MINNEAPOLIS – Brandon Roy was staring at his feet.
He was staring right past those knees, right past the problem. He doesn’t like to think about the problem, really, but now, when it’s being forced down his throat, he has to. It’s a silent problem, an invisible one. Roy was dressed as if he were about to change out of his warm-ups and into his jersey for a game, but of course, that was not the case.
The knee is still banged up.
Roy is still discouraged.
The Timberwolves are still waiting, waiting, waiting for the moment when they can say, for certain, he’ll be back.
Friday? “I would like to,” Roy said before Wednesday’s game. “That’s the goal. I don’t want to say yeah or no.”
Concrete answers have not been Roy’s friend in this comeback. He can’t think in black and white. It’s got to be in the gray area, which is where he has hovered since the season began and the questions about how good, how fast, how soon began. It’s a way to hedge bets, a way not to disappoint.
Only with Roy does a bumped knee suffice as a reason to miss three and a half games and counting. We hear knee, and bumped works. Really, knee plus any excuse would probably work. Itchy. Aggravated. Tingly. Because there are still so many questions. Look at Roy. Watch him talk. Watch as the confident words come out as the certainty drains from his expression with every question, every mention of knee, knee, knee.
Brandon Roy thought this would go better. In fact, he didn’t think about this at all, he said, about missing games and being sore and worrying about what the next day would bring. Maybe that’s the only way a man can do what he has done over the past six months. Maybe that’s how he got to where he is right now. But if he’s going to go further, he’s going to have to face the downsides and the potential for more disruptions.
“I try not to think about it, really,” Roy said. “I try not to think about it much. I know talking with Coach (Rick Adelman) and David (Kahn), they were like, they somewhat said they expected it. But for me … I tried to just prepare and not worry about it that much. But they seem as if maybe they were prepared for some nicks and bumps.”
Were they ever. When Adelman talks about Roy, he’s calm. When Kahn, the team’s president of basketball operations, discusses the surprise of the shooting guard’s first few months, it’s not that he’s sitting injured on Nov. 14. The surprise was his “terrific” training camp, Kahn said, and the preseason that followed accordingly. The good has been the shock, and the bad has been, if not expected, then at least taken in stride.
That’s how you deal with a situation like this, one that’s hardly unprecedented but so far from the norm. You think small.
“I thought there were always going to be times like this,” Adelman said. “It’s just, you didn’t know what was going to come. He was doing pretty well until he got his knee bumped in that exhibition game, and that’s kind of caused him some problems. But I always thought there was going to be times like this.”
The optimists among Timberwolves observers say that most of Roy’s shakiness stems from the fact that he never let himself imagine the problems. There had been too many already, why force more prematurely? But the pessimists say that it’s because he knows something we don’t, feels something we don’t feel, wonders if this isn’t going to work.
The answer, most likely, lies in that gray area.
So now, Roy will practice. He hasn’t gotten to do so in days because of the injury and scheduling, and he wants some competition and contact, he says, before getting back into games. Thursday brings a chance for that, though he still didn’t know Wednesday night the extent to which he’d be able to participate. On Wednesday, the clearest statement about how that sore right knee felt was that when he walks around, it feels better.
Brandon Roy can walk without pain. If that’s news, then this plan is in trouble. Thursday, he’ll see if he can jump without pain, cut without pain, shoot without pain. Perhaps a new baseline will be established. If he can do all that, then the plan is on surer footing.
If he can do all that, maybe his eyes won’t be so haunted. Maybe he won’t have to stare at the ground. It could be easier. It can be, and if Roy can alter his expectations so that they’re more in line with Adelman’s and Kahn’s, this will be a process less grueling, less draining.
Maybe then some of the weight will lift, when a few missed games can just the norm and not missing time an unexpected perk.
Or maybe the weight is there for another reason, beyond just those expectations that he imposed on himself and isn’t yet meeting. Only Brandon Roy can feel those joints, feel where this is going to end. He’s felt an ending before, and you’ve got to know he’s praying not to feel that final bump, that last tweak, that twinge that pushes it all out of reach.
This is going to be harder than Roy expected, but everyone around him is prepared for that. Now, one obstacle into this, he must accept the comeback for what it is, with all of its imperfections and setbacks.
If there’s one message Roy needs to hear, it’s this: Listen to Adelman. Listen to how calm he is. Follow his lead. It tends to work.