The Nuggets announced Tuesday that forward Danilo Gallinari will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his left knee for the second time in nine months.
Gallinari initially injured his knee against the Mavericks on April 4, 2013, and early reports indicated that he had torn his ACL. The Italian forward underwent surgery on April 30 to repair meniscus damage, but that procedure did not address the ACL.
This week's surgery, an ACL reconstruction, will keep Gallinari out for the balance of the season. He had not yet returned to the court after the first procedure.
“It was recently determined that the procedure that Danilo underwent on his knee this past summer was insufficient,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said in a statement. “Danilo’s knee required that he undergo reconstruction of the ACL, which was successfully completed earlier this morning. Knowing Danilo’s drive and work ethic, we look forward to a full recovery and a healthy return to the court next season.”
The injury occurred as Gallinari attacked the paint going to his left. He came up lame as he planted to attempt a shot in traffic.
"It's disappointing," coach Brian Shaw said, according to DenverStiffs.com. "We feel for him and know how tough a situation that is to deal with. Having gone through all the rehab process that he did, and now to get the news that he had to have surgery and will be out the rest of the season. We're pulling for him, we're going to support him."
The unusual timing of the two surgeries suggests that Denver took a calculated risk in delaying the ACL reconstruction, a procedure that was sure to cost Gallinari most of, if not all, the 2013-14 season if conducted in April. By holding off, the Nuggets were likely holding out hope that Gallinari's knee would respond without the more serious procedure. That didn't happen, and Gallinari must now begin an extended rehabilitation program that puts his availability for the start of the 2014-15 season in question. ACL injuries usually require a nine- to 12-month recovery timetable, and opening night of next season is now little more than nine months away.
The Nuggets, who hired Connelly and Shaw last summer, are three games out of the Western Conference's playoff picture with a 20-20 record. Their dream scenario -- hang tough and hope that the return of Gallinari, the team's second-leading scorer in 2012-13, could power them into contention for home-court advantage -- is now toast. A maddening Denver team that lost eight straight in late December and January before reeling off five straight wins earlier this month now faces the realization that help isn't around the corner. They will have to make do with what they have.
The small slice of good news: Wilson Chandler has done a fine job filling in, averaging 13.5 points and 4.9 rebounds, and Tuesday's announcement at least gives him role certainty.
Befitting their .500 record, the Nuggets' outlook, assuming their roster stays the same, doesn't look particularly bright or bleak. They have managed to claim a top 10-spot in offensive efficiency without Gallinari thanks to career-best numbers from Ty Lawson, but their once-substantial home-court advantage has tailed off badly. At the midseason mark, the Nuggets stand as one of five teams competing for the last two playoff spots -- along with the Mavericks, Suns, Grizzlies and Timberwolves -- but they rank fourth among that group in point differential and third in defensive rating (although Memphis should pass them soon thanks to the return of Marc Gasol).
The (continued) absence of Gallinari doesn't kill Denver's playoff hopes on sight, but it certainly doesn't help. The Nuggets' best-case scenario now appears to be a first-round exit in five games; their worst-case scenario is 11th (maybe 12th) place in the conference. It's fair to conclude that the chances of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003 are meaningfully greater than the odds of making an 11th consecutive postseason appearance. All told, this knee surgery is disappointing news for both Gallinari and the Nuggets, who could have really used a boost.