The No. 1 goal of the Los Angeles Lakers' preseason -- above developing chemistry, conditioning and the increased understanding of a new system -- is to emerge unbitten by the injury bug. Period. End of story. Especially for a team collectively long in the tooth.
Whatever goals not reached during training camp can always be met as the season progresses. Eighty-two games and nearly six months is a loooooong time to work out the kinks before the playoffs. But injuries are the one element that can't be completely controlled, through even the most diligent human effort. When the body decides not to cooperate, that's a problem, and one that can potentially persist throughout an entire campaign.
Especially when you're talking back injuries.
Thus, news that Jordan Hill was diagnosed Monday with a herniated disc (L5, S1) is a bit unsettling. Presumably, the injury took place during Sunday's preseason loss, during which the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding tweeted that Hill spent time on the sideline with a pad on his back and in consultation with trainer Gary Vitti.
The forward will be re-evaluated in a week.
Obviously, treating this as an unbeatable setback for the championship quest would be premature. We have no idea of the severity of Hill's condition. But, in theory, it could be problematic.
Back issues are often recurrent, and what sets them off can be hard to predict. Just ask Luke Walton, whose last few years in L.A. were beset with back problems. Say what you want about Luke or his contract -- and most Lakers fans have -- but the guy worked hard in his failed efforts to rediscover the form of a merely solid role player. Hill obviously possesses more athleticism on his worst day than Walton on his best, but his game also relies quite a bit on that athleticism. Were Hill's back unstable throughout the season, his effectiveness would likely suffer.
In the meantime, that's now two Lakers big men tackling back issues. But part of the reason Dwight Howard's potential absence to start the season didn't feel so daunting is in part Hill's ability to help hold down the fort. With both sidelined for games, the Lakers big men now consist of Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison (who may be slated to play more small forward in Mike Brown's perfect world), the very raw Earl Clark and a bunch of dudes with non-guaranteed contracts and no NBA track record. Depending on Hill's diagnosis, perhaps the Lakers will make a run at a Kenyon Martin-type (an unsigned veteran), if not the genuine article. But whoever they'd land on the open market wouldn't likely be as effective (nor as young) as a healthy Hill.
Fingers crossed, the injury won't prove serious and Jordan can return to the court in reasonably quick time.