Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
As you'd expect, the Nets aren't providing any timetable for Kevin Durant's return to the court.
"We're certainly not going to rush him back," GM Sean Marks said recently on a WFAN interview. "There's going to be absolutely none of that. We have far too much invested in him, and we owe it to Kevin to get him back to 100%."
Will Durant ever be fully healthy after tearing his right Achilles? And can he return to the court next season?
Expert surgeons are split on those issues. Some believe he could be back to the court in six months, while others estimate it could take closer to 12 months. Some believe Durant can eventually be back at full strength, while others say his surgically-repaired leg will be compromised. And several surgeons are intrigued by the idea that Durant may face better odds in his recovery because he injured his right leg rather than his left.
Below, surgeons weigh in on those questions and others surrounding Durant's return.
THE TIMETABLE TO GET BACK ON THE COURT:
As recent history shows, the timetable for a return to the court following Achilles surgery varies greatly. Wes Matthews returned to the court roughly seven months after tearing his Achilles (he wasn't the same player post injury). DeMarcus Cousins came back roughly 12 months after his Achilles injury (he hasn't been the same player).
Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins returned 10 months after his injury and, in many categories, produced just as well post-injury as he did prior to his Achilles tear.
"Every elite athlete is different. Typically, the timetable for a return to play after this injury starts with practicing about four months after the injury," says Dr. Laith Jazrawi, orthopedic surgeon and Chief of the Division of Sports Medicine at NYU Langone Health. "…. And typically, the goal would be by six months, they've restored enough strength that they can play in a competitive game. But those timetables can be different for everyone."
Dr. Evan Argintar, who worked as an assistant team physician for the Washington Wizards, estimates that it could take an NBA player roughly 12 months to return to the court. And it could take several weeks after that point for the player to regain full capacity.
"Even if they're able to play basketball, they're not necessarily at their peak performance on that point," Argintar says. "You can sometimes take another six to 12 months for players to really get at their highest level of recovery. So it can be a gradual process."
IS DURANT MORE LIKELY TO RETURN AT AN ELITE LEVEL BECAUSE HE TORE HIS RIGHT ACHILLES?
There was an interesting theory posted by a reader rbnynyc11 on the site NetsDaily recently. The theory - which originated from the reddit user lolathon 234 - stated that players who injured the Achilles in the leg that they use for their first step most often (for right-handed players, that would be the left Achilles) fared worse in their recovery than players who injured the opposite leg. Durant, a right-handed player, tore his right Achilles tendon. So, the theory says, Durant is more likely to return at a high level after Achilles surgery.
For evidence, the user cited Wilkins, who tore his right Achilles and performed well post-surgery. The user also cited right-handed players who tore their left Achilles and didn't fare as well post-surgery, such as Kobe Bryant, Elton Brand and Matthews.
Of course, there are several different factors that come into play (age, position, body type, mental/emotional confidence in leg post-surgery), making direct comparisons difficult. But it's noteworthy that Brand said in a 2013 interview that he wasn't as effective jumping off of his dominant leg post-surgery.
"Once I started playing, mentally for me it was tough for me to jump off my left foot again," Brand told insidesocal.com. "I didn't have the same explosiveness that I had. I regained and then I relost it. I didn't have it. I had to change my game a little bit where I jumped off two feet and I was a little bit slower."
Does that theory make sense to surgeons?
"It absolutely does," says Dr. Ettore Vulcano, a foot and ankle surgeon at Mount Sinai West. "I don't think it's that the recovery is slower or quicker. I think it's really more of the amount of stress you're putting on that tendon."
Adds Dr. J. Turner Vosseller, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia: "That's actually pretty interesting to think about. I suspect because that's the more dominant foot when they play, that it's probably true…. But I'm not aware of any study or anything that's objectively looked at that."
Others surgeons were unconvinced.
"That's probably a bit of wishful thinking," Argintar says.
"We haven't seen any data (to support it)," says Dr. Kevin Stone, an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and the chairman of the Stone Research Foundation.
Still, it's an interesting theory to consider for Durant and the Nets.
CAN DURANT BE THE SAME PLAYER WHEN HE RETURNS?
As stated above, the evidence suggests that Durant is likely to be compromised in some way by his Achilles injury.
"I would be very surprised if he is the same player (after surgery)," Dr. John Wilckens, chief of sports medicine in the surgery division at Johns Hopkins Medicine, says. "…. No matter how gifted the surgeon may be or how well the recovery goes, I don't think he's ever 100 percent (after surgery). Ninety-five percent (of strength returned in his surgically-repaired leg) is probably a good goal. For most of us, 95 percent is excellent, but when you're playing at the NBA level, championship level then maybe 95 percent isn't good enough.
"(The injury) affects everything," the surgeon adds. "Whether it's your jump shot, your defense, your ability to go down the lane, it affects your whole game - not just your running ability. I think 95 percent is a pretty safe number. Ninety-five percent of Durant is probably better than most players, but he's not 100 percent."
Surgeons disagreed over how that strength differential could impact Durant on the court.
"In Kevin's case, it may actually be insignificant," Vulcano says. "Once you injure any part of the body, it's never going to go back to 100 percent. But even if it goes to 90 percent, what clinical significance does it have? If (the athlete is) still able to do whatever they were able to (before surgery), who cares? It's like saying your left arm is weaker than your right arm. Sure. Does it limit you in any way? Not at all."
Says Stone: "I think (the amount of strength in the leg) depends on the training and the post-op rehab program because the atrophy that occurs from this injury and surgery can be significant…. Some players are on the training program right away and have very little (atrophy) and others have quite a bit. And I think that affects whether they come back 100 percent, or not."
Here, it's worth noting that the Nets have what is widely considered the top medical and performance staff in the NBA and that Nets team orthopedist Dr. Martin O'Malley performed Durant's mid-June Achilles surgery.
Still, if Durant gets to 95 percent strength in his surgically repaired leg, that would be considered a success. A 2013 study stated that only eight of 18 players who suffered a major Achilles injury over a 23-year span (1988-2011) returned to play more than two seasons.
A 2017 study that Vosseller worked on concluded that 70 percent of players in the four major sports in the United States return to play and that players' statistics often returned to normal in the second season after they returned.
"(Durant) would likely continue to improve into the second year, if you look at the general trend," Vosseller says.
That's not an ideal scenario for Brooklyn. Assuming Durant misses the coming season, that timetable means he'd be fully recovered in the 2021-22 season, the third year of his four-year contract and the season before his player option.
Of course, Durant can beat those odds thanks to his age, body type and style of play. He also has several hurdles to clear before he and the Nets start to think about a potential return to the court. Jazrawi says the Achilles rehab process typically includes walking without the support of a boot after two months, running at the three-month mark and doing on-court drills at four months.
"Typically by six months, they're getting to 85-90 percent in terms of their strength restoration," Jazrawi says.
That kind of progression would be ideal for both Durant and the Nets, who hope near the top of the Eastern Conference standings whenever their star returns to the court.