NBA Rumor: Zach Collins Injury

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The 6-foot-11 Collins was a key piece to the Blazers’ plans entering this season, as they hoped his length, toughness and defensive acumen would give their frontline depth and versatility. But in the second week of training camp, he felt discomfort in his surgically repaired ankle, and scans revealed another fracture in mid-December, prompting the Dec. 30 surgery. “I’m getting scans every three-to-four weeks now, just to make sure that everything is moving along as it should,” Collins said. “I always say this: even last time when it went wrong before we knew it went wrong everything was looking how it should, so … you know, that’s how it’s looking right now.”

I’m being told the team is gaining hope that Collins could return for the playoffs, if not before the regular season is over on May 16. He had a second surgery on his left ankle on Dec. 30, and Collins said the typical recovery time is 4-to-6 months. The first time he underwent the surgery — after the Orlando bubble — the team targeted his return for mid-January, or 4 1/2 months. He was on schedule for that until he started to feel pain at the 3 1/2 month mark, which was revealed to be a refracture of the same area.

Zach Collins on impending free agency: It's definitely in the back of my mind

Entering his fourth season in the league, Portland Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins was set to make his return mid-January following surgery on his left ankle.E That first surgery was performed on Sept. 1. But then after a setback, his second ankle surgery which the Blazers called a revision surgery, was scheduled for Dec. 30. Now, just over a month out, Collins says there’s no timeline on his return, but he expects the rehab process to take four to six months. That could mean Collins may be back at the very end of the season or ready to go for playoffs.

Unfortunately, stress fractures are one of the more serious sports injuries as they often involve prolonged return times and high risk of re-injury. They occur at a rate of 20% in high-level athletes with about 90% occurring in the lower limb. How bad the stress fracture is depends on where it is and type, with Collins’ injury being one of the less common locations. Regardless, stress fractures are categorized as “high risk” or “low risk” based on how they heal.

“High risk” stress fractures can be much more problematic compared to “low risk”, as the break can get longer and/or take longer to heal. “Low risk” stress fractures are almost always managed successfully using conservative treatment (i.e., physical therapy and no surgery), while those that are “high risk” are more difficult to diagnose and may require surgery. Thus, it’s fairly obvious that Collins’ stress fracture may be categorized as “high risk” given the Trail Blazers’ announcement that he will undergo season-ending surgery. Regardless, injury severity can be graded based on changes seen on imaging (e.g., x-ray, MRI), which are often used to plan treatment, prognosis and when an athlete will return to action.

Collins was originally hoping to return in March and he’s pushed himself through rehabilitation sessions and individual basketball workouts throughout the coronavirus crisis, so the news was not surprising. But for it to finally become official was momentous. “When my doc came in and said my shoulder feels like a normal shoulder, that I was good to go, it was like a weight was lifted,” Collins said. “I tell people all the time that he whole rehab process isn’t difficult. It’s just very long and boring. The worst part is not being on the road with the team, not being around them every day, feeling disconnected. It’s weird. Odd. So, mentally, it’s a big struggle. I’m just super excited to be back and know that I can do everything again.”

This has put Collins in a tough spot, as the one thing left on his list for rehab was full contact, basketball action. In an interview for Trail Blazers Courtside, the Blazers’ big man gave Rip City an update on his rehab. I definitely think I am on the right track. Right now it’s tough because the last part of my development was playing and we can’t play right now. I’m just trying to simulate that as much as I can right now without going through contact with other players. It feels really good. Like I said before,.I haven’t really had any setbacks in my rehab. From day one it’s all been pretty smooth, it’s just a long process. But it feels great. I’m really happy with where I’m at. – Zach Collins

Everywhere you looked, there were positive signs in regard to injured players. There was Zach Collins, going through on-court drills with a basketball — shooting short jumpers and even left-handed layups — as he recovers from a torn labrum. No full workout with the team yet, but on the court and even shooting with his (injured) left arm. At the other end of the court, there was CJ McCollum working out with coaches — running full speed as he shot and went through defensive drills — as he recovers from a sprained ankle.

Zach Collins didn’t know it at the time, but that October night in Dallas, when he bowed his head and nearly cried in an empty locker room, his life was beginning to change for the better. The Trail Blazers starting power forward had just learned that his dislocated left shoulder, suffered in the third quarter of the team’s third game, would keep him out weeks, if not months — and if that didn’t take hold of his Adam’s Apple, the next few days would. For the next six days, he would wrestle with MRI results, second opinions, third opinions, and decisions of whether to have surgery or just rehabilitate the shoulder. He ultimately opted for surgery to repair a torn labrum, and he is not expected back on the court until March at the earliest.

Somewhere between the haze of dashed dreams and the post-surgery pity parties, Collins was confronted by what many professional athletes encounter during a major injury: an identity crisis. During most of his 21 years, basketball was the most defining element of his life. It was what he was best at, how he was recognized, how he managed his stress, and how he viewed himself. And now, basketball was gone until the spring, leaving him with a harrowing question: Who was he? “What else do you have?” Collins remembers asking himself. “And I realized, I don’t have much.”

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“It definitely caught me off guard. I actually learned about it in the parking lot of the Sports Academy in Frisco, TX. I was leaving a session and my phone was going crazy. I’d seen that DeMar DeRozan had gotten traded to Chicago and I was like, ‘Why is my phone going crazy for this?’ Then, I dive a little deeper into it and I see that the trade included me, Al-Farouq Aminu, some picks and stuff like that. “It definitely caught me off guard for the simple fact that I had just talked to my agent and my agent had just talked to everybody in Chicago, and we were being told that I was coming back. And they guaranteed my salary the day before or two days before or something like that and then used it as trade bait. It is what it is; it happens and it’s part of the business. But the only thing I wish is that I had gotten the heads up before I found out from social [media].