Post-game Reactions

kgAre the Celtics lying about Kevin Garnett’s knee? Or at least dancing around the precise nature of the surgery he had in the spring? 

I noticed a few days ago that Bill Simmons tweeted this about KG’s right knee injury

1 more KG note: This wasn’t a typical knee injury. They had to re-attach tendons to his kneecap with staples. @injuryexpert will back me up.

I thought at the time that this was the first I had heard about any re-attaching of tendons running behind KG’s injured right knee. I plum forgot about it until Red’s Army reminded me today.

We’ve written in detail about KG’s knee injuries (yes, plural) and interviewed one of the leading surgeons in the U.S. on the subject. To review: KG had bone spurs in his right knee, something the team knew about before the season. The organization and KG decided he could play through the pain the spurs cause. 

But then KG strained the popliteus tendon in the same knee in Utah. The bone spurs apparently caused damage to the tendon. The surgeon we interviewed told us that a strained popliteus is a relatively rare injury for  a basketball player, and that the tendon problem, combined with the bone spurs, suggests Garnett may be developing an arthritic condition. Still, the surgeon said rest would help the tendon recover to 100 percent capacity, though Garnett may experience off-and-on problems going forward. 

But now we’ve got Simmons’ tweet mentioning the tendon being stapled to KG’s kneecap. This would contradict literally everything the media has reported and everything Celtics officials have said about the surgery. 

Here’s a sampling of those reports:

From the Patriot Ledger on May 26: The All-Star forward had an arthroscopy procedure performed on his right knee and had bone spurs removed from the back of the knee at New England Baptist Hospital.

Later in the same article, the author describes the injury/ies this way: The tendon continued to swell whenever Garnett attempted to run, and Rivers declared him out of the entire playoffs just two days before the Celtics opened against the Chicago Bulls.

From Scott Souza at MetroWest Daily News last week:

The Celtics coach said yesterday Garnett was on schedule to hit the practice floor running when camp opens a week from Tuesday after undergoing offseason right knee surgery to remove a bone spur and calm a swollen tendon. 

The word choice is key—surgery to “remove” bone spurs and “calm” the tendon. That fits with the most common public description of the injury—that the bone spurs aggravated the tendon, and that, presumably, without the bone spurs around, the tendon would recover. No stapling necessary.

Most interesting of all is this late May Boston Herald article in which Danny Ainge is quoted as saying the surgeons “didn’t have to touch the tendon” during surgery. (Note: That link to the Herald gives you only the preview of the article, since it has since been archived. The preview does not include Ainge’s quote, but Slam and a very reliable Celtics blogger both have the relevant excerpt up on their sites from posts they wrote the day the Herald piece came out). 

So what in the world is Simmons talking about? Well, let’s start with @injury expert, the Tweeter Simmons says can back up his claims of a staple procedure. The injury expert is Will Carroll, probably the best-known and most well-respected reporter covering the sports health beat. (Not to go all Tory McClure on your, but you may know Will from Baseball Prospectus and many, many other outlets for which he has appeared/commented as an expert). 

It turns out Will indeed Tweeted several times about KG’s injury last week. Here are the first two, from September 17th: 

Kevin Garnett’s knee surgery may be getting the typical Boston treatment, but this was complex surgery. No 1, including Celts, know respond

More on Garnett — tough tendon, no comps, and for cripe’s sake STAPLES. Doesn’t that tell you, combined with last yr, that this is serious?

Then later, in response to an inquiry from our friends at CelticsBlog:

@celticsblog The popliteal tendon was the big issue. The spurs were causing tendon damage. Saying it wasn’t tendon is chicken/egg spin.

I emailed Will tonight to get a little bit more detail on the claims that Garnett had a surgery that sounds a bit more serious than a simple removal of bone spurs. He said he could not tell me anything about his sources on the Garnett situation but he did elaborate a bit: 

I can’t talk about sourcing, but heard that this was more than just a simple chip/spur removal and that there was some repair work done to the tendon itself. That’s not uncommon or even a bad thing, it’s just that it’s much more serious than they’re letting on. I think the Celtics suddenly feel like they need to be the Pats in regards to information.

And here is Will’s prognosis: 

Given the information I have, I don’t think Garnett’s “done” or even going to be out significantly longer, but I do worry that he’s going to have maintenance issues.

Of course, KG isn’t playing full contact basketball yet, and that has fans bracing for the worst. The Simmons tweet adds to that paranoia. The good news here is Carroll telling us that even if the stapling reports are true, they don’t necessarily mean KG will be limited or unhealthy all season. The bad news is that we have two prominent reporters/writers essentially accusing the organization of at least covering up the precise nature of the surgery and at worst lying about it outright. 

