NBA Injury Watch: Who’s coming back next season?

Mar. 3, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (9) drives to the basket on Portland Trail Blazers point guard Raymond Felton (5) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Rose Garden. The Timberwolves won the game 122-110. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

While we’re coming off a fresh supply of basketball with the Olympics and before that, the Summer Leagues, it’s easy to lose track of those players that were sidelined with significant injuries to end last season. There were some major players (no pun intended) who will be battling back from injuries in 2012-13. Not all of them will be ready for the start of the season, but nonetheless remain a focal point to what the team might consider a successful season.

Before we carve into stone a Heat vs. Lakers NBA Final, let’s take a look down the comeback trail.

The very first name that comes to mind when we think “injury comeback” is the 2011 MVP, Derrick Rose of the Bulls, who tragically blew out his knee (torn ACL) in the first round of the playoffs last year. Even though Rose may be the biggest name on the board here, I feel like this is the least significant injury with regards to the “when will he come back?” factor. If things go according to schedule, we already know that it’s looking like a March return for Rose, at which point I fully expect the Bulls to be either very close to being eliminated from the playoff race or just hanging on. Joakim Noah‘s gimpy ankle that kept him out of the playing in the Olympics for France is also something to keep an eye on. I feel like the Bulls lack firepower this season and personally, I’m very down on them.

In Boston, the Celtics are dealing very much with the unknown. They have holes to fill with the departure of Ray Allen and dare I say it, even Greg Stiemsma. The key guys to replace those minutes are Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, who were on the shelf for an extended period of time. Green, who came to Boston as part of the Kendrick Perkins trade with Oklahoma City, unfortunately found out before the season that he had a heart condition that would require surgery and force him to miss the entire 2011-12 season. An injury to an arm, leg or back is one thing, but to come back from a heart condition? That will be a challenge.  With Green out last year, the Celts had to plug the bench small/power forward hole with the likes of Stiemsma and Chris Wilcox. Even though they drafted young bigs in Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, Jeff Green’s versatility at the forward positions will be key to the inevitable Rondo-led youth movement in Boston.

Avery Bradley, a second-year guard, was a surprise contributor to the Celtics last season, to the point where they eventually trusted him with the starting spot and want him to be their shooting guard of the future. Bradley, now known for his elite perimeter defending, is coming back from major shoulder(s) surgery to repair a dislocation, which kept him out of key playoff games down the stretch for the Celtics. At this point, Bradley’s timetable to return is still up in the air, but he will definitely miss the first part of the season, which they will fill in with Courtney Lee and Jason Terry… not a bad contingency plan.

When the talk of “Timberwolves” and “playoffs” now surfaces, only two words matter in the heart of Minnesota… Ricky Rubio. Rubio burst on the scene and was immediately better than advertised. Questions about his shooting still linger, but the way he distributed the ball to Kevin Love and company was nothing short of breathtaking. Before Rubio tore his ACL in March, the Wolves were pushing hard for the playoffs. With too many games sandwiched in March and April, they simply collapsed in the tough Western Conference. Rubio won’t be ready for the start of the season, but with an anticipated December/January return date, the Wolves hope they’ve collected enough talent to make it through the first trimester this time. While Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea aren’t superstars, they aren’t scrubs either and should be able to hold down the PG spot. But one thing we saw last year early on was that as Rubio goes, so do the Timberwolves. After years futility, you really can’t help but root for this young, potential franchise-saving grace in Rubio (and Love).

Kyrie Irving‘s broken hand was hot “freak accident” injury news in Cleveland this summer, after he smacked his hand against a padded wall in practice for the Vegas Summer League. Irving would be the landslide winner for the hypothetical “dumbest” injury award. While he needed only 8 weeks to recover, he will obviously be ready for the start of the season. He will bounce back with ease, but with a hand injury, it’s something to keep on eye on. One hard strip foul and it could be trouble. The Cavs ENTIRE hopes of making a playoff push for the bottom of the East rest solely on the shoulders of this young (and still immature, watch the Kobe challenge) man.

It’s amazing how big a deal Iman Shumpert became in New York in such little time. He went from rookie role players to almost “untouchable” in trade talks, especially when it came to including him in any Steve Nash deal at the time. While his offensive numbers didn’t explode at you, he was a pleasant defensive surprise for the usually inconsistent Knicks and it’s clear that the fans at The Garden absolutely love this guy. After tearing his ACL in April, he needed all summer to rehab and get ready for next season, to which he’ll start in street clothes. His defensive ability, especially on the perimeter, is something the Knicks will miss sorely. Shumpert may only be a big name in New York City, but it won’t be long until he has a league-wide reputation.

Comebacks to WATCH closely:

Brook Lopez, Nets (Ankle), Andrew Bogut, Warriors (Ankle),  Jeremy Lin, Rockets (Knee), Chauncey Billups, Clippers (Achilles), Dwight Howard, Lakers (Back), Dwyane Wade, Heat (Knee).