It’s becoming a theme among NBA general managers and front-office executives: Ahead of the league’s return to action in July, how much roster upheaval is too much before teams become unrecognizable as themselves?
Now that we are seeing more star-level players consider opting out of returning for the NBA’s reboot at the end of the month, that question is becoming more pertinent. We have already seen a near-All-Star, Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie, say that he is considering bowing out of the league’s return after his COVID-19 positive diagnosis, now we’re seeing another definitely out: Pacers star Victor Oladipo will not play again this season for Indiana, according to ESPN.
Oladipo was out for the first 47 games of the season with a torn quadriceps injury he suffered in January 2019. He was being brought along gingerly in his return to action for the Pacers, which began on January 29 of this season—370 days after the original tear.
Any hopes the Pacers had of making an extended playoff run were dependent on Oladipo’s healthy return. The team handled his absence well, with free-agent signees Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren excelling and fourth-year big man Domantas Sabonis shining in a breakout season (he was named to the All-Star team this year).
The Pacers were 30-17 without Oladipo. But when looking at other top-level teams in the East, it was clear Indiana would need a fully healthy Oladipo to have a chance at making a good run in the postseason.
Oladipo: ‘It’s About Longevity’
Oladipo spoke with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN at the beginning of the week, explaining his thinking in how he would handle his return. Conventional wisdom held that the time off—the league has been on hiatus since March 11 because of the spread of the novel coronavirus—would be helpful for Oladipo.
He did not see it that way. Getting ramped up to restart in January only to shut down again and restart three months later would have been too much for his body, Oladipo said.
Another factor: Oladipo will be one of the free agents available in the vaunted Class of 2021. A recurrence of the injury would be costly. Giannis Antetokounmpo figures to be the top player available that summer, but Gordon Hayward and Oladipo will be close behind.
Oladipo told Woj:
At the end of the day, it takes time for your body to heal. … We’ve had an extensive period of time off and to go back and ramp things up again, I’m susceptible to injury more so than anyone else seeing as how I was already injured beforehand, and I wasn’t 100% when I came back to begin with.
A part of rehab is working your way back and getting yourself to 100%, so at the end of the day, going back and turning things up as quickly as we’re about to do, and pretty much going to playoff formation and playoff games after eight games, I’m more susceptible to injury than anyone else is. So it’s not about now. It’s about longevity.
Oladipo had Star-Level Numbers Pre-Injury
Oladipo averaged 13.8 points on 39.1% shooting for the Pacers in the 13 games he played. Indiana coach Nate McMillan was especially delicate with Oladipo’s return, sitting him out for one of the three games before the All-Star break, and for another two of three games after the break.
Sitting out is difficult for Oladipo but is especially difficult for the Pacers, who took a chance on Oladipo (along with Sabonis) as the crux of the return the team got for star and MVP candidate Paul George in a 2017 trade.
Oladipo really had not found his place in the league before that but broke through with a 23.1-point scoring average in his first season in Indiana. He struggled with his shooting some last year but still averaged 18.8 points with 5.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
The Pacers would like to see him get back to that level of production. It may yet happen—it just won’t happen in Orlando at the NBA restart.