The Suns might be without their soul in Orlando.
Kelly Oubre Jr. — who is third on the Suns in scoring, second in rebounding, third in steals, second in blocks — had just had surgery to repair a torn meniscus when the league was suspended in early March.
Not a whole lot has changed since. It’s hard to recover from a major injury while being socially distanced.
Word broke yesterday that the Suns will be one of 22 teams to play in Orlando starting next month with an aim to make the playoffs for the first time in over 10 years.
Each team will play an eight-game regular season finish. The eighth and ninth seeds in each conference will have a play-in for the last playoff spot. The Suns are currently six games back of the eighth-seeded Grizzlies with four other teams in between — Blazers, Kings, Spurs and Pelicans — that they would have to leap-frog for the right to face the Lakers in the playoffs.
The Suns have a very small chance to actually qualify for the playoffs, but in the words of a famous orator, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”
Yes, the 13th-place, 13-games-under-.500 Phoenix Suns have a chance. A small one, but a chance nonetheless.
If only they could truly be healthy for that stretch run.
While Frank Kaminsky (knee) has openly talked about returning to the court full speed, and Cameron Johnson (mono) is healthy now too, the Suns starting small forward may not be ready to join them.
Oubre’s diagnosis at the time of his injury was a four-week recovery before returning to basketball activities, but that was before he was left to rehab at home on his own. Since the pandemic exploded, all players have been told to stay home and not visit any gyms or doctors.
So Oubre has had to go through an entire rehab process all by himself:
“I’m working out every morning and getting on the court as much as possible,” Oubre told local TV sports anchor Cameron Cox a few days ago. “But I haven’t had a doctor tell me I’m cleared or anything, due to COVID-19. So I’m just patiently waiting.”
The Suns have not returned to business yet, but did open the Veterans Memorial Coliseum almost two weeks ago for voluntary solo workouts that require physical distance. It is unclear if Oubre has gone to the facility yet, and according to Oubre himself he has not yet been evaluated by doctors. Since the league is not officially returned to business yet, Oubre doesn’t know the state of his knee.
Along with everyone else, Oubre has been hearing bits and pieces about an NBA return that might include the Suns. Does he want to return?
“I want to,” he said. “I’ll tell you that right now, I want to lace em up and go out and hoop.”
Oubre is a huge part of the Suns’ return to respectability. He brings energy every game not only to himself but also to the team. His highlight dunks, big rebounds and clutch threes (48% this year) have helped the Suns win more games this year — his first full season with the team — than they have since the Morrii roamed these halls.
However, Oubre does not sound excited about returning to play unless he’s 100 percent healthy.
“Depends. It has to be the right scenario,” he said to Cox. “Because if they’re giving us the short end of the stick, and [Suns] have to go through the trenches to give yourselves a possibility of being a postseason team, then it’s not gonna make sense for me to come back for five games, or 10 games.”
“I want to. I’ll tell you that right now, I want to lace em up and go out and hoop.”
“I’ll talk to my family, the medical staff — who I haven’t really physically been with — to make sure that I come back better than I was last year. And if not, then I’m doing my team a disservice.”
If I were in Oubre’s shoes, I would say the same thing. Why return if my knee isn’t fully healed? There’s no point potentially injuring something else by subconsciously compensating for a knee that still might not feel totally healthy.
Could be that Oubre just wants to good news from the team and independent doctors. Remember that Oubre got multiple opinions on his knee before the surgery, so he will want those same opinions again to say he’s 100 percent.
But if there’s any lingering pain, or loss of supporting muscle tissue due to three months of relative inactivity, then I can totally see Oubre sitting out this a tiny chance to make the playoffs.
Indeed, the NBA plan is to come back for eight games, and the Suns would have to win THREE games more than any other team in the race to jump all the way to ninth and be within the required four games of the eighth seed.
Expecting the Grizzlies, Spurs, Blazers, Pelicans and Kings to all go no better than 4-4 while the Suns go 7-1, for example, just for the right to have to beat the 8th seed twice in a row for that final playoff spot is what you might call “the trenches”.
The Suns would have the worst odds to make the postseason of all 22 teams in Orlando.
Yet, these would still be the most important games of Devin Booker’s five year career with the Suns. Never has Booker had a shot at the playoffs with eight games left. To return without Kelly would once again put Booker behind an eight-ball before the game even gets started.
Here’s the whole interview with Oubre here.
ICYMI: Here's my 1-ON-1 with #Suns forward @KELLYOUBREJR. We talked about launch of his clothing brand #DopeSoul, #GeorgeFloydProtests and will he play if the @Suns are apart of the #NBA’s restart. @12SportsAZ #12Sports pic.twitter.com/ER4Ms96xXe— Cameron Cox (@CamCox12) June 2, 2020
Should we even be thinking about sports right now, given the state of this burning and infected country?
Maybe, maybe not. There are pluses and minuses, like everyone else. The pandemic is still unchecked as totals rise after states re-open for business. And then we have to social unrest. Oubre has changed his twitter profile to an image of George Floyd and been vocal amid the systemic racism and civil protests.
So I don’t blame you if you think we tone-deaf by covering basketball news, but news is news and this is a basketball blog, so here we go.