Blazers Lose Joel Przybilla to Gruesome Knee Injury
In the amount of time it takes a seven-footer to jump in the air and land in a crumpled heap on the floor, the Trail Blazers' playoff dreams may have went up in smoke -- or at the very least, sent GM Kevin Pritchard's cell phone into overdrive.
Joel Przybilla, thrust into Portland's starting lineup earlier this month after Greg Oden was lost for the year with a fractured kneecap, landed awkwardly while going for a rebound in the first quarter of Tuesday's game against the Mavericks.
Simply looking at his misshapen kneecap as he writhed in pain suggested a serious injury, and sure enough, not long after he was helped off the court and examined by doctors, the team confirmed he suffered a ruptured right patella tendon and dislocated patella. Officially, he's "sidelined indefinitely," which is merely a polite way of saying he's almost certainly done for the year. (Kevin Pelton and Will Carroll of Basketball Prospectus discuss the severity of the injury and how it compares unfavorably to Oden's injury.)
As it happens, the Blazers held on to win the game, 85-81, but that's a minor victory in the face of the potentially devastating loss of Przybilla, who entered the game as Portland's lone healthy center. Without him, the team will likely be forced to play LaMarcus Aldridge, a finesse four, out of position at the five, or rely heavily upon 36-year-old Juwan Howard, who hasn't averaged more than this season's 12.1 minutes per game since 2007, and hope he's not the next to break down.
In a rare stroke of good luck, the Blazers did recently activate rookie power forward Jeff Pendergraph, the first pick of the second round last June, after he missed the entire season to date recovering from hip surgery in September. He made his season debut on Tuesday, scoring two points in three minutes, and will likely go from being a total afterthought to potentially the first big off the bench in a matter of days.
Przybilla's situation, of course, is just the latest in a series of surprising injuries for the Trail Blazers -- the team was already so ravaged by the injury bug that the NBA had already granted a roster exemption, allowing Portland to sign a 16th player, which it used to pluck power forward Anthony Tolliver out of the D-League.
Dipping into the D-League is all well and good if the team's goal is stay afloat, but if they have any hope of playing deep into the postseason, they'll almost certainly have to make some kind of move to bolster their suddenly paper-thin frontcourt. Talented big men are always in short supply, and it doesn't help Portland's case that Denver, sitting atop the Northwest Division with a two-game lead, is also in the market.
Pritchard has long been regarded as one of the league's savviest general mangers, and he can't be held responsible for the fluke injuries like Oden and Przybilla have suffered, but with the benefit of hindsight, his inability to add a free agent like Paul Millsap or David Lee last summer -- not to mention his decision to pass on rebounding stud DeJuan Blair not once but twice -- suddenly looks like a glaring mistake.