Here's what we know about the shoulder separation that Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers suffered in their win over the Mavericks in Dallas Friday night: not much. Headlines all over the internet are screaming "three to five weeks" but here's the thing: as far as I can tell, there is one and only one source for that estimate, and it was this quote from Doc Rivers (note: not a real doctor, just a guy who once wore a Dr. J t-shirt to a basketball practice):
He's down. He's out at least three to five weeks and maybe more. We don't know that [yet]. We know it's a separated shoulder. We don't know what grade it is, yet. We'll probably send him home, and he'll get evaluated in L.A., and just hope that's he's going to be O.K.
A separated shoulder is a highly variable injury. NBA arenas have x-ray machines and not much else, and most of the stuff that can go wrong with a separated shoulder is soft tissue related and would not show up on an x-ray -- torn labrums, ligament damage, that sort of thing. Until Paul gets an MRI and a whole lot of other shit done, we don't have any clue really, and "three to five weeks" is pretty meaningless.
Heck, Doc said "at least" and to be honest, we don't even know that. Not unless they're not telling us something that they do know, and frankly without an MRI I'm not sure how they would know much.
How variable can a separated shoulder be? When Andre Miller separated his shoulder in March 2012, he didn't miss a single game, playing two nights after leaving a game with the injury. When Elton Brand separated his shoulder in 2009 while he was playing for the Sixers, he sat out six weeks, tried to come back only to find that the labrum had not healed, and wound up having season ending surgery.
So forget "three to five weeks". I'm telling you that Chris Paul will either be back Monday against the Magic, or next season, or somewhere in between. When the specialists in L.A. examine him on Sunday, we'll know more. (By the way, I'm not a doctor either, but my nephew did just get admitted to med school.)
If it's a season-ending injury then it's obviously devastating for the Clippers. But let's for the time being assume that it really is a month, give or take. If that's the case, it may have come at a time the Clippers can survive it. January is not the most difficult month on the team's schedule. Yes, it does contain a grueling seven game road trip, but with games against the Knicks, the Pistons, the Bobcats, the Bulls and the Bucks, it's not exactly daunting. Think of it this way -- if he misses the trip, at least Paul won't be going through all the wear and tear of two back-to-backs and travel every day for two weeks. In the entire month of January, there are three games where one would expect the Clippers to be the underdog -- tomorrow night in San Antonio (which of course he'll miss), two weeks from tomorrow in Indianapolis against the Pacers, and January 30 in Oakland against the Warriors (where my double digit win prediction won't look so good if he's out). If Doc's guesstimate comes in on the low end, Paul could even be back for the Warriors. Or as I said, he could be back Monday for all we know (don't expect that, btw; Andre Miller is kind of crazy).
The other thing to bear in mind is that, if we can assume that Paul can be completely recovered from this injury for the playoffs, then you can be thankful that it happened now and not later. Any coach in the NBA would take a healthy team at 100 percent in April and May and June over a healthy team at 100 percent in January.
Obviously Darren Collison becomes huge in Paul's absence, but the more interesting question may be what happens behind Collison. It's worth noting that Maalik Wayns, third on the depth chart at point guard, was on the active list for the game in Dallas, but didn't make an appearance. Of course, Paul went down midway through the third quarter, and Collison can easily play 18 minutes without a rest -- the game in San Antonio will be another story.
Of course, the Clippers were likely already preparing the paperwork to waive Wayns, to open up his roster spot so they could sign another big, and this throws a monkey wrench into that plan. The big date is January 7, which is Tuesday, so the Clippers will have the results from the specialists by then. If Paul's absence will be extensive, they may keep Wayns. Other possibilities include waiving Wayns and then trying to get by with a combination of Jamal Crawford and Willie Green playing emergency point guard, or waiving Wayns and bringing him back in under a couple of 10 day contracts to buy some time (that would about get them through January). So stay tuned on that.
It's also worth considering whether to re-examine the rotations in light of this injury. When J.J. Redick first went out, Rivers tried Green as the starter, but the team struggled until he put Crawford into the starting lineup. While Crawford played with the first unit, Collison was free to be the instant offense guy for the second unit, and there is at least some circumstantial evidence that Crawford and Collison were a less than perfect fit playing together. Might it make sense to start Green next to Collison and move Crawford back to the bench? Honestly, if you don't do that, who is going to score for that group?
At the end of the day, this injury is obviously bad news for the Clippers. But just how bad the news is won't be determined until he gets back to L.A. and gets examined by the right doctors with the right equipment. So for now we wait until Sunday or Monday, until better information is available.