When training camps open later this month, a handful of teams will be at less than full strength. And some of them may be that way for a while.
The Los Angeles Lakers, a legitimate title contender, will be without the biggest prize of the offseason. The Chicago Bulls, who have the NBA’s best record over the last two seasons, will be without their best player.
The New York Knicks, who claim to be contenders, will be without two of their three shooting guards. The Golden State Warriors, who are talking about crashing the postseason party, could be without their two best players.
And the Los Angeles Clippers, a darkhorse to upstage the rival Lakers and win the Western Conference, could be without their three best players when camp opens.
Each of these teams will be waiting for a key player to return from an injury suffered last season or during the offseason. Some will be waiting until the preseason. Others will be waiting until early in the regular season. And the Bulls and Clippers likely will be waiting until 2013.
Even the Miami Heat had their offseason injury issues. Unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, the defending champions should be at or near full strength when training camp begins.
Some teams have all the luck. And some don’t. Here’s the breakdown.
DERRICK ROSE: The 2011 NBA MVP tore his ACL in Chicago’s postseason opener vs. Philadelphia and did not have surgery until mid-May, allowing the swelling to reduce. The length of recovery from ACL surgery can be as short as six months (Wes Welker), which would have Rose back before Christmas. It can also be as long as 12 months (the long-range period given by Dr. Brian Cole, who performed the surgery), which would mean Rose misses the entire season.
Rose has said his recovery is ahead of schedule. However, his timetable likely will be determined by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who has to pay Rose $95 million over the next five years and told a Chicago radio station, “Until the doctors say he’s 100 percent and they put their reputations on the line, he’s not coming back.” PROJECTION: Sometime after the All-Star break. That could be an issue for the Bulls, because their top scorer other than Rose is Luol Deng, who chose not to have surgery on the torn ligament in his left wrist.
DWIGHT HOWARD: Everybody’s favorite diva had missed seven games in seven years before last season ended prematurely with a back injury that required surgery in April and cost him a spot on Team USA. The procedure repaired a torn herniated disk and removed disk fragments and was not categorized as major surgery. The surgeon said Howard should be able to return to full contact in four months, which seemed long for a lumbar discectomy. So why will he be unavailable for the start of training camp and possibly miss the start of the season?
Howard has both said he will be ready for the start of the season and may not be ready for the start of the season, which begins in late October. Meanwhile, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has refused to establish a timeline for Howard. Remember, Howard is a free agent next summer and could react unfavorably toward a franchise that pressures him to return. It also behooves the Lakers for Howard to be healthy for the start of the playoffs rather than the regular season. PROJECTION: Howard plays on Opening Night – after skipping training camp and preseason.
BLAKE GRIFFIN: The All-Star forward hurt his left knee during training with Team USA in July, right after he had signed a five-year, $95 million extension with the Clippers. Protecting their investment, Griffin was pulled out of the Olympics and underwent arthroscopic surgery.
The scope was in the same knee in which Griffin suffered a fractured patella that cost him the entire 2009-10 season. Although the injuries are in the same joint and create some concern about Griffin’s long-term durability, they are said to be unrelated. Griffin has been playing pickup ball since last month. PROJECTION: Griffin will be ready for the start of training camp, where he certainly will be closely monitored.
CHRIS PAUL: The All-Star point guard suffered a torn ligament in is right thumb during the Olympics but played through it, helping Team USA beat Spain with a huge fourth quarter in the gold medal game. Paul had surgery on Aug. 21 and could need up to eight weeks of recovery time, which would mean he misses training camp and almost all of the preseason.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has said Paul will be back for the start of the season. He also has said his most indispensable player will be return during training camp. That is as much as a three-week window, a pretty big difference. However, no one is saying Paul will miss any games that count. PROJECTION: Paul has an unreal competitive streak that will have him back at the outset of training camp. The Clippers will rest him during the preseason, and he will play on Opening Night.
CHAUNCEY BILLUPS: Paul’s return will afford Billups the opportunity not to rush back from a torn left Achilles tendon suffered last February. The injury could have been a career-ender for Billups, who turns 36 later this month. But he has worked hard through his rehabilitation and has said he is ahead of schedule.
However, Billups was expected to need at least eight months for the tendon to heal following surgery, which puts his earliest possible return in November. If Paul is healthy, the Clippers can make due with the improving Eric Bledsoe as their backup point guard. Upon his return, Billups is expected to play many of his minutes at shooting guard. PROJECTION: Givn his age and LA’s backcourt depth, expect Billups to return in December, sometime before Christmas. That would be a full 10 months after the injury.
RICKY RUBIO: The Timberwolves were in the Western Conference playoff race until their sensational rookie point guard suffered a torn ACL on March 9. Minnesota was 21-19 before Rubio’s injury but collapsed without him, losing 21 of its last 26 games. Last week, Rubio said he believes he could be back on the court before the end of 2012.
