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On Injury

Injuries are a part of life in the NBA. In fact, injuries are part of any professional sport, and there’s no way to prevent them completely. The latest example of a horrible freak injury in the NBA sphere was the gruesome and tragic leg injury suffered by Paul George at the end of a Team USA scrimmage. “Leg injury” is extremely euphemistic for the severity of the break he suffered just above the ankle, but my recommendation is to avoid watching footage of it and just leave it at that. It’s a horrible injury, it was a freak accident, he’s already begun the recovery process, and the sooner he heals, the better.

This injury brings up an important topic, which is the reaction to and planning for freak injuries like this. Debates over stanchion placement aside, there’s not a lot of blame to go around, here. It’s normal to want to find the culprit, to rectify the wrong. The only problem is that in the case of most injuries, there’s no such party. Much is being made of this injury changing the way NBA teams and players interact with FIBA, but really this changes nothing. There was a tiny chance a player might get seriously hurt playing basketball anywhere, and those chances haven’t changed. The only difference is that now people can see the difference between a tiny chance and no chance at all.

The Houston Rockets have had their share of injuries in recent memory, spanning from Yao Ming’s tragic career-ending foot injuries to Tracy McGrady’s knee issues to the bizarre infection Kyle Lowry suffered to the lingering thigh problems that apparently cost Omer Asik most of a season. Like any team, the Rockets have suffered at the hands of probability and human mortality. They have, however, suffered less in recent years.

Its possible that the Rockets’ relatively low injury rate is a quirk of fate, but the conscious choice to avoid injury-prone players would be a natural response to the spate of season-ending injuries that plagued the Rockets in the late 2000’s. Injuries like McGrady’s knees and Yao’s feet were chronic, repeated and systemically caused. These are the sort of ailments that can be predicted, prevented, or sidestepped entirely. These are the sort of ailments Houston doesn’t want to see any more.

Acquiring Kevin Martin may have seemed like the antithesis to that plan, but his reputation for being injury-prone was overall undeserved. A groin pull and an ankle injury are two unrelated injuries, and the shoulder tear he suffered while in Houston similarly didn’t correlate with either of the other two. Dwight Howard similarly has become an injury concern, but apart from having to recover from a bizarre incident in which one of his spinal discs herniated (possibly due to a punch) and tearing a shoulder muscle in the process, he’s been exceptionally hale and healthy his entire career. Even James Harden’s worst injury was a result of being elbowed in the head. These aren’t expected risks. These are flukes.

Therein lies the rub. The Rockets seem to prefer players who are free from chronic or predictable injuries. The Phoenix Suns goes one step further and actively prevents them, but avoiding them is also a viable strategy. Freak injuries will happen in either case, from a horribly broken leg to some strange abdominal infection which sidelined Kyle Lowry for months. The important thing to remember about those kind of injuries is that they can always happen. Just walking down the stairs was enough to break Carlos Boozer’s hand. You can’t prevent them all. You can only administer medical care and hope for a speedy recovery when they do happen. Heal soon, Paul George.

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