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Checking in on Rose, Howard and other NBA players on the mend

For most NBA players, these are the quietest and most stress-free days on the calendar.

Some are squeezing in that one last vacation, while others are putting on their own personal training camp in a location of their choice (sunshine preferable) without the burden of their respective coaches looming over them. But for the unfortunate few who suffered injuries either last season or during the summer, the rehabilitation work that may very well determine the fate of their team's season is in full swing at the moment.

This is more than the typical lot, too, as some of the league's most relevant teams have their hopes hinging on the health of their respective stars (see Bulls, Lakers, Clippers) while the up-and-comer types (Golden State, Minnesota) are just a few setbacks away from returning to also-ran status. Their situations are, well, iffy. Here's a quick look at where those players and teams stand.

As inspiring as Adidas' recent Derrick Rose-on-the-recovery commercial was, the fact remains that he's a long way from being back in action. Chicago Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said recently that Rose -- who he vows not to push in the recovery process -- could be back in January or perhaps even miss the entire season following an ACL tear in his left knee in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. According to CSNChicago.com (which had a must-see interview with the former MVP) the Bulls plan to keep Rose's rehab going at least through the February All-Star break.

A source with knowledge of Rose's recovery said he's "coming along great" in what has been a five-days-per-week routine in Los Angeles. His upper body is stronger than ever before while he's slowly strengthening his lower body as well. Rose, the source said, is expected to take part in some light on-court activity soon for the first time since his May 12 surgery.

The silver lining here is that Rose is doing the sort of strength work and resistance training that he may never have done if he hadn't been hurt like this. The hope is that he comes back even stronger and with the area around his left knee reinforced in such a way that it helps prevent a reoccurrence.

Yet considering the dropoff in point guard talent that Bulls fans will have to endure while Rose is gone (the recently returned Kirk Hinrich, free-agent signee Nate Robinson and rookie draft pick Marquis Teague from Kentucky are the only replacements), it'd help their cause if Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are able to play at full strength.

Noah, the always underrated and overlooked center who missed the final three games of the first-round loss to the 76ers after spraining his left ankle in Game 2, is expected to be fully healthy by the time training camp arrives. The injury was bad enough that Noah decided not to play for his French national team in the Olympics, and a source close to him said he has yet to play in any five-on-five action. The focus has been on weightlifting, individual workouts on the court and steady rehabbing of the ankle, but SI.com has been assured he'll be 100 percent by early October.

Meanwhile, Deng -- the 27-year-old small forward who was an All-Star for the first time last season -- may not have surgery to repair the torn ligament in his left wrist (suffered on Jan. 21) after all. Deng, who put off the procedure to play for Great Britain in the Olympics, was quoted in the Aug. 6 edition of the Chicago Tribune saying he may avoid the doctor's office altogether.

"Did I look like I needed [surgery]?" Deng said after Britain downed China 90-58 in his team's Olympic finale. "I'm fine right now. I feel great. There are a lot of things I want to improve in my game that I want to focus on now. I want to be a better player than I was last year.

"I have time to make decisions and be healthy by the time we start [training camp]."

Dwight Howard tried his best to lighten the mood at his introductory press conference in Los Angeles, doing impressions of everyone from Kobe Bryant to random fans who had greeted him on the street. But there's nothing funny about his back situation if you're a member of the Lakers faithful.

Howard may miss the start of the regular season, and the question even after he returns is whether a 6-foot-11, 264-pound, 26-year-old who relies so heavily on his athleticism will be the same specimen after having a herniated disk repaired and fragments removed on April 21. Chances are that Howard will be just fine, but this whole dream season could be swapped for a reality check if he's not the same player.

"I'm getting a lot better, a lot stronger every day," said Howard, who was sent from Orlando to the Lakers in a four-team deal on Aug. 11. "I'm looking forward to the doctor saying you're free to play. I can't wait for that day."

That day didn't come during the playoffs, when the Magic fell to Indiana in the first round. It didn't come in the Olympics, either, as Howard watched from a distance as Team USA defended its gold without him. And considering the Lakers are assured only one season with the 2013 free-agent-to-be, an extended delay in his return to Laker Land is sure to cause all sorts of angst.

"There's no timetable right now," he said. "Whenever [the doctor] says, 'Dwight, you're free to play,' then I'll get back on the court. Until then, I'm going to continue to rehab and get my back stronger. I haven't lost any weight, which is good, and I'm looking forward to getting back on the court.

"If I'm ready for opening night, then I'll be there, but I'm not going to rush it. A back is very serious, so I want to take my time and make sure I get back 100 percent, because I want to give everybody 100 percent. Not 80, 90 percent. I want to give you guys everything I have."

The Lakers have options in the interim, and a team source said a strong possibility would be a starting frontcourt of Pau Gasol and recently re-signed Jordan Hill with newly added forward Antawn Jamison coming off the bench. Hill's rim-protecting presence may be necessary with the defensively challenged Jamison and Steve Nash in the lineup.

Just a hunch here, but I'm guessing the Clippers' brass had mixed emotions about the Team USA experience.

On the one hand, their point guard showed off his championship chops by leading the Americans to gold and reminding the masses why he's such a star. On the other hand, Chris Paul tore a ligament in his right thumb during Las Vegas training camp in July and didn't have it repaired until Aug. 21 because, well, patriotism comes with a price. In this case, the price is an eight-week recovery time.

