Columbus, OH — If Jared Sullinger fares as well in the NBA with his bad back as Doc Rivers did with his, the Boston Celtics will chalk it up as a risk well worth taking.
“I played for 13 years with a bad back and was OK, and he will be, too,” Rivers, a former All-Star guard and the Celtics’ coach, told Boston media after the team made Sullinger the 21st pick in the NBA draft on Thursday. “Our doctors checked him out, and they didn’t give him a red flag. When you don’t get red-flagged, it will pretty much be OK.”
Sullinger, a Northland graduate and a two-time All-American at Ohio State, was red-flagged by some NBA team doctors during the predraft combine in early June for an unspecified back issue that they believed could shorten his career. Celtics doctors did not share that opinion.
“We were concerned and we did our research on the back issues and felt comfortable,” general manager Danny Ainge told reporters after the draft. “But there are some issues there, and our medical staff thinks that, short term and long term, there may be some maintenance issues with the back. … “He may need surgery at some point, he may not.”
Sullinger’s father, Satch, said during an interview on WBNS radio yesterday that Jared does not have a herniated disk.
“He’s got a bulging disk. There’s a difference,” he said. “A herniated disk means the (inner layer of the disk is) already out. A bulging disk means (the inner layer is) protruding a little bit.”
Satch said that was the same diagnosis he received from an Ohio State team doctor after Jared first suffered back spasms last November. He missed two games but played the rest of the season after that.
Satch said two specialists retained by Jared’s agent, David Falk, “say that surgery is not something they see (in his future), that this is a manageable thing. Jared understands how important flexibility is now, and stretching, and keeping his weight down. Those are things he has total control over.”
Jared said on Thursday that he has been doing “a lot of rehab” and that his back is “fine.”
The red flags, he said, were “just doctors being doctors. They’re trying to cover their butt. That’s their job. If they see something minor, they go to the extreme. I don’t blame them. That’s just life.“Honestly, I (couldn’t) care less about the red flag. I’m just taking numbers (of the teams that didn’t draft him) after this.”
Satch said there were nine other players tested at the predraft combine who were red-flagged for medical reasons, “but all (the media) talked about was Jared. I told Jared, ‘The reason they’re talking about you is because you sell stories, not the other guys.’“Did he take a fall? Yeah, he took a fall. But look where he fell to.”
The Celtics are among the most storied and successful franchises in NBA history and reached the Eastern Conference finals this past season. Rivers said the organization will monitor Sullinger’s back closely. It has not been decided whether he will play for the Celtics’ entries in the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues July 9-22 or use that time to continue strengthening his back.
Sullinger will be in Boston on Monday for a news conference with the team’s other draft picks, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph of Syracuse.
“I’m ready to dominate, ready to play as hard as I can, ready to learn as fast as I can, and ready to win,” Sullinger said. “That’s what it’s all about, winning. I’m ready to win.”