The Celtics say they saw this coming, that Jared Sullinger was going to need back surgery sooner or later. But when he reported having spasms earlier this week, specialists gave the team really only one option Friday: operate now.
It meant that Sullinger wouldn’t play again this season, but the benefit, the Celtics were told, was that Sullinger’s ailing back would likely be fixed permanently.
“The decision to do surgery with Jared was simply for the long-term benefit of his career,” Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations, said before the Celtics tipped off against the Orlando Magic at the Garden.
Sullinger underwent surgery Friday and is expected to be out until 2013-14 training camp. The rookie forward out of Ohio State played in 45 games for the Celtics, averaging 6.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game.
Sullinger is the second Celtic — and the second key Celtic — to be lost in the last six days to a season-ending injury. Rajon Rondo’s season ended Sunday after it was revealed that he has torn ligaments in his right knee.
“Those were two key guys who were a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish, but the season continues,” said forward Jeff Green. “Guys have just got to step up.”
But Ainge said he hasn’t lost the faith in the Celtics, despite losing Sullinger and Rondo.
“We’re not ready to cave in yet,” he said. “It’s going to take more than that.”
Ainge added, “I think that we’re going to have to win in a different way without Jared and without Rajon, but we’ll see. We’ll see what we have.”
One option is rookie center Fab Melo, who is active for the Celtics game Friday against Orlando, but neither Ainge nor Doc Rivers made it seem as though Melo would play much.
With Sullinger, back issues were the red flags raised leading up to last year’s draft, and they were what ultimately made him fall to the Celtics late in the first round.
It is these very issues, Rivers said, that led to Sullinger needing surgery.
“We knew this could happen,” Rivers said. “We knew a month before the draft that this could happen and at some point probably would happen. We were hoping it would be a summer thing rather than in the middle of the season, but it happened now.
“He was playing great. I think the good news is we know he can play, and we know he’ll be a very good player, and in the long run this will make him healthier.”
Rivers said this surgery does not make them re-think drafting Sullinger.
“No, I think we’re very happy to have drafted him,” Rivers said.
Rivers said the Celtics would “definitely be a “small-ball team” from now on. He said they would start big, with Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, but then, after that, “we just have to put our five best players on the floor. We’re going to have to be creative.”
The Celtics will also have to rebound more as a unit, and Rivers said that he’s especially going to lean on Green. “When he’s in, he’s going to have to rebound,” Rivers said.
It bodes well for the Celtics, Rivers said, that there aren’t many “big” teams in the NBA.
Rivers did suggest that Sullinger could take classes at Ohio State to finish up his degree while he’s going through rehab.
“Like I said before, Jared is an old soul,” Rivers said. “It’s not like he needs a summer league or anything. He’ll be ready by summer league, but I don’t envision him playing in summer league. He doesn’t need summer league.”