Doctors had come to him in early January with news his knee needed surgery, and Eric Bledsoe reacted like any young star stripped of grasping the frame of his upside, questioning the next avenues in procedure. Bledsoe ultimately understood surgery was a must and closely inspected other victims of a torn meniscus in the knee, particularly his close friend LeBron James’ teammate, Dwyane Wade.
He heard all about Wade’s belief that removing his meniscus, as a collegiate star at Marquette in 2002, has slowly deteriorated health in his left knee, but Bledsoe was confident of one momentous difference between his surgery and the one Wade had: cutting-edge technology. This is a progressive age of surgical jobs and an enhanced day in comeback stories, doctors assured him.
“I thought about Dwyane and a lot of players, but technology is way more advanced than it was back then,” Bledsoe told RealGM. “I just got to keep rehabbing and keep staying with the program. If it’s possible, I’ll be back, but for the most part I’m going to take it a day at a time.”
Beyond lowering swelling in his right knee, Bledsoe has been regulated to range of motion drills. After his surgery on Jan. 10, the Phoenix Suns released they expect Bledsoe to attempt a comeback in the season’s second half, and yet he hasn’t set a target date.
For Bledsoe, there was surprise to injuring himself against the Los Angeles Clippers, failing to realize the depth to which he hurt himself until receiving a complete examination days later. Now, Phoenix provides him warm rehabilitating conditions, one of the remarkably praised training staffs in the NBA, and a Suns franchise devoted to bringing him back in the condition he left the game.
“Rehab is going great,” Bledsoe said. “I’m still doing the basics, not doing too much. For the most part, I’m feeling great. When and if I do get back, I’m going to work my way in and fit in with the system. I’m going to play my game and get my rhythm back.”
Jeff Hornacek understood his locker room would absorb initial disappointment when Bledsoe was ruled out indefinitely, but for them to maintain a postseason seed in the Western Conference is a testament to his system and unheralded players up and down the roster in Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye and Ish Smith. “Coach lets us play and he guides us,” Goran Dragic said.
And out of all the snubs people talk about for the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend, Miles Plumlee had the strongest case: a starting center in his second year, averaging nearly 10 points, nine rebounds and 51 percent shooting on a playoff contending team – in the West.
Winning consistently alleviates the dismay of missing all these games, and traveling on the Suns’ road trip to the East had been an easy decision for Bledsoe. He’s taken back to his freshman season at Kentucky, when teammates acted familial around each other, and compares these Suns to the tightness of that group.
“No question it’s tough sitting, but everybody is doing a great job,” Bledsoe said. “Every night, guys coming in and putting us in the best position to win, and Goran’s doing a great job of leading the team. We have a good group of guys here.”
Even in private moments now, Bledsoe won’t reveal whether he had his meniscus removed or repaired. “I’ll let you know five years from now,” Bledsoe says smiling. For a guard with his explosion, a repair procedure of the meniscus part would bring long-term benefits, extending health on the back end of his career. It’s the route so many others in his position take now.
Here’s a 24-year-old, though, with tremendous earning potential in the offseason, and he could very well be motivated by returning as soon as the removal surgery permits, by proving his worth before free agency. No matter: The Suns believe in Bledsoe – the player who averaged 18 points and six assists through two months and the astute person – and the front office has made clear it will match any offer someone could give him in July.
Bledsoe admits, “It’s great to hear,” Robert Sarver and Ryan McDonough publicly stating the organization’s investment in his future. Sure, they all contemplated how past and present players had attributed their careers eroding with meniscus surgery. Yet, Eric Bledsoe understands everything’s vastly changed in the medical field, state of the art procedures giving him optimism he knows Dwyane Wade lacked 12 years ago.