PHOENIX — It’s never a good sign when a player gets hurt in the intrasquad scrimmage, but that’s the situation the Suns face after Robin Lopez underwent surgery today to repair a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot.
The good news is that about half of the six-to-eight week timetable for his recuperation will come during the preseason, and the Suns now have eight games to find a rotation not involving Lopez. Or they could just pretend it’s last year, when Lopez wasn’t part of the rotation anyway.
The most disappointing part about all this is that the Suns have raved about how good Lopez looked at camp, and along with fellow sophomore Goran Dragic, he could probably use this preseason slate more than anyone.
“I told Robin, ‘Guys never get hurt when they’re playing terrible, it’s always when they’re playing well,’” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “He was playing really, really consistent. He was doing some of the things that we had hoped that he would do last year.
“I think having a year under his belt really made him a lot for comfortable, and he was doing a good job of controlling the boards on the offensive end, coming up with offensive rebounds and doing a good job of blocking shots. It’s one of those things hopefully we get him back in a couple months, and he can give us a boost.”
It’s never a good thing when your seven-footer undergoes surgery on his foot (see Ilgauskas, Zydrunas), but Gentry called this procedure “a pretty routine thing,” and since Lopez is more of an athletic player than a pounder he thinks the second-year center will recover just fine.
As for the question of whether the Suns should sign a big to make up for Lopez’s loss, Gentry said the team will only make an acquisition “if we can find someone that makes sense. We’re not going to just add a guy to add him.”
When you look at the available bigs and the Suns’ penchant for not going over the roster minimum, I don’t think there’s a chance he’ll be replaced. Would anybody available play over Earl Clark or Lou Amundson? I don’t think so.
The aforementioned duo will likely soak up the majority of Lopez’s time. I was a bit surprised the Suns have touted Clark as a potential replacement at the five, but then again you’ve got to remember 35-40 minutes a night at the five will actually be played by Amare Stoudemire.
The Suns might not want Amare to think he’s this team’s center, but he is this team’s center, Robin Lopez or no Robin Lopez.
So really, aside from the time when Amare is resting (when I would expect Lou to get some run) or when the team wants to go with a super small ball lineup, I don’t think Clark will be too much closer to the center position than we thought he would be before the Lopez injury.
It is interesting that the Suns would even mention Clark as a possible replacement at the five because they’ve done all they can to alleviate pressure in every other area of his development, from Steve Kerr saying he doesn’t expect him to beat out Dudley and Lou on Draft Day to Gentry tempering initial expectations every time his name is mentioned.
“He’s got a little something that we don’t have,” Gentry said of Clark, naming his athleticism, defensive abilities and ball-handling skills out of the “center” spot. “That’s the good part of it. The bad part of it is he’s still a guy who should be a senior in college, so it might take a while to adjust to the NBA game. We’re hoping that he makes a liar out of us on that, but I just don’t want him to come in feeling any pressure, feeling like he has to do something. I just want him to feel comfortable.”
No matter how much Lopez has improved over the summer (still a big question), I don’t see the Suns missing much of a beat without him, especially since it will just mean more time for Lou and Earl.
The bigger concern is whether this issue will linger throughout the season and end up setting him far enough back that he never becomes a factor this season.