Soobum Im/USA TODAY
The Magic had three players facing pretty serious injuries early on this season.
Tobias Harris sprained his ankle early in the preseason. Glen Davis was still recovering from a fractured leg and foot from January. Then training camp invitee Solomon Jones went down with a torn meniscus just two games into the season.
Jacque Vaughn has been notorious for keeping injury information somewhat secretive. His typically vague answer when asked about injuries involve something about waiting for the medical staff to turn the player over to him and then evaluating when the player is truly ready to come back. The Magic, since they are playing the long-term game, are happy to let players come back at full health rather than rush them back for the promise of short-term wins.
"I would think that would be, being early in the season, the approach to let it heal fully, to let me see how it feels all the way and see when I feel like it's 100 percent to get back out there," Harris said.
It is still early in the season and there is a long marathon to go.
The slow game still did not prevent Solomon Jones from rushing back just three weeks after his initial injury. Jones was weighing his options between rehab and surgery. His knee responded well to the rehab and he was made made active Saturday against Dallas, catching even Jones by surprise that he was able to come in and play.
"[I] just went through rehab, a lot of rehab," Jones said. Went through some conditioning drills. They were just checking my knee for sweeling and it was contained to what they wanted. They asked me how did it feel and I told them it was kind of pain free. At that point in time they made a decision and made me available. It was basically a gametime decision. They asked me could I go and I said yeah. I didn't know I was going to play that game."
This slow game has been frustrating for fans, and almost certainly the players who really want to get out and play. It took a long time for Davis and Harris just to return to practice. The duo have been participating in limited practices since early in the month. However, they have not been able to prove themselves going up and down the court and testing their conditioning until this week — a relatively light week in the schedule.
Vaughn would not rule out Harris or Davis for Wednesday's game against the Heat. But he would not say whether they would be available for that game or a game in the near future. They both appear much closer to coming back to the lineup and playing for the first time this season.
Vaughn said it is a continuing process of re-evaluation and re-assessment when it comes to the injured players and their return to the game. A player's return is often open to multiple variables, including the player's conditioning and the team's rhythm.
Right now, it appears Glen Davis and Tobias Harris have to prove they have their conditioning and playing rhythm up to a certain level before they can return.
"I think I put myself in a situation where adjusting to the game it won't be as bad because of all the things i've been doing as far as getting myself into shape," said Davis, who has taken to doing yoga and has watched what he has eaten as he struggled with the foot injury that has sidelined him since January. "It's been paying off. Just one day at a time, I think. I'm not looking ahead. I'm just focusing on today and how I feel today."
Barring any major setbacks, Davis could be set to return soon. He has been practicing with the team since early November and has just been eased back into the lineup.
Harris could be set to return too. They will be continued to be monitored. Jones noted that he had no swelling in his knee following his first practice and game back.
Vaughn said like Harris and Davis, Jones will be monitored and reassessed daily to make sure they do not have any setbacks. When these players return, the Magic want them to return for good.
"Our training staff, they do a very good job taking care of us every day," Jones said. "Before practice, after practice, on days off making sure we get the necessary treatment. They don't force any issue. I was always asking them when I first hurt it and they didn't want to give me any timetable because you want to take it day by day. They do a very good job making sure we don't get out there and we're still hurting and do even more damage."
It can be a frustratingly long process to get back into the lineup. Vaughn seems insistent on letting the training staff do their work first and then easing players back into the lineup and into practice as they continue to get healthy.
The process though is an important for the Magic as they continue to look to develop young players and ensure their long-term future. Returning from injuries can be a lesson in itself and drive that competitive fire.
"I told myself I was going to work hard and get back regardless if I had surgery or not," Jones said. "I was going to push it to the limit. Not rush it or force anything, but I was going to work at it and do what I could to get back onto the floor. Those two-three weeks that I sat out, that was killing me as it was. I just put in the necessary work to get back on the floor."