On a day where the Phoenix Suns made a bit of noise for not making any noise in the Orlando Bubble, rehabbing forward Kelly Oubre Jr. added another slight twist in the saga of his readiness to play in these eight seeding games in Orlando.
“Health status is up to the staff,” Oubre said on a Zoom call with local media on Tuesday.
If you recall, Oubre and the Suns have been simultaneously accused by observers of being both too coy and too honest about Oubre’s rehab from meniscus surgery back in early March.
First there were no word for weeks during the pandemic shutdown, then James Jones said Oubre was healthy but not yet cleared by medical or rehabbed by the training staff, then Oubre hinted he might sit out Orlando to rehab for next season because he hadn’t been seen by any medical people yet, followed by owner Robert Sarver saying Oubre would definitely be playing in Orlando, to Oubre saying he would definitely go but to rehab with and support the team, to James Jones saying Oubre would rehab like anyone else and be ready when he’s ready which might possibly be while they’re still in Orlando, to head coach Monty Williams saying he looks fantastic and has his bounce back, to Oubre saying it’s up to the Suns staff to Monty saying Oubre still has hurdles to clear before joining the team in practices.
Are you keeping up?
“I’m here to get better,” Oubre said, in his full answer to the pressing question of availability. “Constantly getting better with my guys each and every day. Health status is up to the staff. I feel fine. But my main focus here is to support my teammates, get better and be a leader. Everything else is out of my hands.”
So he’s healthy, but still only supporting the team from the sideline? If he’s healthy, why not practice with a team that hasn’t practiced together in four months and all would be starting from the same level of scratch?
Head coach Monty Williams has shared that, over the past five days since practice resumed, Oubre is shooting and running and doing walk-throughs with the team, but once the play starts he moves to the sideline for more rehab exercises.
What’s the catch?
On the possibility of playing again soon
“For me, it’s a mental thing,” Oubre said, on being asked what his next hurdle is. “Me, as well as anybody that’s around me. I’m 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. I’m strong of course, continually getting stronger each and every day. But mentally it’s a lot thrown at me in a short amount of time for me to get out there and resume the high level of playing everybody expects of me.
“I don’t want to sell myself short,” he continued. “I don’t want to sell the people who are across my chest (Suns) and across the back of my jersey short (family), so I have to continuously push myself limitlessly each and every day to come back stronger than I was before or else I’ll be doing myself a disservice.”
Oubre has not experienced any major injuries in the NBA before. He was healthy in Washington, appearing in 189 of 192 games his last 2.5 seasons there. In Phoenix, he suffered that thumb injury last spring that sidelined him the last two months of the year. This year, the knee.
Since he makes his livelihood on extreme, if sometimes reckless, athleticism, it sounds like Oubre needs to push through the mental barrier of rehab more than the physical.
On benchmarks to hit before returning
“There’s so many benchmarks for a guy like that coming off a surgery,” Monty Williams said on Tuesday. “He’s totally healed, his body looks great. But there’s still some things that he would have to be comfortable doing and we would have to be comfortable based on our medical staff giving him the okay.
“There’s still some other benchmarks that he’d have to pass before he can get back out on the floor and start to scrimmage. I’m sure there’s layers, one on one, three on three, then five on five before he can catch up to where the other guys are.”
Oubre is just taking it one day at a time, and the Suns training staff is supporting him in that journey. Oubre knows there is pressure to play from fans, but he also knows that this Bubble thing is very short-term and it’s more important for him to be healthy for the 2020-21 season than it is to push through in Orlando.
“I understand that a lot of people want to see me play,” Oubre said. “But at the end of the day you’d rather see Kelly Oubre come out on top of his game than Kelly Oubre being mediocre. So that’s where I’m at.”
On life being about more than basketball
You remember the #ValleyBoyz effort from a year ago that got muddled with timing of trademarks. Lately he’s promoting a “Quarantine and Chill” experience under his new Dope Soul clothing line which he hopes would “allow people to enjoy being comfortable and wavy in their own home.”
