Losing a star player to injury can have a disastrous impact on a team's success. The city of Indianapolis is no stranger to these circumstances. Peyton Manning saw his career with the Colts end because of a season ending neck injury. Fans suffered through a 2-14 year where the team was forced to rebuild with Andrew Luck as the face of the franchise.
Only seven short years later, Luck himself retired from the NFL at age 29, citing a laundry list of injuries including a battered right throwing shoulder and lacerated kidney.
In the NBA, Pacers fans saw Paul George break his leg during an Olympic team scrimmage. The gruesome injury was a gut punch to fans locally who had to watch George be taken out on a stretcher during a voluntary event. While there is an inherent risk for injury during any game, it was an oddly cruel way to have expectations crushed ahead of an NBA season.
Even after trading Paul George in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Oladipo himself suffered a torn quad tendon last season. After more than a year of rehabilitation, Oladipo has slated his return for January 29th against the Chicago Bulls. While having Oladipo available makes the Pacers a better team, there is a cost to bringing him back.
The one positive that can emerge from a star player going down is that it forces younger talent to develop quicker. Veteran players are tested as well in their ability to change their role accordingly to create a winning product. Aaron Holiday has seen a substantial increase in playing time since Oladipo went down, becoming more comfortable with NBA level speed. Former standouts for the Pacers, Thad Young and Bojan Bogdanovich both cashed in on lucrative deals last off-season in Oladipo's absence as well.
With Oladipo returning to the rotation, several players will have their minutes reallocated to get Oladipo comfortable in his role again. New additions in TJ McConnell and Justin Holiday have emerged as dependable options who bring passion and grit to the floor. Oladipo is more talented than both of those players, but their play so far this season has helped Indiana compile a 28-16 overall record. Having these pieces move to the bench in lesser roles to accommodate Oladipo won't be without growing pains.
Oladipo has missed more than a year of NBA level competition and will take a few weeks to get accumulated again to that speed. While Oladipo will be welcomed back, fans should brace themselves for the miscues that will happen as he eases into playing basketball again. Playing in an NBA game is different than participating in a G League event or going 4 on 4 in a practice. Oladipo knows this and has played basketball his entire life, but even in his return, he will be limited starting out.
It's also important to emphasize that the Pacers aren't bound for an NBA championship anytime soon. Despite an impressive start to the season without their best player, this team is capable of winning one playoff series at best. Oladipo still has to prove he's a true star player in this league. He is a very solid player right now, who shines by playing for a small market team in a state that worships basketball. Oladipo's affiliation with Indiana University Men's Basketball is what makes him a draw with this franchise. The Pacers are certainly better with him than they are without. But if Oladipo can't return to the level previously seen, it may bring about change to help the Pacers more over the long term.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes Oladipo's return is being taken out of proportion, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org