Saturday, May 18, 2024

Tough enough? Darvin Ham, Chauncey Billups on changing times in injury prevention

Must read

PORTLAND, Ore. — Chauncey Billups didn’t study medicine. When doctors tell the Portland coach that one or more of his players needs to take the night off, or needs to miss practice, he has to defer to their expertise, he said Sunday.

That doesn’t mean Billups – who played in 70 or more games in 13 of his 17 NBA seasons – doesn’t have his own opinions about when players should and shouldn’t play. When asked by a reporter how often he rolls his eyes at a player’s reason for missing a game, Billups was not afraid to take a big shot: “Probably … a lot. A lot. A lot, for sure. A lot.”

Added Billups: “I never say I would have played through that. But I’d say I did play through that. Not ‘I would’; ‘I did.’ But that’s just what it was. That’s just how it was, the game was totally different.”

Old heads waxing poetic about how the NBA used to be is nothing new, but a fresh conversation was stirred up last week by commentator and longtime coach Stan Van Gundy.

“90’s NBA teams had just a trainer and a strength coach, they practiced more often and harder and played more back to backs,” Van Gundy tweeted on Jan. 17. “Teams now have huge medical & ‘performance’ staffs and value rest over practice. Yet injuries and games missed are way up. Something’s not working!”

While the Sun will burn out before the older generation of basketball players stop saying they did it better than the current one, anecdotally injuries have been a huge problem in the NBA this season despite the ballooning medical and training staffs armed with high-tech equipment and data-backed management strategies. The Lakers have experienced this firsthand, trotting out 24 different starting lineups across 47 games while dealing with injuries to Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV that have lingered.

There was good news Sunday for Davis, who participated in a workout session with the team’s “Stay Ready” group of players with low minutes. Coach Darvin Ham said Davis looked “phenomenal” in the session, and that taking contact while playing with his teammates is a “huge step” in his recovery from a stress reaction in his right foot.

But for Reaves and Walker, the Lakers recently reevaluated both and pushed back their returns at least another week. But Ham said he wasn’t discouraged by two key wing players taking longer to suit up again than originally thought – he wants the medical staff to nip it in the bud now.

“I’m of the mindset where we’d much rather take our time than have to deal with this issue or these issues several times over,” Ham said. “I’d rather be on the front end of it, not being in a position where we feel like we have to rush them back out there only for them to play three or four games and then be out another three weeks because we didn’t manage it well or threw them out there too soon.”

The prevention mentality may be at the crux of what’s changed across NBA generations: Whereas back then, players and staffs considered whether injuries would keep them out that night, now, teams take more long-term interests to heart.

Ham, who had seven surgeries as a player, said he’s seen the shift firsthand, and he believes it has helped make careers longer. Four of the NBA’s top 10 scorers are 32 or older – including the Lakers’ own LeBron James, who is in his 20th season. There is a different mentality on playing through pain now, Ham acknowledged, but it’s not necessarily a negative in his point of view.

“In that era, back then you just had to power through and played sore,” he said. “From the first day of training camp on, you were gonna be sore. You knew that. I think this era, it’s shifted to more preventative care. And you never want to put an athlete in a position where they’re gonna hurt themselves.”

Even Billups, who played with Ham on the Detroit Pistons, said he has to make some concessions to accommodate the new ways of looking at injury.

“Science is science and I understand that, so I have to kind of meet that situation halfway,” he said. “But I feel Stan. I understand what he’s saying.”

More articles

Latest article