New Training Staff Invaluable to the Trail Blazers

Jan. 29, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) falls to the floor after being fouled by Dallas Mavericks guard Dahntay Jones (30) in the second half at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports


Portland Trail Blazers beat writer Jason Quick penned an excellent article recently about the team’s knack for staying healthy this season. I highly encourage you to read the article, but as of its writing six days ago, the Blazers as a team had collectively missed the fourth fewest games this NBA season due to injury.

This is fantastic. Coming fresh off the days of Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, the team could most certainly use a break in their injury fortunes. But that’s the thing – I don’t think this is luck, fate, chance, fortune, what have you. As Quick pointed out, I am also comfortable in putting this one in large part on Portland’s new hire, trainer Chris Stackpole.

While not a direct replacement for Jay Jensen, the team’s former trainer who was let go this off-season, it is readily apparent that Stackpole’s influence is playing a large role thus far in the team’s health. He is part of the new wave of trainers who are more focused on the needs of individual players, rather than treating them all the same.

First, it’s about time, and second, I don’t know why this hasn’t taken off sooner throughout the league. I remember reading about the Phoenix Suns (considered to have one of the best training staffs in the league) doing this a few years back, and discussing how they would develop a specific plan for every individual player.

For example, not every player jumps the same, and if your take-off is a few degrees off, you better believe that that can skyrocket your chances for a drastic knee injury. An NBA team’s success in the win and loss columns depends on its players actually being able to stay on the court, and the success of the league as a business depends on the same.

If I were in charge, I would be pouring as many resources as humanly possible into keeping players healthy. NBA players are quite literally worth more than their weight in gold – I did the quick math, and a 230 pound NBA player’s worth in gold is approximately $3.7 million, well below many single season salaries. It almost makes too much sense to be taking all of these little steps to keep players on the court.

You have to look no further than last year’s finals to see the extent that injuries can play in a team’s success. Both the Heat and the Spurs are too disciplined to fall back on excuses, but at the end there, both Tony Parker and Dwyane Wade were shells of their normal selves. Personally, I think if Parker is healthy, the Spurs win in six, if Wade is healthy, the Heat win in six, and if both are healthy, the fans win in seven.

In the business of winning, every potential advantage can make the difference between success and failure. Yet, you still see examples that just make you scratch your head. Apparently last year, the Lakers allowed Dwight Howard’s leg strengths to become extremely imbalanced, to the point where the Rockets’ trainers essentially said “oh boy,” after his post-signing physical.

I’m nowhere near being a pro athlete, but coming back from an ACL tear myself, even I know how awful it is to have drastic imbalances in your body. Yet Dwight Howard, a $20 million a season investment, was somehow allowed to slip through the cracks? Like I said, this is baffling, and why I am ecstatic to see the excellent work that Stackpole has been putting in for the Blazers.

Oct 23, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Miami Heat center Greg Oden (20) against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of a preseason game at New Orleans Arena. The Heat defeated the Pelicans 108-95. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The benefits could extend beyond the current players on the court, though. With a more advanced understanding of medicine, perhaps the team could even draft more effectively, or pursue the correct free agents. There is an article that has been floating around for some time that discusses what may have happened to Greg Oden, penned by Zig Ziegler, a noted sports kinesiologist .

It’s an incredibly painful read, but I encourage every Blazers fan to read it in full. While I am sure that Ziegler is telling the story in a way that casts himself in the best light, I have no doubt that there is more than a shred of truth to it. In short, he says that after looking at Greg Oden after his first surgery, he suggested specific, targeted exercises for him to complete, under supervision for every rep.

Again, who knows what actually happened, but Ziegler claims that the Portland medical staff, “laughed off my recommendations.” Haunting words indeed. The past is the past, and there’s no use in getting too distraught about it, but it looks like Stackpole and his newer-age ideas will be a huge boon for the team in coming years.