It has become habit for the Los Angeles Lakers to treat injuries with the same kind of ambiguity and secrecy that major show runners use to avoid spoilers making their way to the public. It works for those show runners for obvious reasons, but the way the team has handled injury news has gone from regular annoyance to becoming a genuine issue.
The latest examples of this flawed system are with the injuries to Rajon Rondo and Anthony Davis. Rondo has been considered close to returning for nearly a month, and Davis went so far as to say that the shoulder that the team is listing as merely “sore” affects him on every play.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Rondo is once again considered questionable and Davis is considered probable, despite that incredibly daunting revelation.
Troy Daniels apparently also tweaked his right knee in practice and is getting a precautionary MRI, which by Lakers standards at this point, calls into question whether his leg is still attached.
Let’s start with the latest on Rondo, whose return from a calf injury has been quite the ordeal:
Rajon Rondo has been upgraded to questionable against the Suns after participating in some 5-on-5 today— Bill Oram (@billoram) November 11, 2019
Rajon Rondo said he has been champing at the bit to get back on the floor, but when the medical staff made the comparison to Kevin Durant’s calf strain in the Finals — and what happened next — he became more willing to bide his time.— Bill Oram (@billoram) November 11, 2019
Now compare that to the endlessly more important Davis and the way his physical well-being is getting handled:
“There’s really never a play I don’t feel it, but if I’m gonna go out there and play, I try to not let it affect my game. I just play through it, and then worry about taking care of it after the game,” Davis said.
Frank Vogel on if it will be a season-long issue for Davis feeling soreness in his shoulder: “We’ll see. We’ll take it day by day.”— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) November 11, 2019
So basically, even while Rondo is citing a specific instance in which a player came back too soon from injury and suffered a potentially career-altering malady as a result, the Lakers are allowing a bonafide superstar to play through pain he says affects him on every single trip up or down the court and aren’t offering any further clarity beyond “soreness.”
Something is off here. Either the medical staff has to offer up more specifics, the PR team has to do an immensely better job of getting this message out there, or someone in the front office needs to allow them to be more transparent. Something is getting lost in translation, and people paying to watch these games or considering buying a ticket should be getting some level of clarity on who they can expect to suit up.
Now, to be fair, the Lakers are apparently keeping the bigger picture in mind, per Frank Vogel, but these come across as empty words given their actual approach to this point:
Frank Vogel said he thinks the medical team will clear Anthony Davis tomorrow, but acknowledged "it's possible" that he would rest AD this year even if he's cleared. He says the Lakers are keeping a close eye on the bigger picture.— Kyle Goon (@kylegoon) November 11, 2019
This isn’t just idle complaining for the sake of making noise, either. Because the Lakers are handling information about injuries so poorly, they’re allowing everyone else watching to come up with theories as to what else might be going on, and leaving fans planning their paychecks and schedules around these games in the dark.
There is also the matter of the risk of making these injuries worse. Is Davis allowing the reputation he’s carried for being injury-prone cloud his judgment and is now playing through an injury he shouldn’t in an ill-advised attempt set the record straight, all the while risking further injury? Even if Davis says he’s getting better, does anyone believe that this being a storyline moving forward the way it has — with Davis and the Lakers constantly needing to offer up updates on his status — is in any way breaking down that narrative? Those are just a couple of the multitude of questions anyone can ask at this point because the Lakers aren’t offering up any clarity whatsoever.
The Lakers’ handling of this information isn’t fair to the athletes they’re supposed to be working with, either. Remember, last season, LeBron James and his camp had to reset expectations on when he might return from his injured groin after the Lakers tried to roll with the “day-to-day” strategy on an injury that was obviously going to keep him out a while.
Because of the approach the Lakers apparently prefer, athletes carry the burden of expectation completely on their own, and if any fans grow frustrated because they aren’t coming back as quickly as being listed as day-to-day makes it sound, well too bad. That’s on the now falsely perceived-as-soft player.
It’s also fair to wonder whether the NBA might step in and ask them to clean this up, too.
The league has taken strides to welcome gambling into the mix and as such, can’t have easily its most public team forcing gamblers to guess who may or may not play on a nightly basis. This is obviously lower in the list of reasons why to address this flawed system, but given the efforts Adam Silver has taken with the gambling community, rest assured, it matters.
We’ve seen this process affect the way former Lakers were perceived, too. Lonzo Ball was considered soft because a grade-three ankle sprain that usually keeps athletes out for months was never properly reported to the public. Had they just offered up the actual injury right away, fans could have set reasonable expectations, which would have likely included how things actually played out (he missed the rest of the season).
Ball has obviously moved on to New Orleans, but the star who arrived in his place already has some of that soft narrative surrounding him, and while it’s not the tag anyone wants, he and the Lakers have to be exponentially smarter in setting expectations fairly and accurately as part their efforts to disprove it.