Monday, June 8, 2009

Express News: Ginobili predicts complete recovery
By Jeff McDonald

Manu Ginobili boarded a flight to Argentina late Sunday afternoon, headed home for the first time in nearly a year.

This time, he planned to stay awhile, using his vacation to relax with friends and family and do all the things that a wandering son and brother does when he finally gets a chance to return home.

“I’ve got almost everything packed up and ready to go,” Ginobili said from his San Antonio home a few hours before leaving for the airport. “There was a lot to pack.”

Ginobili could be bringing everything but the kitchen sink back with him to Buenos Aires. It still wouldn’t match the baggage he carried the last time he made the trip home.

Last summer, the Spurs guard boarded a similar flight to his homeland to prepare for the Olympics in Beijing, bearing the weight of an entire nation’s expectations on his shoulders. He left behind an employer that had urged him to reconsider his loyalty to country and a Spurs fan base just praying he’d survive the summer in one piece.

Ginobili, the star of Argentina’s Olympic team, came back from Beijing in a boot after reinjuring the left ankle that had given him trouble during the 2008 playoffs. That twist of both ankle and fate led to a series of injuries that wiped out most of Ginobili’s 2008-09 season.

In his first interview since April 5, the day before a stress fracture in his right distal fibula put a premature end to the most tumultuous season of his career, Ginobili said Sunday that he expects to be fully recovered by the opening of training camp in October.

“For the past month or so, I haven’t felt any pain, even to the touch,” Ginobili said. “I don’t have any doubt I’ll be 100 percent before training camp starts.”

Much is riding on Ginobili’s latest recovery effort. Nothing the Spurs accomplish this offseason, either via the draft or free agency, will mean much if Ginobili cannot approach the form that made him the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2007-08.

Injury-plagued from start to finish, Ginobili missed all but 44 games last season, including all of the Spurs’ first-round playoff ouster against Dallas. He averaged 15.5 points, his fewest since 2005-06, while his shooting percentage dipped to 45.5 percent, his lowest since 2003-04.

As Ginobili heads home this summer, again recovering from an ankle injury but this time without an Olympic quest to hijack the healing process, he does so under no marching order other than to get well.

His long-term future in San Antonio could depend on it.

Ginobili, who will turn 32 next month, is entering the final year of a contract scheduled to pay him close to $16.1 million next season.

The Spurs had begun preliminary talks about a contract extension last summer before Ginobili left for China. Those negotiations were shelved when Ginobili re-injured his left ankle at the Olympics, and they have yet to resume.

“They want to see that I am healthy,” Ginobili said.

Ginobili is hopeful he can reach a deal that would allow him to finish his career in San Antonio.

“I have said a thousand times, I would love to stay here,” Ginobili said. “You know how the NBA is, though. There are not a lot of players who get to start and finish in the same place. I love San Antonio. If I have to take another road, you do what you have to do. But it would not be my first option, for sure.”

For the Spurs, who have played with their star guard injured for much of the past 14 months, the preferred option is to have Ginobili healthy.

The news so far this offseason has been encouraging.

An MRI taken Thursday showed the bone in his right leg completely healed. Ginobili expects to return to running and jumping next month, and he should be able to begin basketball work not long after that.

“All the things I have not been allowed to do, I should be allowed to do soon,” he said.

This summer, Ginobili hopes to reinvigorate his career in the same manner it went south last summer.

By boarding a plane to Argentina.


87 number of regular-season and playoff games the Spurs played during the 2008-09 campaign

44 games Ginobili played during the 2008-09 season, the fewest of his seven-year career

90 average number of regular-season and playoff games per season Ginobili played during his first six seasons


A painful 14 months

Spurs guard Manu Ginobili has spent much of the past 14 months either injured or rehabilitating from injury. Here is a glance at Ginobili’s recent treks to the training room:

April 2008: Ginobili experiences soreness in his left ankle during the Spurs’ first-round playoff series against Phoenix, but he continues to play through the discomfort.

May 2008: The pain in Ginobili’s ankle gets progressively worse. By the Western Conference finals against the Lakers, he is a shell of himself.

Aug. 22, 2008: Playing for Argentina in the Beijing Olympics, Ginobili re-aggravates the ankle injury. Diagnosed with a ligament impingement, he undergoes arthroscopic surgery two weeks later.

Nov. 24, 2008: Ginobili makes his season debut at Memphis, having missed the first 12 games recovering from surgery.

Feb. 16, 2009: Experiencing soreness in his right ankle that did not subside during the All-Star break, Ginobili does not make the final leg of the Spurs’ rodeo road trip. Doctors diagnose him with a stress reaction in his right distal fibula, which will sideline him for 19 more games.

March 25, 2009: Cleared by the team’s medical staff to return to action, Ginobili plays 14 minutes in a victory at Atlanta.

April 5, 2009: Ginobili again feels discomfort in the right ankle during a loss to Cleveland. He returns to San Antonio to be examined by the team’s medical staff.

April 6, 2009: Doctors determine Ginobili’s stress reaction has become a more ominous stress fracture, and they pronounce him out for the rest of the season and the playoffs.

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