With Magic Johnson stunning the basketball world by stepping down as President of Basketball Operations Tuesday night, it was easy to speculate that more changes would be on their way. You simply do not have a shakeup in the leadership of your organization in that way without more fallout occurring. Well, it didn’t take long. Head Athletic Trainer Marco Nuñez has been let go, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
As Dave notes, Nuñez had been with the organization for a decade, first as assistant trainer before being elevated to the head job after Gary Vitti retired in 2016. Nuñez oversaw a particularly difficult period of player health, not only this season, but last year as well. In 2017-18, Lonzo Ball appeared in only 52 games due ankle and knee issues while an assortment of ailments limited Brandon Ingram to 59 appearances.
Of course, injuries happen. And it’s not the trainer’s job to make sure players don’t get hurt. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck. That said, injury prevention measures and techniques are certainly a part of the job description. As are taking the best approaches to accelerate healing in order to get players back on the court as quickly as possible. Under the Lakers, the results have been hit or miss more than anyone would like.
A couple of recurring themes related to the injuries over the past two season has been either outright misdiagnosis or a certain lack of transparency about recovery timelines related to injured Lakers. Be it Lonzo’s knee injury last season, Moe Wagner’s bone bruise during summer league, LeBron’s groin injury this year, or Lonzo’s ankle injury this season, there has been a trend of players not coming back on the prescribed timeline or having the original diagnosis turn into something more serious.
To me, these speak to larger issues than players simply getting injured in the first place. Again, players get hurt.
But calling LeBron “day-to-day” after his groin injury only to have him miss nearly 2 months (and 17 games) is bad. Saying Lonzo will miss 4-6 weeks with a grade 3 ankle sprain only to have bone bruises “develop” — Lonzo said in his Wednesday exit interview that the medical staff, in the original MRI’s “didn’t see them” — and end up missing the rest of the season after being injured in mid-January is bad. This situation coming only a season removed from a “bone bruise” in his knee ending up a 4 month layoff and becoming a need to have a meniscus surgery in the off-season is bad. Moe Wagner dealing with a similar bone bruise issue that kept him out all of training camp and preseason came after it being called a “contusion” a full 12 weeks earlier.
Again, I’m no doctor. I’m sure you’ll find medical professionals who will tell us that bone bruises develop where they previously weren’t and can be hard to see on MRI’s in the first place. I’m also sure you’ll find some who say strained groins are tricky and can be aggravated in ways which delay the healing process. And since I’m not an expert, I’d defer to them. However, frustrations build when things like this happen and whether it’s fair or not, when you miss as many games to injury as the Lakers have the past few years, blame will be assigned.
It’s clear the Lakers are not happy with their own injury situation and this is the tack they’ve taken.
In the end, as alluded to by Tania, the Lakers medical staff should not be scapegoated. But, based on the evidence we have at our disposal, it’s a seemingly reasonable conclusion to make that upgrades are at least possible. And, with all the change the team is going to undergo this summer, you can add finding that upgrade to the list.