Then there's the case of Blake Griffin. That their franchise centerpiece forward was also selected to the national team was the latest sign that these aren't your parents' or your grandparents' Clippers. But Griffin suffered a medial meniscus tear at the ill-fated training camp that took him out of the Games and onto the operating table for a July 16 surgery.

Griffin is expected to be fully healthy and ready for training camp, but it's still a setback because of how it changed his offseason. Despite so many league executives privately wishing their players didn't play internationally, few dispute that players often have much-improved NBA seasons upon return. There's a value in being around the greatest talents on the planet, in learning from some of the best coaches in the game. Yet instead of spending a month in the most elite of NBA classrooms, Griffin -- who was shortchanged last summer because of the lockout that prohibited him from working out with the team's coaching staff -- was rehabbing his way back to square one.

Meanwhile, Paul likely will miss the majority of the most important preseason in franchise history. Paul is entering the final year of his contract, and a smooth start would have been better for all involved -- especially considering the Chauncey Billups situation.

Billups tore his left Achilles on Feb. 7 and told the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday that he's hoping to return before the regular season. He has yet to be cleared for five-on-five activity and it remains possible that his hopes won't be realized.

"I think it's going to be close, but I'm shooting to be ready for the regular season," said the veteran guard, who re-signed as a free agent on a one-year deal reportedly worth up to $4.3 million.

In the interim, third-year point guard Eric Bledsoe will see a serious spike in his playing time while new additions Jamal Crawford (via free agency) and Willie Green (via trade from Atlanta) will help keep the battered backcourt afloat.

Ricky Rubio has waited to play in the NBA before, but this is different.

The two-year delay between draft day 2009 (when he was the Timberwolves' No. 5 pick) and his arrival was by his own volition, part of a strategy -- heavily scrutinized though it may have been -- designed to maximize his eventual impact in the league. He stayed and played in Spain until last season, when he made his stateside debut to little fanfare in a charity game in San Francisco before eventually wowing much larger crowds with his selfless style and thrilling play.

Rubio was the most talked-about player in the league until Lin-sanity took over in New York, working alongside resident star forward Kevin Love to lead the T'wolves to a 21-19 mark (an 11-game improvement from the prior season) before a seemingly innocuous collision with Bryant on March 9 ended his season. Now, Rubio's wait is far from over.

More than five months after Rubio tore his ACL and LCL against the Lakers that night, Minnesota owner Glen Taylor told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Aug. 14 that Rubio will be out at least until December.

"The doctors said he was progressing faster than normal, and normal was supposed to be in January," Taylor told the newspaper. "Faster than normal would be December. He's going to start running and stuff in a few weeks."

A team spokesman said Rubio is currently rehabilitating in Spain, and that at least one member of the team's training staff -- between the head athletic trainer, assistant trainer and physical therapist -- has been with him every day during the summer.

As if Rubio's devastating injury wasn't bad enough, the situation was compounded late last season when his replacements J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour, along with small forward Michael Beasley and emerging center Nikola Pekovic all missed significant time with injuries. Minnesota lost 20 of its final 25 games.

Give Andrew Bogut this much: he understands the rules of this game as much as anyone.

Sure, the Warriors will look smart if he returns to full health and plays like the sort of top-five center they believed they were getting in the March 14 trade with Milwaukee that cost them locally beloved shooting guard Monta Ellis and promising big man Ekpe Udoh. Sure, a backcourt of Stephen Curry and second-year sharpshooter Klay Thompson could be productive if the chemistry clicks and the trainers aren't needed like they have been in years past. Sure, adding veterans Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry along with rookies Harrison Barnes (North Carolina small forward), Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt center) and Draymond Green (Michigan State small forward) to coach Mark Jackson's group should help with badly needed depth if the starters stay standing.

It's the difference, in other words, between an "If" team and an "It" team.

"I'm excited, man," Bogut said in a conference call on Sunday. "It's the most productive that a franchise [for which he's played] has been since I've been around. We've made a lot of great moves.

"One thing I will say is that we look good on paper, but we still have to go out there and win games. Paper doesn't really mean much."

Unless it's a clearance paper from the resident doctors, of course. Bogut, who missed 54 of 66 games last season because of his broken left ankle (he had loose particles and bone spurs removed from the ankle on April 27), made it clear that he doesn't expect to be 100 percent by the start of training camp and may miss some -- or at least part of some -- preseason games. He only began light jogging on a treadmill last week in his native Australia, and said it will probably be "another couple of weeks" until he's allowed to go full speed on a court. Bogut does, however, anticipate being ready for the start of the regular season.

"Hopefully that will still give me enough time to get ready for training camp, but I don't anticipate not being ready for the first [regular-season] game," Bogut said. "That's my goal."

Curry, who missed 40 games last season because of ankle injuries and had surgery on his right ankle for the second time in less than a year on April 25, is the safer bet to be fully healthy during the preseason. He has yet to take part in five-on-five action, but has otherwise been working out at full speed with no setbacks.

"No, none at all," he told reporters last week when asked if he had any doubts he'd be ready for the start of the regular season. "The whole point of having surgery when I did and being patient with my rehab was so that on Oct. 31 I wouldn't have restrictions or hesitancy about going out and playing. That's what's going to happen."

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