When the Denver Nuggets said Danilo Gallinari would be back this season after a major knee injury, we knew the team was taking some risk. After all, we learned from Derrick Rose that recovery still isn't a perfect process even in the modern day.
On Tuesday, the Nuggets announced Gallinari would miss the entire 2013-14 season after undergoing ACL surgery, his second knee procedure in nine months. While we consider a future involving self-driving cars and 3D-printed organs, knee injuries remain an imperfect science in the sports world.
For both the Italian forward and his high-paying employer, this comes as pretty devastating news. Gallinari already went through surgery and rehab after injuring his knee against the Mavericks on April 4, 2013. Just as last season ended with a thud in Denver, this season would end with a flourish.
Or at least that was the plan. Somewhere along the way, the biggest tendon in Gallinari's knee gave out. Doctors never addressed his ACL during the initial procedure, hoping the partially-torn ligament would recover without surgery and the rehab it would require. It's proven to be a pretty major oversight.
Nuggets GM Tim Connelly gave some details in a statement (via SI.com):
"It was recently determined that the procedure that Danilo underwent on his knee this past summer was insufficient," Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said in a statement. "Danilo’s knee required that he undergo reconstruction of the ACL, which was successfully completed earlier this morning. Knowing Danilo’s drive and work ethic, we look forward to a full recovery and a healthy return to the court next season."
After the completion of Gallinari's first procedure, the Nuggets seemed to be planning for a return sometime around February. In June, he told the Denver Post that a return by December could be possible, as the damage to his ACL was less severe than expected.
In retrospect, avoiding ACL reconstruction proved riskier than expected. Both sides gambled that repairing the meniscus would be enough to get Gallo back to 100 percent. By November, Gallinari was saying he had "no idea" when he'd be playing again.
It's proven to be a losing bet, and as Denver hangs near .500 in the highly-competitive Western Conference, that could be a pretty big deal over the next few months. The team says a full recovery is expected for Gallinari, but that does little to help a lottery-bound Nuggets team that had bigger plans for this spring.
It brings to light the hard question that often faces teams after major injuries, that balance between risking the future and producing in the present. The Nuggets tried to find it by fixing Gallinari's meniscus without a major ACL procedure, but it was always a decision involving inherent risk. When someone such as Gallo or, more recently, Eric Bledsoe gets hit with the knee injury, this is where the internal discussion focuses. How can we get this guy as healthy as possible as quickly as possible? The answer is occasionally easy, but the Gallinari situation underscores the complexity -- and risk -- involved at times. Things can compound once they start going wrong.
Did the Nuggets make the wrong decision by not fixing the ACL in the first place? It's hard to say. Many teams tend to lean toward all-out recovery these days rather than risk losing a guy for 16 months, but Gallinari is a great athlete and the doctors believed he could handle it. The move backfired, which means a lot of minutes and shots for Wilson Chandler going forward, but there's every reason to believe Gallinari should be ready for the 2014-15 season.
The Nuggets might not be happy with what's happened, but they likely knew this was a possible outcome. In basketball, it's just an unfortunate part of the business.