And it doesn’t really seem like something the team needs to be evasive about. 

In any case, this certainly warrants close, close attention.

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Zach Lowe

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  • Stephe

    I don't know if I were a blogger, I would feel entirely comfortable conveying unsourced hearsay. I'm not saying it isn't true, I'm saying you can't prove it's true. It makes your blog look a little like US Magazine and you like a gossip.

  • I disagree with Stephe. I think this was a well-researched and very well-written piece. Thanks for the insight, Zach.

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  • @Stephe–I get the concern. But my rebuttal would be that most of this information was already out in the public domain in the form of Tweets and a Comcast broadcast. This post simply put it all together and got one of the main players–Carroll–to explain his take a little bit more, though not quite as much as I'd have liked.

    Also: SImmons and Carroll both have big followings. IF they say something on Twitter, it's a story that should be addressed. And Simmons especially is likely to know people in the C's organization.

  • Eric

    There are so many mixed messages ouyt there on KG's knee, it's getting ridiculous. The popliteus tendon does not originate, nor insert into the patella. It's on the posterior aspect of the knee joint. That leaves you with a quadriceps tendon as the main player on the front of the knee. Nobody is mentioning anything about the quad tendon that I am reading. so "stapling to the kneecap" is a BS statement in more ways than one.

    The only reason you'd ever perform a fixation at the quadriceps tendon is if there was a significant tear. If KG had a significant tear, pain alone would have prevented him from practicing on it last year as we heard he was in an attempt to come back.

    As someone who treated patients in this field, popliteus tendons strains/tears are a pain in the ass to recover from for an athlete because they require a lot of rest and therapy.

    If Garnett has had spurs removed, which are a normal change as a result of years and years in the league getting pounded and jumping – there's going to be irritated surrounding soft tissues in the knee as a result of chronic inflammation and most likely some pain. So this is going to be an ongoing problem. Get used to it – he's officially getting old, that's why they brought Sheed in for relief.

    The fact that the Celtics are not releasing any information and the lack of the general public/media's knowledge about knee injuries is what is driving all this speculation. Think about it though – would you want your opposition knowing exactly what injury KG has in order to know how to combat the Celtics ahead of time if this guy is indeed only going to play 25 minutes a night for longevity and playoffs sake?

  • @Eric–I've heard the same thing about the statement re: stapling a tendon to a kneecap. That the statement is not accurate, but that doesn't necessarily mean a tendon-mending surgery involving staples didn't happen.

    Hit me up at zclowe@gmail.com if you want to chat more about this.

  • Adam

    KG was out for weeks because of a strained ab the year they won the championship.True, it was during the regular season where wins where not a big deal as they are in the play-offs, but we can afford to miss KG a few games here and there. With the "maintenance issues" mentioned above, I still feel the C's will be in good shape, what with adding Sheed to the line up. It was a given that they would lose with out KG last year. This year, no exceptions.

  • Stephe


    I appreciate you addressing my comment. i think you're a good writer and the fact that you are associated with Henry speaks volumes- True Hoop is probably the brightest, most literate sports writing on the net.

    That does not change the fact that you are repeating unsubstantiated hearsay. Ethically, that really spits in the face of real journalism. Your statements may be true, but you should be able to prove it before you write it, otherwise it's rumor and beneath the TH Network's high standards.

    Keep up the good writing and know that the choice is up to you.

  • Phillip

    Arthritic? Eh, he's done. The Celtics knew KG would have a short shelf-life. They got a championship, so it was probably worth it, but they definitely mortgaged the future. Al Jefferson and some more young dudes sure would look better then the group of geriatrics they're trotting out this year.

    2013, here we come!

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  • Arvin

    Agree with Eric. Steph, your issue is true, but only because the Celtics are not being honest about the injury and the surgery.

    There may have been a stapling procedure (even the closure of the inital cut could have been stapled), but the popliteus tendon was not stapled to the patella (different locations).

    Nice conglomeration Zach. I think we should expect more Celtic confusion on the issue and KG with more missed games during the season. He is not done, but probably is more due for 14 points and 7 rebounds than for 25 points and 10 rebounds!

  • solid_celtic

    oh man! now im getting worried! =( i hope that KG is 100% this season

  • Max

    I hope his knee falls off…..that whole fake, staged centercourt kiss after the championship made me kind of sick…..

    Go cavs!

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  • Leonard

    The fans can eat cake-just because KG plays basketball does not mean he has given up his right to privacy. The Celts can be as open or evasive as they want, it comes with the territory and the fans know this so all this talk about the Celts not being honest is just fake naiveté. Maybe the fans should know what the players eat or how many hours of sleep they get. Mind your own business. Words and reports mean nothing anyway, it is what happens on the court and that we will be able to see very soon.

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