future, barring any additional unforeseen roster moves.
#2 Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Outcome: Bryant, simply put, was masterful on the offensive end during what was also an injury-riddled season for the Lakers. After, for all intents and purposes, carrying the Lakers on his back for large stretches of 2013, Bryant suffered a torn Achilles with just three games remaining. The Lakers held on to win each of them, but were unceremoniously escorted out of the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs in a four-game sweep.
2013-14 Expectations: While I completely understand the logic behind those questioning whether Bryant will be able to return to last year’s form following that injury, like former teammate Antwan Jamison, I certainly wouldn’t count him out. Expect to see steady play, with a few highlights serving as reminders sprinkled in here and there. Truth is, the organization should no longer expect nightly heroics and greatness from a man heading into his 18th season.
Injury or not, while Bryant is still one of the league’s most potent offensive weapons. If last year taught us anything it is that placing that much nightly responsibility on the body of a 35-year-old with over 60,000 minutes on his legs is simply too much to ask. Even though last season also reminded us that no one makes a secondary player out of a healthy Bryant, the Lakers must find a way to permit Bryant to return and eventually exit gracefully all while continuing to prepare for the future. The more contributors they can surround Bryant with, clearly, the better things will be moving forward.
#1 Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Outcome: Rose missed the entire season following a devastating knee injury during the 2011-12 postseason. His Bulls, however, went on to impress NBA fans with a 45-37 season that was good enough to qualify for the five-seed in the Eastern Conference. Not only were they a top-five team, but those Bulls were even able to defeat the higher-seeded Brooklyn Nets in the first round, before falling at the hands of the eventual champion Miami HEAT.
2013-14 Expectations: After leaving all of Chicago on proverbial pins and needles in eager anticipation of a return, Rose is finally healthy and ready to take on the league once again. Having witnessed the heart and grit of 2012, Rose has to feel even better about his team’s chances with him back in the fold. Ever-confident, Rose made waves during a recent interview where he proclaimed himself as the league’s top player when healthy.
If you’ve watched Rose play at his best, even if you disagree with the sentiment, you simply cannot fault him for being an all-out competitor. Reports not only have Rose returning to action alongside his teammates when training camps open, but they also have been positive in terms of his continued development as a player. Even if Rose were to lose a slight step in terms of explosiveness, the addition of a consistent mid-range and/or pull-up jumper would place him right back into the MVP discussions he left us with during the 2011-12 playoffs. Expect a full recovery, rejuvenated Rose and scary Bulls team in 2013-14 if they can find a way to stay relatively healthy.
Greg Oden – Miami HEAT: No, Oden might not belong beside the folks on this list, but his potential return and impact on a playoff push for the defending champion HEAT could be every bit as significant. Oden, for his part, seems very confident as he returns from a three-year absence from NBA action. If the HEAT are able to ease him along while monitoring his minutes and body, then Oden may very well go from essentially being a forgotten name from the past to one of the bigger additions of the offseason. Much like with each of the other gentlemen on the list, for Oden, only time will tell.