It's not the way any NBA rookie wants to start their first campaign in the league. But Indiana Pacers newcomer Tyler Hansbrough will be watching his teammates from the sidelines, and no one knows, or at least aren't saying, when he'll be ready to return.
After showing some stellar play during Summer League action in July, Hansbrough's offseason came to a halt. The shin injury that caused him to miss several games at the start of his senior year at North Carolina had returned, and the Pacers decided to not take any chances by having him continue in workouts and scrimmages before training camp.
But on the first day of Training Camp, Hansbrough is still resting that right shin. And according to coach Jim O'Brien, the 13th pick in the 2009 draft could miss the entire preseason.
"Certainly, we would hope to have him toward the beginning of the season," said O'Brien, in Friday's Media Day press conference. "We think that would be best-case scenario but he has a situation that we monitor. We feel badly when a player is injured but at the same time there are different levels that he has to achieve on a weekly basis in order to take the next step. He has improved dramatically since it was diagnosed. If he continues to improve like that, he'll have a full season, we hope. But we don't know."
For Pacers fans, the news and quotes from the coach are anything short of optimistic. Hearing that the best-case scenario for a player is to be ready for the season-opener, which is still a month away, is never good. It was expected that Hansbrough could immediately earn playing time in the team's rotation due to his high-energy playing style and excellent play in college. But that could be derailed if the shin injury becomes an ongoing issue during his rookie season.
The Hansbrough injury also follows the annoying recent trend by Pacers management to refuse setting timetables for a player's return from injury (no return date has ever been officially given for Mike Dunleavy). It's an awful team policy that only adds fuel to the fire in terms of fans questioning what is really going on behind the Wizard's curtain. Is Hansbrough's injury worse than the Pacers have suggested?
The only team official willing to speak on the issue is O'Brien. He's kept fans updated on Dunleavy's prognosis as he thought the forward wouldn't be able to play until January, but has since said he thinks Dunleavy could be ready to go at the start of the season. Hansbrough added little information about his shin injury.
"Right now we're not really setting a timetable, just trying to get healthy, see what happens, listen to my trainers and see what they have to say," Hansbrough told Pacers writer Conrad Brunner. "It is a little disappointing but at the same time I want to take care of my body and be there later on in the year instead of having something where I can't go. I feel confident I'll get healthy and be prepared to help but it's a setback just because you're a rookie and you're trying to prove yourself a little bit. But as soon as I get healthy I'll have that chance."
There are some positives that go along with the injury. At least he got to experience the Summer League before being shut down, and it's better that he misses three months of the offseason than three months of the regular season. But the news still put a slight damper on yesterday's fun.
The team's Media Day was peppered with positive talk about the upcoming season as the team has rededicated itself to team defense and the newcomers are all planning on improving on certain areas of their respective games. And while Dunleavy is seemingly improving day-in and day-out toward a comeback, the Hansbrough injury is definitely a small rain cloud hovering over the preseason.
Although Hansbrough doesn't mean as much to this team as Danny Granger, T.J. Ford, Troy Murphy and others, his absence from training camp, and possibly more, could be a setback on his rookie season and a setback in the Pacers frontcourt stability in November.