Who needs an ace up your sleeve when the Suns have the best medical staff in the NBA in their deck? If LeBron James comes to Phoenix the Suns' doctors will have his back... and every other body part.
Thaumaturge (also thaumaturgist): a worker of wonders or miracles; magician (see Nelson, Aaron).
In the race for free agent immortality every facet of recruiting counts. Medical and training staffs may not be the sexiest selling point in the eyes of the general public, but to players the quality of these groups can weigh substantively in their decisions.
Luckily for Suns' fans theirs are the best.
Leading the Team
Aaron Nelson just finished his 20th season with the Suns and is the gold standard of Head Athletic Trainers. He was named the NBA Athletic Trainer of the Year in 2008-09. The ramifications of having someone so eminent in his field should not be understated. Trainers and players end up sharing a special bond, which Nelson spoke of in an azcentral.com interview.
We're around them seven days a week. On off-days, we're still coming in to treat them. We have a lot more exposure to the players. It's not just the physical side of things, but the mental and emotional sides, too.
Nelson is far from alone in these duties, though. Just this past season his protege Mike Elliott was named the NBA Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year. Elliott has been with the team for 11 seasons.
Also in the fold is head team physician Dr. Tom Carter, who is an expert in the field of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine. Dr. Carter is a national authority on subjects related to arthroscopic surgery. He has been the team doctor for 14 seasons. Dr. Carter performed Eric Bledsoe's knee procedure this past season in January. Kind of nice to have an in house expert.
Not only does this unit provide unmatched care, but as the tenures listed above suggest there is also a great degree of stability within the organization.
Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill and Steve Nash can attest to the prodigious nature of the medical gurus in Phoenix.
Shaq came to the Suns in a trade during the 2007-08 season. After working with the Suns' training staff he revitalized his career. O'Neal made his final All-NBA team after a two year hiatus. He was also the All-Star game MVP after missing the festivities the previous season. Most impressively, for the selfish purposes of this article, he managed to play in 75 games in the 2008-09 season. He had only managed to play that many games in one season (27 years old) since the age of 22. O'Neal was 36.
After suffering a litany of cruel injuries Grant Hill came to the Suns as a player who had only managed to play in 200 games in the previous seven seasons. At the age of 36 Hill played in all 82 regular season games for the first time in his career. He only missed three games in three seasons for the Suns, between the ages of 36-38, which were the healthiest of his career.
Steve Nash was recruited away from the Dallas Mavericks after concerns about his longevity made the team leery. Nash proceeded to miss just 37 games the next eight seasons. Not only did Nash win two MVP awards after the age of 30, but he also led the NBA in total assists at the ages of 35, 36 and 37. That's total assists, illustrating the amount of time he was able to stay on the court.
The Suns have a proven track record of getting veterans back into the best shape of their lives and extending their careers.
LeBron may not be staring down his own NBA mortality, but it never hurts to get a head start. James will be in his early thirties during his next contract and it gets harder to maintain peak physical shape with every passing year. LeBron is basically a mutant, and probably won't have any problem producing at a high level into his late thirties, but the grind of playing extra games by virtue of deep playoff runs is something he would surely love to abate.
What could be more applicable at this time is what the training staff might be able to achieve with LeBron's teammates. During his time with the Heat there was a huge veteran presence from players like Mike Miller, Ray Allen and Shane Battier (just to name a few). These types of complementary players can help lift a team over the top. The Suns have shown proficiency at bringing in veterans and resurrecting/extending their careers. Adding these types of missing pieces shouldn't be a problem.
Trust and Eric Bledsoe
I can probably empathize with Bledsoe to an extent, because I just had an allograft acl reconstruction and meniscectomy about six weeks ago.
The surgeon that operated on me was the same doctor that performed an acl reconstruction on my sister-in-law. Her procedure went well and she made a full recovery. After my right knee injury threatened to end my recreational sports career she lined me up with him and I went into surgery with confidence that I could regain my previous form. So far, so good. I'm well ahead of recovery timelines.
Results and referrals.
Of course my 30" vertical doesn't compare to the millions of dollars associated with the crooked inches above that where Bledsoe ascends, but the dynamic I'm attempting to convey still exists. Eric Bledsoe's knee injury this past season puts him in an excellent position to talk to LeBron about the quality of care he received. I would be surprised if LeBron isn't familiar with the handling of that situation. Players talk about these types of things and Bledsoe and James are like family.
What could be better than his commendation?
With James poring through all the minutiae that complicate his decision on where to play basketball in the near future it is hard to know exactly what the tipping point will be. There are just so many things to consider. There is a saying that the Devil is in the details, meaning that the small details of a situation can sometimes make it difficult or challenging, but in this instance the detail of which team's training staff is the best is easy.
It's the Phoenix Suns.