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Friday, November 30, 2012
Get ready for wave of tendinitis in the NBA

By Brian Windhorst

Dwyane Wade
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Thanks to David Stern, don't be surprised if Dwyane Wade and other players "battle" tendinitis again.

MIAMI – This may turn out to be a big week for tendinitis.

Seven years ago, the NBA abolished its injury list in large part because it was often a sham that openly encouraged dishonesty. The decision was hailed as a positive step toward transparency in an area of professional sports that’s usually shadowy.

But after David Stern’s edict regarding the San Antonio Spurs for being open and honest about resting star players, the days of shady injury announcements may soon return.

Stern may be able to hand down a “significant sanction” for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and create a new precedent for coaches who rest high-profile players. But he can’t sanction a team for not playing an injured player, at least not yet.

The solution to this development, unfortunately, will be simple.

For years, NBA players who were not among the 12 allowed to dress for a game had to be put on the injury list. To be put on the list officially, teams had to announce an injury. In the absence of a legit condition, teams started to routinely announce that players had been diagnosed with various forms of tendinitis.

If you researched the transactions from the 1990s and early 2000s, you’d see an incredible wave of patella tendinitis and Achilles tendinitis sprawled across the NBA. Remarkably, it often struck end-of-the-roster players who rarely played. Thanks either to medical science or a change in paperwork, games missed due to such injuries have been eradicated like polio.

It all ended in 2005 when the NBA created its inactive list that changed before every game. If a player wasn’t playing simply because of a numbers game, he was simply placed on the inactive list, much like in the NFL. If a player was being rested, sometimes it was listed as "DNP-Old."

Popovich officially listed that as the reason Tim Duncan didn’t play the third game of a back-to-back-to-back last March against the Philadelphia 76ers. It was a bit of hilarity, but it was also a victory for honesty. Thinking long term, Popovich didn’t want to wear Duncan out before the postseason.

If Duncan had been 25 and not 35 and had played in 130 career games and not 1,300, then Popovich probably would’ve started him. But Duncan is older and that is why Popovich didn’t play him. A longtime straight shooter, the coach told it like it was.

That will not happen again, nor probably will coaches admit they’re resting veterans. Get ready for the return of patella tendinitis, which nearly every NBA veteran probably has anyway.

Last season, the Miami Heat shut Dwyane Wade down several times during the season for what coach Erik Spoelstra called “maintenance.” What was really going on was that Wade was battling a bad knee, and several times he got the knee drained and needed rest. But the Heat didn’t want to reveal that, so they just called it maintenance, and it looked for all intents and purposes that they were giving Wade rest.

With Wade coming off offseason knee surgery and the Heat already surging out to the East’s best record, you can bet that more maintenance days are ahead this season for Wade. Even if it is just purely to rest him. With other aging veterans like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis in their rotation, you can bet the Heat will call for rest on some nights.

Some of those games may end up being on national television, as nearly a third of the Heat’s games are this season. This is just what the Spurs were faced with Thursday, when Popovich sat Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, inciting frustration from fans who wanted to see a good game and apparent rage from the commissioner based on his impromptu after-office-hours edict of planned “substantial sanctions.”

“It depends on how you define rest,” Spoelstra said, trying to sidestep the issue. “Every situation is different. We’ve done a maintenance program before with guys, you can probably draw a correlation with that.”

Last season the Heat sat Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh in the last week of the season in a nationally televised game at Boston. The result was an ugly 78-66 Celtics win with low ratings. At the time, the team said all three players were on a maintenance program.

If Stern follows through with this correlation, as Spoelstra said, forget about DNP-Olds or maintenance. The commissioner surely can’t punish a team for not playing an injured player.

Get ready to say hello, or at least hello again, to a new rash of tendinitis as it spreads to NBA injury reports when well-known players might need a night off.