The NBA trade deadline is fast approaching with several notable names expected to be moved. The player receiving most often mentioned in the circulating rumors is Lakers forward Pau Gasol. Recently Phoenix has emerged as a potential destination with the team using Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract and one of their four first-round draft picks as bait.
Phoenix has another ace in the hole that could help them maximize their return, their top-rated medical staff led by head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson. Nelson has served as the head athletic trainer for 15 seasons and has gained notoriety as one of the best in the league. Players and coaches have raved about the work of Nelson and his staff and the numbers support these claims.
Over the past five seasons the Suns have lost the fewest number of games to injuries and lost the second fewest dollars. These numbers reflect their ability to both prevent and manage injuries as an organization but it starts with their knack for treating the individual.
Their work with Steve Nash and his congenital back condition known as spondylolisthesis prolonged the MVP’s career. Other veterans, including Michael Redd and Grant Hill, elected to join Phoenix citing the medical team as a major factor in their decision. Hill joined the Suns for the 2007-08 season. In the five seasons prior to the move, Hill missed an average of 45 games a season, including the entire 2003-04 campaign. However in his five seasons under the supervision of Nelson and his staff, Hill would miss a total of 32 games, including a stretch where appeared in 243 of 246 regular season.
Redd had similar success as a member of the Suns missing just 15 games during his final season in the NBA. The former All-Star and Olympic champion had suffered multiple major knee injuries during his final three seasons in Milwaukee that forced him out of 185 games at a cost of nearly $39 million to the team. However within his first few weeks with the Suns, Redd noticed an improvement in his movement as Nelson was able to pinpoint imbalances in his hips and legs. At the time Redd told ValleyofTheSuns.com that the medical team was “phenomenal” and said, “[the staff] told me things about my body I haven’t heard my whole career.”
Phoenix’s success isn’t limited to guards and forward as center Shaquille O’Neal also was rejuvenated by his time in Phoenix. O’Neal’s body, particularly his left leg, had begun to show signs of wear and tear during his final days in Miami. Left knee surgery and subsequent tendinitis, as well as a left calf strain and bursitis in his left hip, forced O’Neal to miss 53 games in his final season and half with the Heat. However a midseason trade to Phoenix marked the start of a substantial turnaround for the Diesel. Upon his arrival the Suns staff began addressing both of his lower extremities. With O’Neal’s cooperation Nelson was able to retrain Shaq’s muscles to combat muscle imbalance, allowing him to return to an All-Star level during his first full season in Phoenix. In the 2008-09 season, O’Neal’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) improved to 22.3, its highest total in three years while his Win Share (WS) rating increased by five games from the previous season. More importantly, O’Neal played in 75 games, his highest total since the 1999-2000 season.
Now in his 13th year in the league Gasol could be the next line for a Suns makeover. Similar to O’Neal, it appears as if the heavy slate of NBA and international basketball has begun to take a toll on the Spaniard who has missed 28 games over the last two seasons with chronic foot and knee issues. He underwent a FAST procedure on both knees during the offseason and is currently sidelined with a groin strain that required a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection. Adding Gasol remains a risk and there’s no guarantee that changing uniforms would result in major improvement in health. However it’s hard to argue against Phoenix’s track record and a healthy Gasol would provide a nice boost to one of the surprising teams in the league. If the Suns do pull the trigger on a Gasol trade then Nelson and his elite team of professionals will get another chance to prove their worth.