However, Rubio has yet to start running, let alone restoring his conditioning and attempting sharp cutting. The Wolves will start the season without him and use Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea as their point guards. The biggest difference from last season is that Ridnour and Barea should not have to also be used as shooting guards after the offseason acquisitions of Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved. PROJECTION: Rubio should be back in December – a nine-month recovery – but may have to rely more heavily on his outstanding court vision before his quickness fully returns.
STEPHEN CURRY: Recurring right ankle injuries forced Curry to miss 40 games last season and has cast a shadow over his potential contract extension. The sweet-shooting combo guard appears to be one of the franchise’s cornerstones and has had preliminary discussions with the Warriors, who are adopting a wait-and-see attitude in advance of the Oct. 31 deadline.
Curry had ankle surgery in April and has moved past his rehabilitation, going full speed for spurts of 10-15 minutes during workouts before backing off as a precaution. He has said he will be fully recovered by the start of the season but gave no indication of his readiness for training camp. PROJECTION: Barring a setback, Curry will start Opening Night. The offseason acquisition of Jarrett Jack will allow Golden State to protect Curry through training camp and preseason.
ANDREW BOGUT: Golden State’s second cornerstone has yet to play for the Warriors, already declared out for the season when he was acquired at the trading deadline. He had surgery on his left ankle in late April to remove bone spurs and loose bodies. When healthy, he is a top-five center. But he has missed 130 games over the last four seasons.
As of late August, Bogut had yet to run at full speed on a court. He has said he will not push himself to be ready for the start of training camp but rather is targeting the season opener for his return and Warriors debut. He could possibly play in some preseason games but not at the expense of a full recovery. PROJECTION: Like Curry, Bogut will start Opening Night. There are some who believe Golden State can make the playoffs, but not without full, productive seasons from Curry and Bogut.
BROOK LOPEZ: The Nets center never missed a game in his first three seasons but played just five last season due to two separate injuries – including a stress fracture – in his right foot. Lopez spent the offseason recovering from the injuries and wondering whether he would be traded to Orlando for Howard.
When that deal fell through, Lopez signed a four-year, $60 million deal with the Nets. That’s a lot of iron for a 7-footer who doesn’t rebound and is coming off a serious injury, but Lopez should be fully healthy by the start of training camp. PROJECTION: Alongside Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams in an awesome starting lineup in the season opener.
AVERY BRADLEY: It’s hard to believe that a player with 536 career points is on this list, but Bradley ended last season as Boston’s starting shooting guard, having supplanted Ray Allen with his dogged defense. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely due to separations of both shoulders that required separate surgeries.
The required extensive rehab means Bradley will miss all of training camp, the preseason and the first month of the season. VP Danny Ainge even intimated that Bradley could miss two months,a dn coach Doc Rivers said that Bradley’s recovery won’t be rushed. The offseason acquisitions of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will let Bradley take his time. PROJECTION: Sometime in December. Keep in mind that his injuries prevent Bradley from working on dribbling and shooting.
IMAN SHUMPERT: One of last season’s better rookies, Shumpert showed flashes that he can be the shooting guard for the Knicks for years to come. However, he suffered a torn ACL in the playoffs, and for the second time in as many seasons will not have a true training camp.
Shumpert reportedly has been taking his rehab very seriously but as of last month still had not begun basketball workouts. The Knicks knew he would be sidelined for some time and addressed his anticipated absence with their offseason moves. PROJECTION: Sometime in January. Until his return, J.R. Smith and Ronnie Brewer will hold down the position, but …
RONNIE BREWER: Signed late in the offseason, Brewer tore the meniscus in his left knee in August and underwent arthroscopic surgery last week. He is expected to be sidelined six weeks and maintains that he will be ready for the season opener, although likely without conditioning and rhythm. PROJECTION: Active for the opener but fully ready sometime in mid-November. Smith and Jason Kidd – who played plenty of 2-guard in Dallas – will fill in.
KYRIE IRVING: The face of Cleveland’s franchise – now and for the short-term future – suffered a freak injury in the offseason when he broke a bone in his right hand hitting a wall during a workout vs. Team USA in July. But he has already resumed playing and will be ready for the start of training camp. PROJECTION: Starting on Opening Night.
DWYANE WADE: The All-Star guard of the defending champion Heat has a new injury – writer’s cramp in his right shoulder, brought on by autographing thousands of copies of his book on his current three-week tour. However, he is fully recovered from offseason knee surgery that slowed him at times in the postseason and forced him to tap out of the Olympics.
Wade said he will be ready for the start of Miami’s training camp in late September. Now on thw wrong side of 30, he should see limited action throughout the preseason. PROJECTION: Starting vs. Boston on Opening Night.
RAY ALLEN: The all-time leader in 3-pointers struggled on both ends of the floor and lost his starting spot in the postseason due to bone spurs in his right ankle that required surgery in June. In the offseason, he left Boston – presumably because the Celtics tried to trade him at the deadline – and took less money to join Miami.
A month ago, Allen said he was at 75 percent and expected to be 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp. His well-documented work ethic has illustrated that there is no reason not to believe him. PROJECTION: Subbing in for Wade about seven minutes into the season opener to fire daggers at his former team.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.