The Clippers sent out a press release earlier today announcing that backup center Zeljko Rebraca will undergo season ending back surgery on Tuesday.
This is not good news. I feel really sorry for Rebraca. He'll be 35 years old in April, and given the number of health issues he's had, it's hard to imagine that he'll play professional basketball again.
I'll do a longer post on big Z another time, but suffice it to say that American fans have never gotten to see him at his best. Clipper fans got a taste - when he was healthy, there was not a better backup center in the NBA, and in fact he would have started for many, many teams. Of course, there was always that caveat: when healthy.
Before coming to the NBA in 2001 he was the best pro in Europe. At the time, American fans didn't really know what that meant - now, with the arrival of such veteran EuroLeague players as Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni and Jorge Garbajosa, we have a little better idea. It's not just precocious (and very, very tall) Euro-teens like Dirk and Pau who can play in the NBA; the grown ups know what they're doing too. And no one was better than Z in his prime.
Alas, a heart condition and now back surgery (two of the more scary medical situations imaginable) have decimated the NBA portion of his career. Since his NBA rookie season with the Pistons in 01-02 when he played 74 games, his healthiest season was 04-05 with the Clippers, when he played in 58. He played in 30, 29, 24 and now 0 in his other 4 seasons.
He was the starting center for the Pistons a portion of the 02-03 season, was diagnosed with the heart condition, and ended up being salary cap filler in the Rasheed Wallace trade in 03-04. Of course that was the year the Pistons won the title, so instead of playing for a ring, he was sitting on the bench in Atlanta talking to the fans at Philips Arena - all twelve of them. That's some bad luck.
What does this mean for the Clippers? Well, with Z done for the season, in the final year of his contract (the Clippers hold an option for next season), he's the perfect trading chip. Any decent shooters, making between $2.9M and $3.6M are obvious trade targets at this point.
Of course, MDSr felt compelled to sign Aaron Williams before he knew Z was hurt, even though they drafted Paul Davis, so it's possible that he'll feel they need another big. I hope I'm wrong about that - hopefully Davis' recent play has conviced them that they have enough depth in the front court, and need to continue looking for a shooter to stretch defenses.
But it's hard to think about that right now. Right now, I just feel sorry for Zeljko Rebraca. A great European player who never got the chance to prove it in the NBA.