The cost of playing through pain
Patrick Beverley's brave efforts could wind up hurting him in more ways than one
As his teammates described it, Patrick Beverley could barely walk after Sunday's game.
With a little more than a minute to go in overtime, Beverley had gotten blindsided by a backcourt screen from Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Somewhere in the collision with the near-7-footer, Beverley twisted his right knee, sending his body crumbling to the floor.
Beverley limped around the court and played through the injury for two more possessions before eventually and mercifully fouling out. When the final horn sounded, he needed to be helped off the floor by the training staff.
Keep in mind, Beverley tore his meniscus less than a month ago. Same knee. You'll remember that other power-driven point guards such as Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Eric Bledsoe have been plagued by meniscus tears.
So even before Sunday's collision with Aldridge, it seems Beverley had been gambling by playing with his knee in this condition. But even after battering the same knee, Beverley said he would play through the pain and give it a go for Wednesday's Game 2 in Houston.
What a gamer he is. This toughness? This is what NBA legends are made of. Willis Reed. Bill Russell. Step right up, Patrick Beverley. After all, pain is weakness leaving the body. It says that right here on this T-shirt.
We're told that playing through injury is the macho thing to do. Many fans demand fearless bravery, and the heroic drama fulfills our insatiable appetite to watch athletes do superhuman things.
But at what cost?
What most folks don't know is that Beverley is being paid $800,000 this season, which makes him somewhere around the 365th highest-paid player in the league. Beverley is perhaps the most underpaid player in the NBA, delivering 7.8 WAR for one of the cheapest contracts in the league. (By comparison, Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams registered 6.4 WAR and made $18.5 million this season.) Beverley's ratio of WAR per million in salary is an NBA-high 9.9, just ahead of Rockets teammate Chandler Parsons and Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas.
Any way you slice it, Beverley gives the Rockets far more than they bargained for. And now he intends to push himself even further by playing through a tattered knee. Most will praise Beverley for gutting it out, putting team above self. Every coach and general manager would do crazy things for a player like that.
But the bigger picture reveals a dilemma for the second-year guard. Millions of dollars and a brighter basketball future are at stake. The Rockets have him under contract for next season, a nonguaranteed deal worth a shade under $1 million, which the Rockets will assuredly guarantee. You don't find guys who can lock up opposing point guards all 94 feet on the floor and who shoot 36 percent from 3-point range. Beverley won't be able to cash in until summer 2015, and potential suitors will do their homework on his wheels.
What it comes down to is Beverley is risking more than the mere possibility of missing the rest of the playoffs. It goes far deeper than that: long-term damage to his knee. And that's before we factor in the possibility of a different injury occurring as a result of overcompensating for that knee. No doubt that the Rockets' team doctors have checked out Beverley's MRI and have walked away with the conclusion that he's fit to play, but we also have to consider the circumstances.
We're talking about a player who is notoriously competitive and would run through a wall for the chance to prove his worth. Ask anyone around the league or overseas and you'll hear tales of Beverley's intensity and work ethic. That's what happens when a second-round draft pick gets traded on draft night, then cut by the Miami Heat in training camp and spends two seasons overseas trying to land a regular gig in the NBA.
"Most people play with a chip on their shoulder," Beverley said last month. "I play with more like a mountain."
The worry is that Beverley's greatest strength -- his relentless determination -- might ultimately become his greatest liability. Both he and the Rockets know they don't have anybody else to handle Damian Lillard in this series. They could throw Jeremy Lin at him, but Lillard would likely turn Lin into a traffic cone. Behind Lin on the depth chart is Isaiah Canaan, who is currently being shipped back and forth between the D-League and Houston. James Harden, objectively, is not an option.
So, Beverley steps up to the challenge. Of course he does. Finding perspective in the trenches of the playoffs is not an easy task, especially for a 25-year-old who dreams for these moments. There is nothing beyond the next game. But of course, there is.
The question becomes whether it's all worth it. Is it worth it to Beverley to potentially risk another injury and millions of dollars in order to have a slightly better chance at a championship (Vegas gives the Rockets 20-1 odds or 5 percent chance at winning)? Is it worth maybe a few more wins?
That's up to Beverley. And he has made that choice. What we do know is that knees are nothing to mess with, especially for point guards like Beverley who rely on lateral quickness and constant movement.
A year from now, will we remember Beverley's bravery? Or that his bravery got the best of him?