Friday, September 5, 2008

USA Today: Ginobili Putting Off Surgery Put Spurs "At A Stark Disadvantage"

Don't count on Olympics hangover for NBA stars
By Chris Colston

Now that Team USA has won Olympic gold for the first time since 2000, players can turn their attention to the NBA season, which tips off Oct. 28.
They will get a respite until training camps begin next month. But it's natural to wonder how the Olympic experience will affect the league's stars.

The wear and tear has sometimes led to Olympians breaking down the following NBA season. In 2004-05, Richard Jefferson played in just 31 games because of injury. In 1996-97, Charles Barkley played 53 games in an injury-plagued season. And following the 2006 world championships in Japan, LeBron James, Elton Brand, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade struggled with various ailments.

But often, Olympians who logged the most minutes have gone on to productive years:

•In 2004-05, Allen Iverson led the NBA in scoring; (30.7 points per game) and that same season, Stephon Marbury started all 82 games for the first time in his career.

•In 2000-01, Vince Carter finished with his highest career scoring average (27.6), Gary Payton averaged 41.1 minutes played, and Jason Kidd led the league in assists.

•In 1996-97, Payton, Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone started 82 games. Reggie Miller started 81.

•In 1992-93, Michael Jordan led the league in scoring (32.6 points per game), Barkley was league MVP and Malone started 82 games.

"I think it's one of the misnomers of the Olympics that the players will somehow be physically fatigued," says ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. "If you look at their minutes played per game, it's certainly not tiring. They would probably be more tired if they went through a normal workout getting ready for the season."

NBA coaches can thank Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski for distributing playing time across the roster. Ten players averaged at least 11 minutes per game. James led the USA with an average of 24.8 minutes played.

Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry notes James has trained and played for USA Basketball the past few years. "Overall, LeBron's recovery after each of these cycles has been pretty remarkable," Ferry says. "Regardless, over the next several weeks we will get a good feel for where his body is and make a plan accordingly."

Van Gundy coached Olympian Allan Houston after the 2000 Games, and the guard played 78 games the following season. Van Gundy says the mental fatigue of a lengthy overseas trip could be a bigger factor.

For players nursing injuries, however, Van Gundy says the Olympics could have a larger impact. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant put off surgery on his finger to participate in Beijing, and San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili recently had surgery on his left ankle — for an injury he re-aggravated playing for Argentina.

"I'm not one to judge. But it's a fact — Ginobili putting off the inevitable surgery has put his team at a stark disadvantage," Van Gundy says. "He's certainly going to miss a good part of training camp, if not all of it, and he could miss some games."

Lakers spokesman John Black said Bryant expects to make a decision on when to have surgery soon.

But for most players, the Olympic experience is a benefit. "Staying in shape is critical," Van Gundy says, "and playing against good competition helps. Where would you rather get a run in, at UCLA or against the best the world has to offer?"

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