The Portland Trail Blazers were dealt some tough injury news on the eve of their first game since the All-Star break: Both LaMarcus Aldridge and Meyers Leonard will miss upcoming games due to injury.
Aldridge, who is averaging 23.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.00 blocked shot in 53 games for the Trail Blazers this season, will be out at least a week with a left groin strain. It’s been a slow developing problem since at least the game against the Timberwolves on Feb. 8 in which Aldridge sat in the fourth quarter.
“A little beat up, but I got through it” said Aldridge after that victory. “That’s why I wasn’t in there at the end. My body has been a little bit sore, some nagging things, but I got through it.”
Some questioned why Aldridge played just 13 minutes on Sunday in the 2014 All-Star Game, now some will likely wonder if he should have played at all, although the brand of basketball played in the All-Star Game didn’t seem all that rigorous, at least in comparison to the 37 minutes he played in Portland’s last game before the break.
Aldridge will be reevaluated in a week, which means he could miss more time depending on how the groin heals. Portland has five games in the next eight days, four of which are at the Moda Center.
Leonard’s injury, a left ankle sprain, occurred during the team’s
practice on Tuesday. He had played very limited minutes for at least the last month until Joel Freeland went down with a right MCL sprain. The second year center out of Illinois played 14 minutes in the last two games since Freeland’s injury, and now he’ll join him on the bench for at least the rest of February.
The loss of Aldridge is obviously the toughest for Terry Stotts to replace, in that it’s impossible considering what the 6-11 power forward has meant to the Trail Blazers this season. The Blazers have played the same starting lineup in every game this season and now will likely start either Thomas Robinson or Victor Claver in Aldridge’s place. It’s also a guarantee Stotts will employ various “small ball” lineups, at least until Aldridge is cleared to return.
Trail Blazers power forward Meyers Leonard took questions from the media prior to Saturday night’s game versus Philadelphia to address undergoing surgery on his left shoulder, which will sideline the fourth-year player for the rest of the season. Leonard discussed his thought on having to sit out the remainder of the season, his future with the team, how the injury impacts his impending restricted free agency, how much time he’ll miss, what he plans on working on as he heals and being around the team even though he won’t be playing.
How do you feel after learning you’ll be out for the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery?
Meyers Leonard: I feel fine. I’m just rehabbing my shoulder. Surgery is two weeks from yesterday, on (April) 8th. It’s better, actually, that the surgery is a couple weeks out because if you strengthen your shoulder, it’s better going into surgery. I feel fine. It’s fun being around the guys. Obviously I wish I could be out there playing with them. But they kind of keep my spirits up. I’m doing fine.
Way to describe how disappointing or disheartening it was to hear you were done for the season?
Meyers Leonard: Well, it’s definitely tough to hear and tough to make that decision. I waited for (Damian Lillard) after he shot (pregame) in LA, because I wanted to talk to him about my decision. The hardest thing, No. 1, we surprised so many people this year. I feel like I was a good piece to that. And I told him, ‘Man … not only last year in the playoffs, but this year, too, just being able to play and have some success has been a lot of fun. Even back to last year’s playoffs, this is the most incredible thing I’ve really ever experienced.’ So it’s tough to know that I’m shut down. But I’m happy with the overall decision of having to get it done. I kind of knew that was maybe going to be the end result once I (hurt) it again. But I have faith in what’s going to happen. I think everything will be just fine. Get the surgery, get rehabbed and come back stronger than ever.
Being a free agent, how would you describe your future with the organization?
Meyers Leonard: I think it looks bright. I believe that I can be a key piece of the future. Obviously, (I was) drafted with Damian. Been here with Terry (Stotts). And I think that Neil (Olshey), they guys, coaches, understand what I bring. As a person, No. 1, I try to treat everybody with respect and try to have a good face for the organization, as far as just being me. And of course, as a player, I believe I have a pretty big affect when I’m out there. Certainly, there are a lot of things I can work on. But even when I’m just out there, I think I have a different affect than just being statistical.
Do you regret passing up the contract extension offer in training camp?
Meyers Leonard: Not at all.
