Hawks wings Korver, Sefolosha look to return to form following offseason surgeries

BY Zach Dillard • September 28, 2015

ATLANTA - Kyle Korver spent a lot of time on the couch this offseason. Much more than expected.

"It was not the offseason that I was hoping for," Korver said, laughing his way through the Atlanta Hawks media day on Monday. "I had two surgeries. I tried to get them both done at the same time: I was like, 'Knock me out. One doctor comes in. He goes out. The other guy (comes in).' I really fought for this. Me and (coach Mike Budenholzer), we had this probably not so good conversation on the phone. I was like, 'Just make this happen.' Doctors didn't think it was a good idea. 

" ... It made for a lot of rehab. It was a long summer in that way. It limits you in what you'd rather be doing with your offseason."

The veteran Hawks guard wasn't alone.

It was a trying summer in general for the Hawks' depth on the perimeter. The franchise added young pieces in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Holiday and returned Kent Bazemore, but starting forward DeMarre Carroll signed a free-agent contract with Toronto and Korver, Thabo Sefolosha and Shelvin Mack are still recovering from various offseason surgeries.

Such were the aftereffects of the injury bug that plagued the Hawks roster en route to last season's Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

Sefolosha fractured his fibula and suffered ligament damage in his right leg while being arrested in New York City. All-Star forward Paul Millsap dealt with a shoulder injury throughout the playoffs. Carroll, the team's defensive stalwart and most consistent playoff contributor, sprained his knee during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Korver suffered ligament damage in Game 2 against Cleveland, an injury which required surgery, then underwent a second procedure on his elbow in July. Throw in third-string point guard Shelvin Mack (shoulder surgery) and perhaps the Hawks' biggest offseason acquisition was a clean bill of health.

Budenholzer announced at Monday's media day that Sefolosha, Korver and Mack have each been cleared for basketball activities, including 5-on-5 full-court action, before the start of training camp. It was an ahead-of-schedule announcement considering the severity of the injuries suffered by Korver and Sefolosha, the two best wings on the Hawks roster and the presumptive starters alongside All-Stars Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague.

While not "100 percent" at the moment, all three players said they expect to be ready for the regular-season opener on Oct. 27.

"I think we will be judicious in how much they do in camp," Budenholzer said. "We'll probably err on the side of caution and keep them out of some parts of practice. I think it will mostly be dictated by the medical staff and they're feeling and what we're seeing. But for all intents and purposes, we feel like they're in a great place."

Added Sefolosha: "I’m thinking that the toughest part is going to be now. As you come back and you start playing 5-on-5, you don’t know how much your body can take. It’s going to be somewhat of a process.”

Still, clearance from the medical staff is only one step — albeit the most important step — in a long journey.

Horford has been in a similar position before. The longest-tenured Atlanta player watched as the previous two offseasons were undercut by shoulder and pectoral injuries and their subsequent rehab requirements, a complicated balance for athletes looking to improve despite physical limitations.

"The biggest thing is to get healthy. You can't worry about the game. You have to get healthy first," Horford said. "Once you're in a position where you feel good physically, then you can start trying to add."

This process is simpler for some than others.

Mack was sidelined for months after his shoulder surgery, but said the time off allowed him to recover both mentally and physically. For him, it was a welcomed respite from the daily, year-round basketball grind that has carried him since his high-school and AAU days in Lexington, Ky. Sefolosha said he was still able to work on his shot, even making mechanical adjustments from a chair.

Then there's Korver, the hyperactive veteran who could get cabin fever from taking a 30-minute nap. The sharpshooter's offseason workouts have grown into legend — his misogi regimen, ocean floor marathons while carrying small boulders in shark-infested waters, blurs the line between expert-level exercise and pure pain tolerance — but were sidelined this offseason. That left him at home, healing, waiting.

"There’s definitely a silver lining in it," Korver said. "I think I’m still trying to find it."

Where this missed time leaves the Hawks, especially during the first couple months of the season, remains a question mark.

Korver, in particular, has enjoyed the rare late-career prime in large part due to his revamped workout routine, riding it to a career-best season at age 33. The Hawks posted a 43-9 record with a healthy Sefolosha, who, at age 31, became a model of efficiency off the bench, in the lineup. Can that season-long production be replicated?

At the very least, that's two of the team's top three wings that will need to use training camp and the preseason as a means to not only find a rhythm with new teammates and lineup combinations but to help get themselves in prime physical condition for the 82-game schedule. Big picture: Asking two veterans with a combined 21 seasons' worth of NBA mileage to maintain their level of play coming off surgeries is a tall order. It may take time. It may require greater contributions from the likes of Hardaway Jr., Bazemore and Holiday.

For Korver, the injury did provide perspective: He's not ready for the couch. Not yet. He thinks there's still plenty in the tank.

“It was interesting going from being so fully engaged in the playoffs and then all of a sudden, boom, you’re hurt, you’re out, you’re done. And you’re not just done, but you’re stuck on the couch. That was interesting to deal with," Korver said. "You sit back and reflect on the season and what you want to accomplish still in your career. I definitely don’t want to be done."