Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
These are the five stages of grief, and over the last year we have watched Marvin Bagley go through every step.
We have seen him try to fight through pain only to re-injure himself. We have seen the frustration of another stint in a walking boot. We have seen him try write off another injury as part of the game and we have seen the dark times.
We are now in the acceptance phase for Bagley. He has come to the realization that he can only control what he can control. Everything else is out of his hands.
Still just 21 years old, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft stepped back on the floor for the first time since January on Tuesday night. He looked anxious at times and maybe rushed things a bit, but he managed to score nine points and grab four rebounds in 16 minutes of play.
After suffering a broken thumb in the opener last season, followed by sprains in both feet, Bagley missed the first part of this season’s training camp with the coronavirus.
It has been a tough road for a player who shows flashes of brilliance when he’s on the court. In a business where patience with players often runs out long before it should, the Kings are still hopeful that Bagley will live up to his potential.
Getting through a game without an injury setback isn’t a concern for most players, but for Bagley, there was noticeable relief.
“I was having fun, laughing, joking, just enjoying the game, letting it come to me,” Bagley said. “I’m just glad that I’m able to be out there and I made it through a game healthy and I want to thank God for that.”
This is step one for Bagley as a basketball player, but it might be step five of his recovery. He is focused on the things he can control and putting the negative to the side. It appears he has accepted that injuries are part of his journey to this point, but there is still plenty of time to write his NBA story.
He didn’t just miss 59 games last season; the 13 contests he played in came in three separate stints. It’s hard to gain experience and grow as a player when you never have time to get settled in and find a rhythm.
“It’s a long road, but it was nice to see the start of it again with him on the court last night,” coach Luke Walton said.
Despite Bagley missing so much time, Walton didn’t hesitate to start the third-year big. The medical staff limited Bagley to three five-minute bursts, although Walton tried to sneak him back out on the court to start the fourth quarter.
The medical staff eventually won out, forcing Walton to take a timeout to start the period.
“I love playing, whenever I get the chance to play,” Bagley said. “I think there was some miscommunication, but it’s all good.”
More than anything else, Bagley needs time on the court to develop. He’s put in the work on his body and he’s spent the offseason refining his 3-point shot. He has all the tools to be an exceptional player, but shooting drills and weight-room workouts are only part of the puzzle.
“Overall I was very pleased with his effort,” Walton said. “He had some nice switches, defensively. He had a couple of nice rebounds.”
The plan is for Bagley to play in short bursts in the final preseason game on Thursday, but then the team has six days to work him into the system leading up to the Dec. 23 season opener in Denver.
Sacramento needs Bagley to get comfortable on the court. They need his low-post presence, and his ability to rebound. They also need to know if they have another franchise cornerstone.
Bagley passed the first test and made it through his first preseason game unscathed. Hopefully he can build on that success and start to become the player the Kings believe he is.