MINNEAPOLIS – For a brief moment, former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy nearly called it a career after suffering yet another setback in his rehabilitation from knee surgery last Saturday in an individual workout.
The plan for the Minnesota Timberwolves guard was to make his return to action Feb. 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers at Target Center, after having two successful workout days. After that, he would join the team for practices leading up to the game.
Friday's session went as planned. Saturday's didn't.
While performing a move in the first 20 minutes of the workout, he felt something in his right knee that he has felt far too often. He tweaked it, eliminating any possibility of him returning to action before the All-Star break.
“As soon as it happened, in my head, I said 'I quit. I just quit,'” an emotional Roy told CSNNW.com. “That was my first thought, that I couldn't do this anymore.
“I'm at a crossroad in my career.”
He's certain that if he can't get right this season, it will be the end of his career. And he's fine with that.
“I look at it like this has got to be the last season,” he said. “I don't have any regrets because I know I tried to give it another season. So me saying this has to be the last season, it's not as difficult as it was last year. I tried. I gave it that last effort and it's time to move on. I'm at that range to where I'm at peace with things.”
The look on Roy's face spoke a thousand words. He is fatigued and frustrated, but not ready to give up. On that Saturday, Roy said he quickly regrouped, gathered himself and went to the locker room to receive ice. It was there he contacted his longtime Seattle buddy Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I just told him that he's going to get through this and whatever decision he makes, we'll support him,” Crawford said. “He's our brother. We care for him as a person and want whatever is best for him and his family.”
“I just took a deep breath and told myself that I've been through this stuff before,” Roy said in a disappointed tone.
Thankfully for Roy, this latest setback didn't cause any further damage and isn't going to require surgery. However, he says this one was the biggest letdown for him to grasp and it definitely came at a bad time in the Timberwolves’ season.
The Timberwolves have been plagued by injuries and are in desperate need of healthy players.
“The situation is different now because the team wants the roster spot, maybe, and they don't know if I can play,” the former Rookie of the Year said. “I just have to continue to rehab and see where it goes from here.”
His injuries in Minnesota started when the three-time All-Star says he tore his meniscus in the team's final preseason game Oct. 26 versus the Milwaukee Bucks, when he bumped knees with Ersan Ilyasova. He went on to play the first five games of the regular season in which the team started out 5-1, but Roy said, “I couldn't go 77 more games like that.”
So he underwent arthroscopic surgery, started to work out again and was feeling good about getting right back in the thick of things. But he hurt the knee during practice in late December.
“I was like 'Uh oh.' This isn't how I planned this comeback,” Roy remembered saying.
Days later in a statement released by the Timberwolves, Roy said he would “explore additional treatment options and an extensive rehabilitation plan.”
The treatment he received was medication in Minnesota used to treat arthritis. It doesn't necessarily treat pain, but it treats arthritic conditions and it takes two weeks to get inside your system. In the joints in his body that may develop arthritis, it helps eases the pain. However, the medication is not any help at all with the constant grind and pounding it takes to get through an NBA season.
“It won't help me there,” referring to his knees. “That's just from having no cartilage in there.”
On top of that, he has been wearing a knee brace the last couple of weeks, on and off. The problem with that is, he hates it.
“It's not comfortable to wear at all.”
So that's where Roy is at this point. His body won't allow him to play the game that he loves.
“My biggest struggle through this whole knee process is that I probably can play just games,” Roy said. “But when a guy just plays games, his jumper is not right and his timing is off. I've always been able to be good because I prepared. If I struggle in a game, I can't go work on it tomorrow. I can't improve like other players can.
“Other players can get in the gym the next day and work on what they want to work on to get better. I haven't been able to do that the last couple of years. I've been going out there the last couple of years just willing it on emotions. So that's where my frustration is.”
Even though it would be easy to feel sorry for Roy, he doesn't want to come off as “Poor Brandon.” He says he has been able to grow from this experience in Minnesota and he has built some long-lasting friendships with his new teammates that he never thought was possible.
“More than ever, I have different cultures around me,” he said referring to himself, Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams being the only full-time players on the roster who are black. “I'm used to playing on a team with all black guys so things were always pretty similar in the locker room. But now I'm in the locker room joking with Pek (Nikola Pekovic) in the weight room and he's playing Serbian music and I'm like, 'Dude, turn this off.' So me and him over there compromising over that kind of stuff. I'm like, 'Look, you get the first 20 minutes and I'll get the last 20 minutes,'” Roy said, laughing.
This time last year, Roy wasn't doing much laughing. Especially when it came to anything basketball related. He said when the Trail Blazers used their amnesty clause on him, he understood what they were doing and why they did it, but he wasn't quite ready for it all to end.
It didn't hit him that he was retired until he turned on a Blazer game in January and he quickly heard references to Greg Oden's knee issues and how he had the same problems staying healthy.
From that point on, he shut down basketball all together.
“Last year, I didn't want to hear it. I wanted to get away from basketball, reporters and going to games,” he said. "I wasn't mature enough to be around the game yet.”
After attempting this comeback and giving it his all, he realized that he has more to offer than just his physical talents. Roy's game wasn't predicated on beating defenders off the dribble or blowing by them with his speed. He was a thinker on the court who knew how to make plays without being the most athletic player in the world.
It took some time for Roy to find himself beyond playing basketball, but he says that thanks to prayer, family and friends, he has received a new calling.
Post-playing career, I now introduce you to Coach Roy.
“Now, I think there's something in me that I can offer to basketball. There's a message that I can bring to basketball. I wasn't the fastest, the highest jumper, but my knowledge of the game helped me be an effective player at a high level,” Roy said. “Coaching at the NBA level is where I see myself. If this season is it for me, I'm not staying away from basketball. I would want to get in as soon as possible.”
On the Trail Blazers' bench?
“Maybe one day,” he said. “My knowledge of the game and understanding of chemistry, I think that stuff, I can offer. These young kids today are good, but they lack those things.”
Roy has been talking to Lorenzo Romar, his former college coach at the University of Washington, asking him what it feels like to get a win as a coach oppose to playing? Roy says Romar's response was 'you won't know until you give it a try.'
There is no timetable set for his return to action. Roy was not able to make his much-anticipated return to the Rose Garden back in November as a Timberwolf. The Trail Blazers will be the Timberwolves’ guest on Feb. 4 and of course Roy will not be ready on that date.
But there is a date he's shooting for: Mar. 2, when the Timberwolves make their final appearance in the Rose Garden this season.
“I'll say it's a 50-50 chance I'll play that game,” he said with a smile. “If I'm in decent physical condition, then I think I'll play that game. Right now I'm not close enough to getting back on the floor to say that's a possibility. As much as I want to play that game in the Rose Garden, really I just want to play on that floor again. I can't do it as a Blazer, but I feel like if I am able to get on that court again and play in front of those fans, that would be pretty special for me.”
In leaving Minnesota, I knew Roy was on the right path. I'm not referring to his body, but his mindset. He has started preparing for the future and he's excited about it. Just last night, Grant Hill, who has had his share of injuries, told Roy that he has done things in four years that guys in 15 years haven't.
“He said I was the man in the league,” Roy said. “That was crazy. Every team that has come through here has said they are glad that I'm back and wishing me the best. That was the good thing and that's the side that I can look back at when it's over and say 'I made my mark.' My peers respect me and at the end of the day, it was four great years.
“I'm not ready to say I'm going to retire, but if I can play the last 15 games of the year, that would be good enough for me.”
Roy,28, signed a two-year deal with the Timberwolves worth 10.4 million back in August. The second year is not guaranteed. He's averaging 5.8 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds in five games.