Oubre has always been into fashion and art, constantly making a statement with his being, his presence, his aura. He’s so much deeper than just the highly aggressive basketball player you see on TV.
He appreciated the time away from basketball during this pandemic “really searching for my soul, and finding it and nurturing it and protecting it.”
Watch out for videos and pictures Oubre will release to give fans an insight in his Bubble experience in the coming weeks.
On loving the Bubble
Still, he can’t help but get excited about basketball again with his teammates. Oubre spent a great deal of the press conference sharing how lucky he feels to be in this situation.
“It’s been great,” he said of the Orlando setup. “It’s been everything better than I expected. Streamlined for work, for professionals who are here on this earth to be professional athletes. Everything is organized for us to be the best that we possibly can be out here. Obviously there was that mishap about the food, but that was just getting acclimated to the campus, us getting acclimated to the amenities.”
He expressed joy at being in a bubble experience with his team, much the same way Devin Booker, Frank Kaminsky, Deandre Ayton, Monty Williams and others have expressed since arriving in Orlando.
“It’s actually been amazing,” Oubre said with a big smile. “We haven’t been around our family — our outside family: teammates and coaches — in a long time. This feeling has been amazing to be out here with these guys and continue to get better. So the bubble is a blessing. It’s like a rich people paradise for... just getting better.”
Oubre appreciates the time they get to spend off the court too.
“We are around each other a lot more. Once we are outside of our hotel rooms we are pretty much with each other. Continue to grow as human beings away from our family, out of our comfort zones. We are all each other has to lean on out here. So that’s the biggest blessing about it. We are just taking full advantage of it, and doing it with a smile on our face. At least I am, and I know our guys are too.”
On his message being PEACE
Oubre was seen marching in a peaceful protest against police brutality back in May in Phoenix, and now is excited to wear the ‘PEACE’ on his uniform when play resumes. The NBA has offered to let players replace their own name on their jersey or warmups with a league-approved social justice saying.
“It’s what I stand for,” Oubre said of PEACE. “It’s very simple and straight to the point. I just encourage everybody to seek peace and to have peace in their lives so we all can just help each other get better.”
How can Oubre catch up?
On playing with and observing his teammates, Oubre was quite positive about their re-acclimation to the game of basketball.
“Practices have been intense,” Oubre said. “You can tell Monty has lost a lot of sleep, just eager to get back and lead this group. We all missed being back out here in this environment, so we are all locked in.”
Regarding the players filling in for himself and the unnamed others who have come down with COVID-19, Oubre said the team has just circled in among those that are available. For HIPAA reasons, including avoiding fines of $50,000 for each instance of willful sharing of COVID/medical status without player consent, the Suns have been extremely tight-lipped on who is actually practicing these days.
Now the list of for-sures includes: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky, Cameron Payne, Jevon Carter, Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome. But we didn’t know Frank was fine and playing until he popped up on a Barstool interview yesterday, and we had not heard from Ty Jerome or CamWOW until a Zoom call today from Orlando.
“Focused on our next man up mentality,” Oubre said of who’s playing. “Using our youth and our athleticism and our versatility to our advantage. It’s gonna be amazing to see people step up and continue to get better.”
Asked if he would consider giving Oubre a smaller role in his comeback, such as coming off the bench for a few minutes at time rather than all or nothing, Williams was skeptical.
“When you’re playing three scrimmage (preseason) games, you’re focused on your team getting a rhythm,” Williams said. “To play a guy like Kelly in a lesser role, I don’t know if that would give the team a great rhythm. I could be wrong on that, but I think I’d have to think on that some more.”
For his part, Oubre is just taking this one day at a time.
“My main focus is to have tunnel vision to come out of this thing bigger, better, faster,” Oubre said. “Overall, I’m just trying to come out on top being the best basketball player I can be.”