Post-game Reactions

Picture 32Last week, we waded into the debate about whether the team is being honest in its descriptions of Kevin Garnett’s knee surgery. Specifically, we wondered about comments from Bill Simmons and Will Carroll suggesting the surgery to remove bone spurs from KG’s right knee also involved the stapling of a tendon in the same area. If it happened, such an operation would seem to contradict public statements from team officials declaring that the surgery was a routine procedure to remove bone spurs, and that KG’s tendon was not “touched” in the process.

For the record, I don’t know the actual nature of Garnett’s surgery or the state of his knee.

The question I have is: Should I?

There is a portion of commenters, both here and elsewhere, who reacted angrily to the reports of a possible lack of transparency in the team’s handling of KG’s injury. Those commenters usually referenced last season, when, in their view, the team was not forthright about Garnett’s status as the regular season wound down. We didn’t hear about the bone spurs until after the team shut him down for the season. Same with the strained popliteus tendon; the team referred to that injury as a “strained muscle,” which isn’t inaccurate but also isn’t exactly a detailed description of the state of Garnett’s knee. The constant speculation in April about KG’s playoff status left part of the fan base feeling as if the team had jerked them around—that the organization always knew more than it was letting on, leaving us to parse vague public comments and interpret surprise appearances at practices to determine KG’s health going into the playoffs.

My question is: Does the team owe us anything else? Do they have a burden of openness toward fans who watch the games on TV and buy tickets?

This is a very, very complicated question, one that involves dozens of different scenarios. I think we can agree, for instance, that the team was correct in not disclosing that Ray Allen was having hamstring problems during the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Orlando. To reveal the existence of  a day-to-day pain—one that would not keep Allen out of the line-up—would be to hand a tactical advantage to an opponent who could then exploit it.

As for the state of Garnett’s knee toward the end of last season, it’s reasonable to assume the Celitcs knew more than they revealed publicly. To us, as outsiders, it seemed a near certainty that Garnett would play in the post-season; the announcement that he would not came as a surprise gut punch. But the team likely knew the odds were against Garnett playing. At the very least, they knew there was a significant chance he would not play.

Should they have told us that? Do they owe us that sort of openness? 

I would argue that, in that specific scenario, they do not. I understand the arguments on the other side. We watched those late April games and purchased playoff tickets under the assumption that KG would be playing in the post-season. At least some fans set aside those three hours every other night because they believed they were watching a championship contender prepare itself for the playoffs. Had they known there was a large chance KG would not return, perhaps a segment of fans would have tuned out.

But the team’s ultimate goal is to win a title. If they truly believed there was a chance KG would be ready for the playoffs (and I think they obviously did), they had no responsibility to update us daily on the odds of that happening. The organization’s true responsibility was to prepare the remaining players to function at the highest possible level without Garnett. To say on April 1, for instance, that the odds were against KG playing into May could have given other contenders a psychological boost and impacted the way teams at both the top and bottom of the standings approached playoff positioning. The Celtics had no advantage  to gain by disclosing the full truth.

But that’s in a situation of uncertainty—one in which the team is not completely sure of the final outcome. In regards to KG’s surgery, we are talking about a certain fact. The team knows whether the surgery involved stapling KG’s tendon to something (not his kneecap, regardless of what Bill Simmons tweeted), and they know Bill Simmons and Will Carroll are questioning their public account of the surgery.

In issues of black-or-white certainty, teams do owe us honesty. Teams in the NFL violate this rule all the time, and fans rightfully take issue with it. Teams list players as “probable” when they know said player will play, they list them as questionable when they won’t suit up, and they sometimes fail to list someone at all even when that player is in fact injured. (Exhibit A: Brett Favre and the New York Jets).

Fans and the media hate this type of deception with good reason. If it emerges that the Celtics—or any team—fail to accurately disclose the true nature of an injury or an operation, they deserve our criticism. (And please note again that I’m not accusing them of this in the case of Garnett’s knee surgery. As it stands, we have two fairly prominent folks casting doubt on the team’s accounts but no proof that those folks are right. The Celtics have no duty to address Simmons and Carroll if Simmons and Carroll are wrong).

But when things are less black and white, the team has the right to think of itself and its success before its fans.

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Zach Lowe

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  • Jason

    "At least some fans set aside those three hours every other night because they believed they were watching a championship contender prepare itself for the playoffs. Had they known there was a large chance KG would not return, perhaps a segment of fans would have tuned out."

    This makes me sick, if anyone truely feels that way, you disgust me.

  • Lex

    The bigger question is whether anyone in the media will ask for full disclosure? Your blog just attended media day yesterday.

    Did the word "staples" ever get mentioned????

  • I wasn't there personally, but it appears that no one from the Celtics said that word. I cannot say whether anyone from the media used it in a question.

  • Lex

    That raises another question.

    How hard should the media push the issue? Resources are tight at news vendors and this isn't the Pentagon Papers.

    I don't think Danny, Doc, Wyc or anyone else will just offer up the info. Someone needs to ask them.

    The question becomes, will anyone?

  • Lex

    My guess is that the media will bite their tongues for a while. If KG underwhelms, someone is bound to ask.

    There is simply too much fan dollar at stake to stay silent.

  • You’re right, it’s not black or white. I’d lean towards the “they should have disclosed it” side, though. It sounds like this thing really was serious and they were deliberately hiding it, rather than it being sort of a mystery and them not knowing what to tell people.

  • Stephe

    I would weigh in and say that in a free market system (where a team or really any entity is not being publicly subsidized), unless that team is breaking the law it should be as transparent as the market lets them. If fans require transparency, then they shouldn't buy a ticket or merch until the team does so. if the team is taking tax dollars, it's a little different but supply and demand should make that call.

  • Lex

    KG not playing in the playoffs came as no surprise. Once he aborted the comeback, only the most panglossian of fans could hope he would return.

  • Will Carroll

    The team has no duty for transparency, aside from a common interest to keep gambling from infiltrating the game. To make an extreme example, if someone knew Willis Reed was going to come back in that famous game, they could have made a killing in Vegas. Aside from that, I wish teams would never comment on injuries.

    As for the "staple," I'll just say that it's an inexact word that Simmons used and I parroted for consistency. I honestly didn't think it was that big a deal initially, but it's led to more questions than it answered.

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  • Well this is a real blast from the past. Considering that he ended up missing the last 25 games of the season, it's probably safe to say that there was a cover up going on. I'm trying to remember if there was ever any kind of backlash as a result, or if it was pretty much forgotten about. I'm thinking it was the latter.

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