MINNEAPOLIS – It took only two words for panic. Two words, eleven letters, impending doom.
More specifically, Brandon Roy, right knee, arthroscopic surgery, Monday.
That was the word late Sunday night, and to watch the internet (more specifically, the gossip monster that is Twitter) was to see just how fragile Brandon Roy really is. Fragile in the sense that it took 270 minutes in 12 games for Roy to need surgery, however minor, but fragile in a bigger sense, too. Just the mere mention of a knee and a procedure caused widespread speculation that Roy was done, that the Timberwolves’ experiment was kaput. There was eulogizing, for the second time in a year, an almost funereal tone about a career and what could have been.
And maybe it was right. Maybe in this case the facts – that arthroscopic surgery usually means missing just weeks, that Roy is obviously undergoing it in order to continue this shaky comeback – are a little different. Maybe funereal is appropriate. Because with this setback, there’s some kind of bigger statement, even a consensus. The Brandon Roy that once was, that we hoped might somehow improbably reemerge, really may be no longer.
But to clarify, this is nowhere near the knee surgery Chase Budinger had last week, nothing close to what Ricky Rubio went through in March. It’s minimally invasive, and it’s not something that will keep him out for months. However, the one- to two-week recovery period that some athletes face after the procedure will likely not be the case in this instance.
The surgery, in a way, might be likened to a fact-finding mission. Roy had been experiencing what he described as a catching feeling on the lateral side of his right knee. It began during the game in Green Bay Oct. 26, and though it gradually seemed to be getting better, in the past week to 10 days, the improvement had ceased.
“What we won’t know is whether it’s related to the overall condition of his knees or if it could have occurred to anybody based on what happened in Green Bay,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said of the pain.
The Timberwolves had a baseline for Roy’s condition in September based on current MRIs, and this surgery will likely give them a better idea of what’s happened since that baseline was established, if anything. The team will receive word later Monday about what Dr. David Fischer found and if he had to clean up anything within the joint.
From there, it will be time to create a new plan for Roy, both in terms of his rehab and a timeline for his return. There’s no way at this point to even speculate what that plan might entail, but coach Rick Adelman did admit Monday that when he talked about expecting obstacles in Roy’s comeback, he was not necessarily expecting so much so soon.
“From the very start, you knew it was going to be up and down, but it’s too bad that it’s this,” Adelman said. “I think he feels like it’s worth doing and making sure everything’s alright. You have to go with it, and hopefully when it’s over with, he’ll be able to come back.”
Hopefully he’ll be able to come back. Already, we’re back to the questions, and the brief minute in which Roy was a legitimate NBA player again is over. Now he’s coming back again, questionable, at least for a while without a specified return date.
That’s what makes this sad. Not that the Timberwolves are going to suffer without him, because really, look at Roy’s numbers: He’s been good for averages of 5.8 points, 4.6 assists – nothing that’s going to make or break a team. They won once he went down, and they’ll win again with Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea, and eventually Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio back on the court. What’s sad is that this man who’s given everything to basketball has opened himself up to it again, and again, he may have been slapped in the face. He’s been given yet another warning that sorry, the sport you love, your greatest passion that was once your biggest talent, might not want you.
Roy has known that this might not work since the outset, of course, and he talks a good game. He’s said multiple times that if he had to quit tomorrow, it would be okay because he got his second chance.
He talks a good game, but you have to wonder.
Roy is one of the minority of athletes who looks you in the eye nearly all the time. He doesn’t use his height as a way to create space, to look past you or over you or beyond you. He talks and he gazes straight on, except, of course, when he’s uncomfortable. And lately, he’s been just that. He’s glanced at his feet and avoided eye contact; he’s looked away when the questions begin, questions of how long this will last and how bad this bumped knee really is.
Now, the stigma is back. Knee surgery. Now, those who doubted Roy can extol their genius, and it’s so easy to forget that just a few weeks ago, this was a gamble that might have resulted in some second wind for a once-transcendent player. We’ve known this all along: With Brandon Roy, there was a chance for a team to win big. But there was also the bigger chance of this, the uncertainty, the setbacks and the hasty conclusions.
And so in this surgery that for any other athlete is a pause, maybe a warning flag but little more, it’s all too easy to come to an easy and false consensus that Roy is finished. That’s not what this procedure was about, but there’s no escaping that kind of thought, not with Brandon Roy.
If he comes back from this latest poking, prodding, cutting mission, if he takes the court again with the Timberwolves and continues on this odyssey, Roy will face this level of scrutiny, over and over. Every setback, the world will assume it’s the last time, the breaking point, and only he and the Timberwolves will insist that no, no it’s not. Eventually, things will have to stabilize, but until then, it’s going to be a lot of he-said, she-said when it comes to this fragile return.
A player can’t have these surgeries every few months and continue along with his career ho-hum, and so this week marks a turning point. It begs the question – is this sustainable? It marks a new level of gravitas, the clearest indication that this new Brandon Roy is still waging war with his health.
And if that’s not the case, if this bump was just a bump and things in those joints are humming along just fine? Well then it’s certainly going to take a lot more for Roy to prove otherwise than it would have even a week ago.