Jared Sullinger has been the best bang for the buck this season, but the thing that allowed the Ohio State All-America to fall so low in the draft has suddenly become a concern. We’re talking about Sullinger’s back, of course, and while Danny Ainge has been quick to downplay what happened against the Kings as a mild case of spasms, the fact that we’re looking at a back issue before reaching the All-Star Break is, in a word, alarming.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Sullinger. He comes from a great family, he’s smart, he’s a team player. And he’s playing the game like a 10-year veteran. But I can’t help but worry when I hear Sullinger and back trouble in the same sentence.
Maybe this is just a one-off. Maybe spasms aren’t even remotely related to the back ailment that doctors discovered just prior to the draft. But let’s flash back to just prior to the draft and take a look at what was written:
Sullinger, who is projected to be a lottery pick in the draft on June 28, underwent a series of medical tests at the draft combine a week ago. A number of NBA team doctors have reviewed the information from the NBA and have told their front office staff that Sullinger’s back issues could shorten his NBA career, and some have advised their teams not to draft him in the first round.
Sullinger’s agent, David Falk, told ESPN.com by phone that he was not in a position to comment on the story. Sullinger’s father, Satch Sullinger, said he believes the issue isn’t that serious.
“He had a bulging area that was due to his hamstring and quads being so tight,” Satch Sullinger told ESPN.com senior college basketball writer Andy Katz in a phone call Monday afternoon. “It pulled on his hip flexor and he’s been taking care of it to loosen it. You can call it a red flag if you want. But it’s tight hamstring and tight quads. He’s been to doctors, he’s doing yoga and deep tissue massage. The flexibility is helping take the pressure off the area.
“We’ve got nothing to hide. At this stage it’s all about what they can’t do. Jared is a skilled player. A two-time All-American. He can play.”
Looking back, the words indeed seem prophetic. Head coach Doc Rivers, for his part, disclosed that the injury didn’t just appear against the Kings on Wednesday night:
“I know (trainer Ed Lacerte) said something a week or two ago that it’s been bothering him, and I think this will be what will happen,” Rivers said, according to WEEI. “He’ll have these episodes and we’ve got to get him through it. Hopefully, he doesn’t miss games with them, but if he does, he does. And then get it right and come back. But I’m not sure if (he felt pain) before the game or not.”
So, there you have it. Sullinger, a rookie, barely halfway through his inaugural season, is dealing with back problems. He’s young enough now to recover quickly, but there are those who think that things will only get worse from here on out.
I’m not one of them. I’m optimistic that Sullinger will put this behind him, no pun intended, and get on with an impressive rooking campaign that should have landed him in the Rising Stars Challenge but didn’t.
Get well soon, Sully.
We need you on the court.