Meyers Leonard: Because I have faith in what I do, in this team, in the future and what more I know I can do. That’s the encouraging thing. This year has been a different year for me. All of a sudden, all these new things are thrown at me. I’m on scouting reports and I’m trying to learn new things and continue to grow as a player. My teammates are trusting me to make more plays and (play well) down the stretch. I believe in what more I can do and what I’ve already kind of shown. Certainly it takes an immense amount of hard work. And I’m going to do that. I have to rehab, get this done, get this out of the way and, like I said, come back stronger than ever.
Is there a similar uncertainty from when you broke your foot (in college)?
Meyers Leonard: No. There’s not really any uncertainty right now. I met with Dr. ElAttrache in Los Angeles, he’s very well known, probably the top shoulder guy in the country. I could obviously tell he really knows his stuff and I know he’s going to do a really good job, going to be able to help me with my thought process on rehab. Our training staff is unbelievable, and they have been, and I’m confident that I’ll be able to come back, again, stronger than ever.
Jason Quick had mentioned you’ll be out 6 to 8 months. Is that accurate?
Meyers Leonard: Yeah, that’s accurate. Obviously there’s a process to it: not doing anything to being able to lift more and do things like that and then getting on the court, individual workouts, then light contact, then working my way back in in, I don’t know, three-on-three, then back to playing. The number seems, and I guess the length of time, seems pretty substantial, but there’s other things I can do. I always try to find a positive in ‘Why did this happen? Why did I have to shut it down? Why is my shoulder messed up?’ Work on my leg strength, keep my cardio up as much as I can, work on my core strength, work on my middle game, watch more film, try to watch guys like Dirk (Nowitzki). Figure out how does he use his shooting ability to get off shots against bigs, against guards? How does he cause havoc for the defense? So there’s a lot of things I can continue to work on even though I’m going to be totally shut down, as far as my upper body goes, shooting the ball and things like that. But I’m optimistic, I’m encouraged about my future and I just have to remain positive and understand that everything is going to be just fine. Just go with the flow.
Have you ever missed that much time due to injury?
Meyers Leonard: No, absolutely not. I’ve been in a boot before because of my foot. Obviously the first dislocation in November I missed (seven games over 17 days). Aside from my ankle my rookie year, maybe that many days. But I’m not worried about it. Bike workouts, running when I can even though I’ll be pretty immobile and just doing anything I can to stay sharp mentally and do as much as I can physically.
Was it the labrum? What was the damage that was done?
Meyers Leonard: My labrum is torn and then that’s pretty much it. I have just some ligament damage. He’ll fix it up, he’s very optimistic about surgery and rehab and everything. So am I. Again, he’s really good at what he does and I’m just going to follow Dr. ElAttrache’s lead and our training staff because I fully trust them.
Do you feel confident that you haven’t played your last game in a Blazers uniform? Is it your goal to play and hope to remain here?
Meyers Leonard: Yeah, absolutely. I was drafted here, again, I’ve been with Terry the entire time, Neil obviously drafted me, being here with now our franchise player Damian. The group that we have, young, up-and-coming, very encouraging considering people thought, what, we’d win 26.5 games? I don’t know when we won that one but that was a while back. So the future is bright here and I truly hope that I can be a big part of it.
Will you stick around the team for the stretch run?
Meyers Leonard: Absolutely. My surgery is on the 8th and I’ve got to do some check-ups and be in L.A. probably 10 days or so post-surgery. But that means that when we make the playoffs, we’ll be on the road probably for the first two games, so I should be able to come back and see the playoffs games, and I’m going to be at every game until then. Being around these guys keeps my spirit up. It’s fun to be around the, encourage them, talk to the young guys, be out there. Just to see them play, it’s hard to not be out there, I can admit that. But it is what it is.
It was always likely that Meyers Leonard would miss significant playing time after suffering a dislocated left shoulder, his second such injury this season, during a recent practice in San Antonio. The only question was whether the 7-1 power forward in his fourth season out of Illinois would heal in time for a potential playoff run.
Turns out, that won’t be the case. The team announced Thursday that Leonard will undergo surgery to repair his left shoulder and will miss the rest of the season. Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthapaedic Clinic in Los Angeles will perform the procedure April 8, five days before the end of the regular season. The team did not specify the exact nature of the procedure.
