On the precipice of NBA free agency, it’s important to take one more look at the 2014-15 season. Expect instead of focusing on Golden State’s historical run to the title or LeBron James’ first year back in a Cavaliers jersey, let’s take a look at the injuries that helped shape the season.
As a whole, 4,665 man games were lost to injury or illness. While the number may appear staggering, it’s actually 324 games less than the previous season and just the 4th highest total since the league adopted the game-to-game inactive list prior to the start of the 2005-06 season. However the impact of these injuries may have been higher when the amount of money tied to the lost games is weighed. The 4000+ games lost to injury or illness came with a $344 million price tag, a shade lower than the 2013-14 sum of $358 million. That’s an astronomical $11.5 million lost per team.
Some teams were hit harder than others, in particular the Los Angeles Lakers. The team finished with 338 games and $28 million lost to injury, the second highest totals in the league for both categories. The problems started before the season began when Steve Nash was ruled out for the season due to reoccurring back problems including a spondylolisthesis and spinal stenosis. Nash would miss 73 games before being waived. Things would only get worse as Julius Randle went down with a fractured tibia on opening night and missed the next 81 games, a total only bested by Philadelphia rookie Joel Embiid. Season-ending injuries to Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Ronnie Price, and Xavier Henry would follow. In the end the Lakers would lose over 300 games to injury for the second consecutive season, an unprecedented feat over the last 10 seasons.
On the opposite end, the Phoenix Suns reclaimed their spot atop the league with just 59 games lost. The team edged out the Toronto Raptors, the team that previously recorded the fewest games lost for the 2013-14. The 59 games marked the sixth time in the past 10 years that the Suns medical team has managed to lose less than 100 games to injury and illness. Phoenix lost the least amount of salary dollars to injury, finishing with just $3.4 million lost.
The biggest injury setback came in the postseason. 196 man games lost to injury or illness were sacrificed during this year’s 81 playoffs games. That total represented the most games lost since the 2008-09 playoffs when 199 games were lost over an 85 game span. Cleveland, the Finals runner up, was hit particularly hard by injuries losing 43 total games to injury including 16 games by Kevin Love and seven games by Kyrie Irving.
The NBA has promised to tackle the injury concerns with Commissioner Adam Silver admitting to USA Today’s Sam Amick that reducing the injury rate will be a focus of the offseason. With an increase in biotracking and wearables and additional funds being diverted to sleep studies, dietary focus, and even team psychology, it’s realistic to think that teams can help improve their players’ healths and prolong their careers. However a proactive approach must be adopted on a league level if the NBA is to make strides in protecting its players for the 2015-16 season and beyond.