When the Clippers announced Tuesday that Chris Paul had undergone successful surgery to repair a ligament in his thumb, the news was a bit jarring. After all, Paul had initially injured the thumb during the NBA playoffs and had aggravated the injury at the beginning of USA Basketball's training camp as the team was preparing for the Olympics. Paul went on to start all eight of the games in London, and was one of the shining stars of Team USA's gold medal winning run. Since he'd just played so well, no one was really expecting this surgery, and it came as something of a surprise.
It also brings to two the number of Clipper superstars who've gone under the knife this summer to repair injuries suffered during Team USA training. Blake Griffin was forced to withdraw from the Olympic team in July when damaged meniscus in his left knee required surgery.
With both of their All NBA stars undergoing surgery this summer as a result of injuries suffered while practicing with Team USA, Clipper fans might be excused if they (1) start to believe there really is a Clippers Curse or (2) never want another Clipper to play on the National team ever again.
However, neither surgery is expected to adversely affect the players during the upcoming season. For his part, Griffin should be back on the court well before training camp even opens. As for Paul, he's expected to miss eight weeks, which would see him miss the beginning of camp, but would put him back in sneakers and with the team well before the regular season starts. Coach Vinny Del Negro said as much on Tuesday:
[The surgery] was something we wanted him to get done now so it doesn't bother him later. He'll be back for the start of the season.
Surely if there were a curse, Clippers would be getting injured during the season when they would miss games, rather than in the off-season when they have time to get fixed up and recover fully. In Paul's case, the injury is almost a blessing in disguise. Between the compressed, grueling regular season, the playoffs and the Olympics, Paul has not stopped playing basketball since he became a Clipper. Eight weeks off the court might be the best thing for him right now, and he's such a gym rat that it's tough to keep him away under normal circumstances. The time he spends recovering from thumb surgery will also be helping him refresh his tired legs.
As for the question of National Team service, it's certainly true that players can get hurt playing for their country. But players can get hurt over the summer in other ways as well. It's not as if Paul and Griffin would never have played basketball this summer had they not been selected for Team USA. There's little reason to suspect that USA Basketball duties played a decisive factor in these injuries. These things just happen sometimes.
Paul played through his thumb injury in London and presumably could have taped his thumb indefinitely and still been terrific. But the smart thing was to address the injury now, so that it won't be an issue later. It's clear that the Clippers need Paul to be a dominant player as he was last season when he finished third in the MVP voting -- and there's no reason to suspect that he won't be just as dominant when he takes the court opening night.