Leonard, who started the first nine games of the season, missed seven games over the course of 17 days after dislocating his left shoulder for the first time this season in a game against the Spurs on November 11. He did not undergo surgery after the first dislocation, opting for rest of non-surgical treatments. Leonard returned to the lineup on November 28 in a reserve role and appeared in the next 52 games before re-injuring his shoulder during a practice at Trinity College on March 16.
“Went to take a shot and Gerald (Henderson) tried to slap the ball away, just unfortunately hit me the wrong way and my arm,” said Leonard. “Same thing (as the last time he dislocated his shoulder) pinned down and in and it just came out.”
Leonard finishes the season having appeared in 61 games, averaging 8.4 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent shooting from three, 5.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 21.9 minutes. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, giving the 24 year-old big the option of entertaining offers from other teams while giving Portland the right to match any such offer.
“Definitely less than ideal timing to have something like this happen,” said Leonard on March 17. “One for the team, I felt like I was finally starting to pick it back up again, been shooting the ball pretty well, rebounding much better, felt like I was really helping the team. Just for me personally, obviously I’m more focused on how I’ve been playing. This summer, what’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. I’m not really too concerned about that. But I want to show people what I can do, so this obviously wasn’t very good timing.”
Maurice Harkless and Chris Kaman have seen increases in playing time based on matchups with Leonard out, a trend that will likely continue going forward.
SAN ANTONIO — The Trail Blazers held shootaround Thursday morning at the AT&T Center in San Antonio in preparation for tonight’s game versus the Spurs. Meyers Leonard was there, but he didn’t participate, as the 7-1 power forward is out indefinitely after dislocating his left shoulder for the second time this season during Wednesday’s practice at Trinity University.
“We were just doing five-on-five yesterday, working on switching guards to bigs pick and roll similar to something we might see with LaMarcus (Aldridge) or something like that tonight during the game,” explained Leonard. “Went to take a shot and Gerald (Henderson) tried to slap the ball away, just unfortunately hit me the wrong way and my arm. Same thing (as the last time he dislocated his shoulder) pinned down and in and it just came out.”
Leonard said it took a couple tries before the team trainer was able to get his shoulder back into its socket and that he’s still experiencing quite a bit of discomfort from the injury. He has not yet had an x-ray or MRI on his shoulder, as the team is waiting for the pain and swelling to subside before assessing the severity of the injury.
“I’m definitely very stiff and sore this morning,” said Leonard. “It’s hard knowing really specifically where it’s at just because this is the second time, but it’s also the morning after. I’ve just got to kind of take it day by day I suppose.”
There is currently no timeline for Leonard’s return, though he did say he would miss at least the three remaining games of Portland’s current four-game road trip. He missed seven games over the course of 17 days when he first dislocated his left shoulder in a November 11 loss to the Spurs, and considering that every subsequent dislocation increases the chances of the injury occurring again, it’s is possible he’ll miss at least the same amount of time, if not more, this time around.
“We’ll see over the next couple days. Being evaluated by (Director of Health and Performance) Chris Stackpole, (Team Trainer) Geoff (Clarke) and everybody will be very important. For the first couple days you really just want to kind of let it be… Once they get their hands on my shoulder, test range of motion and things like that, we’ll see.”
While there is never a good time to get injured, Leonard’s shoulder dislocation is particularly ill-timed. With less than a month to go before the end of the regular season, the Trail Blazers are in a tough stretch of games that will determine if they make the postseason and what seed they’ll end up with if they do. What’s more, Leonard will be an restricted free agent this summer, and while players over the last few years have managed to draw substantial offers despite suffering serious, season-ending injuries, it’s certainly not the preferred way one would like to enter a negotiation.
“Definitely less than ideal timing to have something like this happen,” said Leonard. “One for the team, I felt like I was finally starting to pick it back up again, been shooting the ball pretty well, rebounding much better, felt like I was really helping the team. Just for me personally, obviously I’m more focused on how I’ve been playing. This summer, what’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. I’m not really too concerned about that. But I want to show people what I can do, so this obviously wasn’t very good timing.”