Year after year, it seems like the Lakers were never seriously hit by the injury bug. Kobe would occasionally get dinged up, but being the iron man he is, kept playing through the pain. Pau Gasol was relatively healthy throughout the Lakers trip to three straight NBA Finals. Up until last season, our medical staff was an afterthought, exactly the way it should be. But since then it seems like the Lakers have been snakebit. Last season, according to ManGamesLost.com, the Lakers team missed a total of 388 games due to various injuries, 2nd worse in the NBA behind Denver who missed 390. This season the Lakers are number one in missed games, and on pace for one of the most injury riddled seasons in NBA history. Is this simply an unlucky spurt or is it a sign of larger problems?
Gary Vitti has been the Lakers Athletic Trainer for 29 seasons and has put together an impressive resume. When Jim Buss took over the Lakers following Phil Jackson’s departure, Buss was determined to remove the Phil Jackson-stench off the organization, and in an effort to remove that, members from the team’s athletic training staff were let go in favor of those Buss wanted to use. Since this change has been made the Lakers are by far the least healthy team in the NBA. Its a purple and gold epidemic.
One option for the Lakers would be to clean house and go out and hire some of the best names in the industry. The Phoenix Suns are widely considered to have one of the best medical staffs (they had the 2nd fewest games missed due to injury last season). Wouldn’t it make sense for Jim Buss to go out and make some of their staff an offer they couldn’t refuse? The Lakers don’t have a salary cap when it comes to coaches and athletic trainers, why not simply buy the best pieces available?
Option number two would be for the Lakers to chalk it up to bad luck and stand pat. Think of some of the injuries the Lakers have suffered in the past two seasons. Steve Nash’s broken leg due to a collision with Damian Lillard. Steve Blake cutting his foot on those spikes that prevent cars from backing up and now ruptured eardrum. Kobe Bryant’s torn achilles and subsequent knee fracture. These were some freak injuries that likely couldn’t have been prevented no matter who the training staff was. The Lakers can justify keeping this same group around because they have a great track record of success. This is simply a blip on the radar and a stroke of horrid luck.
Option number three is the most likely option. The Lakers will consider the injuries not just bad luck. It is a combination of unfortunate collisions and accidents, but there is also likely some influence from something the athletic training staff isn’t doing. The Lakers have had far too many different players suffer minor injuries that force them to miss games, and it would be irresponsible to not take a look at what is being done and look for a better way to do it. Jim Buss can really save some face with fans if he were to bring in a few new athletic trainers that help improve the Lakers health.
Options one and three are the most desirable for fans. It would show that the front office cares about the injury problems and is working towards a solution. Option two seems like it would be the typical Jim Buss decision. Stick with something that hasn’t been working (D’Antoni?) because it was his choice. If the Lakers seriously want to entertain the idea of luring any sort of max level free agent, they’re going to need to be able to convince them they’ll be able to stay on the court. Right now that’s a hard sell. With a few new additions it could improve the future outlook on and off the court.