Michael Porter Jr. (middle) (Getty Images)
Let’s start with the fact that none of us is a doctor. Well, I know I’m not a doctor, and I’m fairly certain no doctor would be offering his or her opinion about a medical issue he or she had not personally examined – at least not without having a PR person present them as “available to discuss” the matter with the media.
Yeah, I get those pitches all the time.
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So how about we stop at the Michael Porter protectionism?
In the last few days, Porter, at first, was the subject of leaks about the possibility that he might return to college basketball and the Missouri Tigers before the end of the 2017-18 season. Then, on Friday, he told reporters at Missouri "there is a good chance."
All of that is subject to review and approval by actual physicians who actually shall examine his case and determine whether he is fit for practice and competition as he recovers from the surgery performed on his back in late November.
The Tigers have seven games and three weeks remaining in the regular season, plus a week for the SEC tournament and then whatever postseason play they earn. So there is not a tremendous amount of time for someone who is not yet practicing to become physically prepared to compete at the Division I level.
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If it’s possible, though and if that’s what Porter wants, then why should anyone presume to know better about what course he should follow?
Why risk it? Once you’re injured, get hurt again and there are red flags all over your draft profile. Sit out, rock your workouts, go top five and be set for life. You’re being a selfish fan.
— Scott Newell (@TheTrueNew) February 10, 2018
Whoever is telling Michael Porter Jr. to play this season after having back surgery shouldn’t be telling him to do that. What the hell, man.
— E. García Gundersen (@Erik_Gundersen) February 9, 2018
easy for a sportswriter or fan to say. I would like to see him play again, but risk reward is too great.
— Keith Smith (@Ksmithstl1) February 9, 2018
This isn’t the first time a discussion such as this has been conducted without the participation of the person whose body is on the line. When Harry Giles was at Duke last season and needed a minor knee operation in preseason – on top of the two reconstructions he’d endured while in high school – ESPN analyst Jay Williams declared Giles should opt not to return to the Blue Devils and instead merely focus on preparing for the draft.
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Giles ignored that advice and played 26 games for Duke. It would be lovely to say he made a triumphant return to basketball and was every bit the monstrous talent he’d been before his second ACL tear, but he wasn’t. He played 12 minutes per game. He scored in double figures twice in his first five games, but never again. He was part of a team that won the ACC Tournament, and had four rebounds in the championship game, which was nice. He wound up being selected with the 20th pick in the NBA Draft, not bad for a guy with two reconstructed knees.
Those who interject their opinions into this sort of circumstance generally are implying or declaring that the athlete in question shouldn’t play for free when there’s so much at stake financially for the future. But here’s the tricky part about that. It’ll be almost certain Porter will have to perform in some venue without getting paid: a workout, a combine, physical testing, something in the course of the pre-draft process. Those are not compensated endeavors. One does not even get a scholarship for that.
Porter’s college career to date has consisted of two minutes on opening night and then 23 games of watching the Tigers perform surprisingly well in his absence. They are 16-8 overall, 6-5 in the Southeastern Conference, and have defeated NCAA Tournament contenders Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. It is not an airtight selection resume at the moment, but there still is time.
Whether there is time for Porter to impact that pursuit may be largely up to medical personnel, based on his comments.
“My rehab therapist thinks I’m good to go with practice, except for the contact part,” he said during a press conference. “I’m hoping that the doctor clears me to do everything, contact included. That’s what I would love to hear. But it’s not up to me. It’s up to me to work hard and to the doctor to tell me I’m ready to go.”
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Porter said he feels “better right now than I’ve ever felt” and “there’s no concern for reinjury.”
There will be those who wonder if Porter’s introduction to the Tigers late in this season will disrupt the team, which is a reasonable academic discussion but has nothing to do with this particular team. The Tigers, indeed, have won their past three games, but their only longer winning streak this season was transacted against four mid-majors and a UCF team that still featured Tacko Fall. So, one quality win in that stretch. This isn’t a team that has established any sort of flow. It’s a team that battles through each game and whatever player losses occur: point guard Blake Harris to transfer, point guard Terrence Phillips to suspension and, of course, Porter to injury.
When Kyrie Irving missed three months to a foot injury in 2010-11, he was joining a Duke team that was 30-4, had won both ACC titles and earned a No. 1 NCAA seed.
This isn’t like that. Porter would give a team ranked No. 44 in offensive efficiency a potentially game-changing scorer.
Which is not the reason he should consider returning. Whatever choice he makes, it should happen because it is what he wants, what his family approves and what his doctors say is prudent.
This is not our discussion to have. If he’s not ready by March, let’s hope he’s ready for October. If he does return to the Tigers, let’s respect his decision and his commitment to competition.
Porter is a player. Players play.