By Craig Kwasniewski
Are the Lakers getting medical treatment at Kaiser Permanente?
Seriously, did the Lakers outsource their training staff? How is it that one of the marquee franchises in professional sports continues to be struck with the injury bug? Last season I put the blame squarely on a roster loaded with injury-prone players, but looking back I think it's the Lakers training/medical staff. Here's a list of previous errors/underestimates/misfortunes (it goes back to the 2003-04 season):
Karl Malone in 2003-04 - The Lakers look unstoppable with Shaq, Kobe, GP and the Mailman and are heading toward a record season when Scott Williams injures Malone's knee in December. The initial prognosis was day-to-day with Malone returning by the New Year. Karl Malone never fully recovers, playing out his final season on one knee ultimately missing Game 5 of the NBA Finals... the last game of his career. Rumors persist that the medical staff misdiagnosed the knee injury early on and rushed him to recovery too soon.
The 2004-05 Season - the Rudy T. era never happened! Vlade Divac never returned to the Lakers to steal money and smoke 12 packs a day. Kobe Bryant never played the All-Star game sporting a Boom Dizzle beard. Chucky Atkins didn't start 82 games for the Lakers. This season never happened!!!!
Chris Mihm in 2005-06 - Mihm sprains his ankle late in a game against Seattle. The initial diagnosis is a severe spain and Mihm misses the next 17 games, but he plays the final regular season game hoping to get healthy for the playoffs. It backfires and Mihm is forced to have surgery on the ankle. He is *STILL* recovering from that injury, only playing in 20 games in the past two seasons.
Are the Lakers using 30 Rock's Dr. Spaceman?
Luke Walton in 2006-07 - Walton sprains an ankle and is listed day-to-day. Turns out, day-to-day is defined as 22 missed games out of the last 28... and people still think he's recovering from the ankle this season. (BTW - I'm leaning toward the whole "year after contract year" thing.) Whatever it is, all season we were told that Walton is coming back any day... stay tuned, this is a theme.
Vladimir Radmanovic in 2006-07 - The dude separates his shoulder snowboarding. It's a straight up douchebag move! No accusations at the training staff for this one. It just goes to show that Lakers + Vlade/Vladi = dumbass move!
Andrew Bynum in 2007-08 - Bynum hurts his knee against the Grizz back in January. Sitting at the top of the Western Conference, the season looks lost and fears of "here we go again (with the injuries)" are throughout the locker room. The Lakers diagnose it as a "temporarily dislocated his kneecap and suffered a bone bruise" with a recovery time of 8 weeks (a mid-March return). Bynum is still not ready to return. Reports fluctuate from next week to early May with rumors of next season... it seems as though nobody knows.
Are the Lakers calling Dr. Bombay?
Trevor Ariza in 2007-08 - Lakers back-up forward and key reserve breaks his foot in practice on January 21st. The timeline is that he will be out about eight weeks. Ummmm... he's still out and it looks like he won't return until the playoffs... maybe. It seems as though nobody knows.
Pau Gasol in 2007-08 - Pau lands on Vladi (there's that Vlade/Vladi jinx again!) and sprains his ankle a few weeks ago against New Orleans. The Lakers are left with Ronnie Turiaf, DJ Mbenga (Mr. Opposition And-1) and Chris Mihm's recovering ankle as their only bigs left. Gasol's initial estimate for return is about two weeks... it's been two weeks and two days with continued swelling. Hopefully this ain't a Walton-esque day-to-day because the Lakers are reeling without the Mad Spaniard. Again, the theme of underestimating the injury rings true.
How is it that a team like Phoenix is able to avoid similiar problems? They cured Steve Nash's chronic back, they cured Grant Hill's ridonkulous ankle problems and Shaquille O'Neal is moving around like it's 2005. Even Amare Stoudemire has completely recovered a career-threatening micro-facture surgery! And didn't Raja Bell return from a horrible-looking spained ankle? How are these guys able to go at it a nightly basis and the younger Lakers sit in designer suits?
Just watching the Lakers trudge through the last few games of the regular season you can see that the surviving top 8 are exhausted. The regular season is a long marathon and with so many players forced to go longer minutes that normal they're starting to break down. Derek Fisher has as slight tear in his foot and Kobe is pulling an A.I. with all of his nagging injuries. So the question remains, when the hell will these guys get back?
Either the team doctors are playing it ultra-safe (especially after leaning their lessons with Malone and Mihm) or they simply don't have a clue... which should be a red flag. Either way, I think the Lakers are too exhausted and don't have the time to incorporate Bynum and Ariza into the mix to put together a serious run this spring (translation: second round exit). What they really need to do is ask why, with the technology today, do the Lakers take forever to recover?