Worrying about Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll

Sigh. Sighsighsighsighsigh.

I really don’t like having my overcautious nature validated like this. After spending the better part of the season concerned that top-10 minute loads for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were shortsighted and reckless, and after expressing dismay at a quick return to heavy run following an injury that can linger for DeMarre Carroll, we’re now facing a home-stretch surrounded by injury questions. It surely doesn’t feel good, for anyone who was worried about such things, to now look justified in having been so. It’s just disappointing. And, to be frank, terrifying.

Let’s rewind just a bit, in case you called it a night early on Monday.

Lowry had his elbow drained after Monday’s game. After head coach Dwane Casey called Lowry’s recent play “a concern,” Lowry appeared in front of media with his just-drained right elbow in a wrap, reportedly wincing as he put his sweater on. He revealed that the elbow has been bothering him since the team’s Jan. 14 game in London, England, against the Orlando Magic, though it certainly hadn’t been slowing his performance until recently – he averaged 23.8 points on .491/.438/.776 shooting between then and the recent skid (while, of course, leading the league in minutes).

That skid, which has now reached four games, has seen him shoot 16 for his last 61 over four games, including a 6-of-30 mark from long-range and an uncharacteristic 20-of-34 mark at the line, and it’s been pretty plain to see that something’s awry in his shot.

Once again against the Magic, Lowry appeared to be bothered by the elbow on March 20, missing nearly every shot during warmups out of halftime and appearing to try to get comfortable with it before turning in a mediocre second half. It was the reason that he sat out Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics, but he was steadfast that he didn’t believe rest would do much – it’s now been drained, and he’ll have to manage through it down the stretch. Head coach Dwane Casey echoed that sentiment at practice Tuesday, a session Lowry sat out.

Lowry said his elbow felt better Tuesday, and hey, that’s great. But the fact that he and Casey sound like Lowry could play Wednesday, in a mostly meaningless (except in extreme scenarios) game against the Atlanta Hawks, is worrisome. If the injury is elbow bursitis (Casey used the word “bursa”), there’s not much more damage Lowry can do by playing through it, but he can prevent it from healing as quickly as it might (and continue to play poorly).

Look, I’m not a doctor. This team invests plenty in a medical staff that has always had a great track record and reputation. We know very little about the issue, the extent of it, and so on, and I don’t know anything about elbow bursitis beyond what I can google and from what I remember when I had my “wrestler’s elbow” drained in high school (from hitting the mat, not from my picture-perfect top-rope flying elbow). What I can gather is that Lowry would be best served by rest following the drainage (shocking) to make sure fluid or inflammation don’t build back up, and that it’s possible he could return with a compression sleeve to help alleviate the issue. As with most things, treatment and timelines vary wildly with bursa issues (Blake Griffin needed surgery for one, some people play through it without any issue whatsoever). Rest is recommended everywhere you look, particularly a break from the repetitive actions that can contribute to the issue.

So, having said all of that, I (quite obviously) think Lowry should rest. (The irony in me saying “I don’t know enough to judge but here’s what I would do” is not lost on me.) Why risk it? If there’s even one percent to be gained from Lowry sitting out, or there’s even one percent of one percent of a chance that banging it in action could slow the healing process, then why risk it? I know he wants to play. I know he wants 50 wins. I know he and Casey are competitors who have trouble not going 100 at all times. But NOTHING MATTERS except for the playoffs. If Lowry doesn’t get there in peak form, the Raptors’ record or Net Rating or seed or opponent won’t matter much. They need him at his best, and I don’t care if they lose out to get him there in that form.

As always, I’m more risk averse than most, it seems, and clearly more risk averse than Lowry, Casey, and the organization. And maybe that’s fine, because they know more than me when it comes to these matters. But I’m going to spend every minute Lowry’s on the floor worried until this issue has gone away. He’s just too important.

As for Carroll, well, nobody seems to know what’s going on. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reported today that Carroll is back in Atlanta dealing with some personal matters but is expected back with the team this week. As for his recovery, Wolstat writes:

The next step was clearance for contact. But then all went dark. Carroll’s been in Atlanta tending to some personal matters (he is due back this week), the team has kept tight-lipped, but every indication from talking to various people is there has been some sort of set-back and his return this season is very much in doubt. Quietly, the team has taken the belief that he will need more time, and only a deep playoff run would let him return this season.

One thing that appears to be clear is that the plantar fasciitis Carroll had earlier this year made him compensate a bit and that led to the knee trouble that required surgery.

Oh, the injury that can often linger and flare back up and cause compensatory physical misalignments (and increase the risk for compensatory injury), the one Carroll returned from after just three games and then averaged his normal workload, may have helped contribute to another injury? That second injury (Nov. 13 against New Orleans), by the way, is one Carroll may have hid or downplayed, as he played on it until he banged knees with DeAndre Jordan (Nov. 22), then played six more games on before hitting the shelf. Then he returned, looked bad in five games, and finally opted for surgery after Jimmy Butler made him look like Michael Beasley.

And now it’s unclear if Carroll’s going to come back, having long since blown past the six-to-eight week timeline floated following his Jan. 6 surgery. If Carroll’s not coming back, that would be news to Lowry and Casey.

The fact that the coach and star player seem in the dark about Carroll’s status is a bad look, and while they might just be keeping it from the media, Lowry’s word choice is curious if that’s the case. The team has played fine, even good, without him, far exceeding expectations, and rookie Norman Powell has stepped up in a major way to help fill the defensive void, but Carroll would bring a lot at both ends, and opponents would gameplan around him far more. He opens up more small lineup options, more switching possibilities on defense, and adds an additional 3-point threat to help the drive-oriented offense breathe. The Raptors can still compete in the playoffs without Carroll (assuming a healthy Lowry). He’d certainly help, particularly in matchups with a larger scoring wing for him to check (I think they have one in Cleveland).

It’s much more difficult to simply trust the player and staff and organization in a case like this, where the story arc certainly supports the idea of a misstep somewhere during the process (a popular theory in the comments here, though not one I’ve subscribed to). Why did he return after three games? Why was he playing so much immediately after, and how did the knee injury go undetected or untreated for a while? (Remember, doctors were surprised Carroll didn’t have to get treatment earlier once he finally went in.) Negligence isn’t the right word, but the Raptors certainly weren’t treating this situation with kid gloves or taking every possible precaution. Which is their prerogative, I suppose.

At this point, it’s important to remember something: The organization, the coaches, the players, they all want to win even worse than fans want them to. The Raptors invested $58 million in Carroll. They stand to make a ton of additional revenue with a deep playoff run. Casey’s job is on the line this postseason. Carroll has half a career ahead of him still, and surely wants to deliver (hence playing through injury). If there were missteps anywhere, they weren’t intentional or sinister or diabolical – everyone inside those walls wants the same things those outside of them do, but things happen. Injuries are very much an inexact science, and there’s a lot of variance when it comes to a single season of 15 players. You can react how you like and be mad and play I-told-you-so, and you’re entirely within your rights to do so. Just remember that whatever happened, correct or incorrect, it happened with winning in mind.

So…take that with alcohol and you’ll feel better soon.

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