- David Thorpe, NBA
The brutal truth of the NBA is this: Nobody cares if your best player is hurt.
Teams play to win every night no matter whom they trot out onto the court. Over time, teams adapt. Teammates and coaches adjust to the guys who are healthy and are forced to forget the players who can only watch the game sitting on the bench in street clothes. Fans don't cheer his name; they don't wear his jersey; they don't check his stats because he hasn't played.
However, when a player returns from injury, it can galvanize the team and its fans. It can give them a lift, not just in the box score but also in the heart.
With the lockout effectively over, you might have forgotten about some players -- players whose returns could have the same kind of impact on their team as if they had signed as a free agent.
So with the clock ticking toward Christmas and opening night, finally, which teams will benefit the most from the return of a key player lost to injury last year?
Returning player: Rudy Gay, F
It's hard to digest the idea that the Memphis team that fans watched with amazement in this past spring's playoffs actually was missing anyone, let alone a talent like Gay, who was lost to a separated shoulder in late February. The Grizzlies had an offensive groove going featuring multiple touches for their two big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Guard Mike Conley and forward Sam Young played at a career-best level.
Four key players returning from injury should help their teams win in 2011-12.