Friday, January 16, 2009

Off-the-court superstars

Forgive me for my lack of journalistic integrity--and effort--in submitting this post. I am not, in actuality, posting to offer information, but instead to ask a simple question.
How important are trainers to NBA teams?
I just read an article about the resurgence of The Diesel (SLAM Online in which Steve Kerr confessed that his biggest Ace in hand that made him gamble on the Shaq deal was the quality of the training staff for the Phoenix Suns. He had reason to believe that they were talented and knowledgable enough to restore Shaq to become a decent contributor.

As the article shows, though, Steve Kerr was wrong, but only by degree. They were SO capable that Shaq has ballooned to average 21 and 10 in his last month of basketball. They are also the same trainers that restored Amare Stoudemire's microfractured knee, who have made Grant Hill look like he's back in his twenties, and have kept Steve Nash on the court the past 3 seasons, bad back and all.

Some guys are just going to have injuries, and there are many teams who don't have anything to offer to adequately heal the wounds of some of their players. But the Suns staff has definitely proven that they are among the best in the business at restoring health to players who sometimes haven't experienced health in a long time.

Thinking about this, my mind immediately jumped to the other side of the spectrum and it unfair to be as critical of some teams as we are complimentary of the Suns? Case-in-point: the Orlandooooo Magic! How many players can you name off the top of YOUR head with ties to Orlando who had derailing injuries that led to declines in their careers? And note, I'm not even saying the injuries happened in Orlando, just that the player has ties. I can think of three in particular:

1. Tracy McGrady - back problems started there, worsened in Houston
2. Grant Hill - ankle injury kept him bench-ridden for much of three seasons
3. Penny Hardaway - went from great to gone in less than 5 seasons after injuries hit

Now in complete fairness, the same staff was able to keep Darrell Armstrong's frail bones on the court, which is a feat. Also, the current Magic staff has kept Dwight Howard on the court for nearly every game of his career, which is incomprehensible for a seven-footer.

Still, in that era...either their injuries were progressed beyond the help of their current medicine, or there was some mishandling (which there definitely was in the case of Grant Hill).

So that's my question--is it reading too much into things to say that trainers are this valuable? Clearly the Suns staff is doing a phenomenal job, but is it too much to assume that all trainers are having that much of an impact on their teams, for good or for bad? I'm gonna look into it further...maybe do some actual research on the thing. While some guys are built like tanks and avoid injury with sheer will (LeBron), and other guys have high thresholds for pain (maybe Paul Pierce, unless you're a Lakers fan), it would seem like a great training staff can be the difference between a physically-prepared, 58-win team and a physically-drained, 52-win team at the end of the season.

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