After a disastrous 2015-16 in which they were among the NBA’s most battered and injured teams, the Wizards are heading in a new direction with their athletic training staff and are close to finalizing a new structure that focuses more on the clinical side, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.
Longtime head athletic trainer Eric Waters was fired with one year left on his contract after a 41-41 season in which multiple players were injured and stayed in street clothes for long stretches. A clinical focus would include developing new treatments, therapy, studying trends, taking into account genetics to understand injuries and many other aspectss by having a more specialized medical group rather just a head athletic trainer and an assistant.
John Wall missed the last five games with swelling in his right knee and required surgery to both knees May 5, Bradley Beal played a career-low 55 games, Nene and Drew Gooden were limited by calf injuries, Marcin Gortat had a recurrence of a back injury and Alan Anderson only played in 13 games. Otto Porter took a blow to the thigh Dec. 9, played the next four games but then missed the next three because of the side effects.
Rather than just replacing Waters with someone of similar experience, the Wizards will install a different type of head trainer who likely will have a different or additional title. They’ve talked with teams across various sports that use a model with more focus on prevention and rehabilitation.
The Phoenix Suns, for instance, have what is considered one of the more progressive medical staffs in sports with Aaron Nelson in charge. Head athletic trainer since 2000, he was given the additional title of vice president of athlete care in 2013.
Instead of just treating an injury, Nelson, for instance, also would address other areas of the body that are used to overcompensate for the weakness.
The successes that the Suns have had in recent years by prolonging the careers of Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal and Antonio McDyess have made them the gold standard in the NBA.
In 2013, the Portland Trail Blazers made Christopher Stackpole what they call their director of player health and performance. There, he’s in charge of preventative care and rehab, collaborates with the athletic trainers, conditioning specialists, nutritionists, physicians, etc., with the goal of decreasing the risk of injury.
With the Wizards, signs of a shift to this philosophy were evident when Beal developed a fourth stress reaction in his lower right leg for his fourth consecutive season. The Wizards implemented a strategy to use all of the tools they have aside from traditional treatment, such as the SVU cameras, analytics and other devices that measure his workload, stress and impact on the bones and joints in the leg.
They believe they have a better grasp on how to treat him for what essentially is an overuse injury. Wall is noted for arriving at Verizon Center hours before games for acupuncture just so he could get himself play. He'd spend an inordinate amount of time on the trainer's table postgame, too, but the discomfort never left.
Coupled with new coach Scott Brooks' emphasis on shortening practices to cut down the wear and tear during an 82-game season, the reshaping of the training/medical staff fits the new direction.
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