Redd's injury comeback his 'biggest mountain'
PHOENIX — Michael Redd doesn't see his one-year contract with the Phoenix Suns as "one last shot" or his last opportunity to revive a promising NBA career derailed by knee injuries. In fact, he sees it as something much different.
"I think this is one of my crowning achievements to be honest," Redd said. "Making it to the All-Star Game and winning (an Olympic) gold medal were wonderful things, but for me to come back from this injury and play basketball — twice — might be the biggest mountain I've ever had to climb."
That injury, a twice-torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, has limited Redd to just 61 games the past three seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Now entering his 12th NBA season and expected to make his Suns debut Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Redd is determined to find his old form and establish himself again among the league's best shooting guards. But can a 32-year-old coming off two knee surgeries resemble the player who averaged more than 21 points per game six seasons in a row?
Opinions are mixed around the league, and even somewhat within the organization. The Suns don't doubt Redd's potential to play like an all-star again; they're just tempering expectations and letting the experiment play out.
"We know what he's done and what his history has been as a player," Suns general manager Lance Blanks said. "We felt that it was a great opportunity for us to take a look at him and give it a crack. As far as expectations, we really have been trying to manage those because it's been several months since he's played.
"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves expecting too little or too much."
Blanks' approach seems the standard among Suns leadership right now. They've been more focused on getting him physically ready than postulating on how many minutes he might get or how much scoring he can add.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry has been perhaps most adamant about keeping expectations for Redd down to earth. As a basketball lifer, he knows comebacks don’t just happen overnight.
"The thing you have to understand is he hasn't played competitively in eight months," Gentry said Wednesday. "I don't want anyone to think this guy is going to be the knight on the white horse coming in because he's got a lot of work to do to get back to even remotely where he was. He's put in a lot of hard work, but it's going to take time to get his timing back."
There's no one more convinced Redd can be the player he once was — he averaged 21.2 points per game in 33 games of the 2008-09 season before the first knee injury — than Redd himself. Almost any player on the comeback trail is likely to feel that way, but with Redd there are no conditional modifiers. No "ifs," "maybe" or "I thinks."
Asked directly after Wednesday's practice if he could be that player again, at his age and after what he's been through, Redd never hesitated before offering an "Absolutely."
"I wouldn't have played if I couldn't," Redd said. "I asked the doctor if I could play at a high level again after the reconstruction of my knee. He said 'Absolutely. If you do it right, you should be fine.'"
Wednesday was Redd's first participation in full court 5-on-5 scrimmaging with the Suns. Redd said he's about 90 percent in terms of plays and comfort level in the Suns' system, and his minutes will almost certainly be limited at first.
To Redd, though, getting back to where he is physically was the biggest step in the process. From here, it only gets easier.
"I feel really good," Redd said. "Being able to play the last couple weeks in practice not worrying about pain, not worrying about the knee at all is a blessing."
If there's anywhere for Redd to experience a career renaissance, Phoenix might be the place. Redd said he was drawn to the Suns' renowned training staff, one that revived Grant Hill's career after countless injuries and made Shaquille O'Neal an all-star again.
If that medical staff can keep Redd injury free, there's plenty of opportunity here. If he could somehow manage half of his career-best 26.7 scoring average of five seasons ago, he'd be leading scorer on a team that's lacked a primary go-to weapon.
Plenty of Bucks fans might chuckle at Redd's talk of being a top shooting guard in the NBA again, but he doesn't hear any of that. Nor does he get caught up in his own expectations.
Redd isn’t over-thinking his potential return on Thursday. He's not thinking about how many minutes he might get or how many points he might score, and he's definitely not thinking about how successful this comeback might be because to him it's already been a success. So what's left to think about?
"I'm looking forward to the National Anthem and breaking a sweat in the warmup line," Redd said. "You miss the little things when you haven't played in so long.
"Every single game I've ever played in I've been nervous before the game. Once the ball's tipped though, a different Michael comes out."