Medical concerns may result in Denzel Valentine falling to Celtics


BOSTON -- The days leading up to the NBA Draft just wouldn’t feel right if there wasn’t some highly regarded player being red-flagged for a potential pre-existing injury that results in their stock falling a bit.

The first signs of trouble often scare off teams. But the Boston Celtics certainly aren’t one of them.

We've seen the slide of some players in past drafts due to medical concerns play into the Celtics’ hands, and that may happen again on Thursday.

An MRI of the right knee of Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine during last month’s pre-draft combine in Chicago has led to concerns from NBA teams about its long-term durability. That could result in a potential lottery pick -- he had been considered a top-14 player prior to those reports -- becoming available for the Celtics with the No. 16 or 23 pick.

In addition, Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis reportedly has a hip issue that might result in him falling to the latter stages of the first round or potentially into the second.

Valentine, a 6-foot-6 wing forward considered one of the most versatile players in this draft, doesn’t seem overly concerned about the reports.

"I guess some teams are worried about it," Valentine told recently. "But all I can do is take care of what I can control. I'm asymptomatic, I'm healthy."

Valentine played four years at Michigan State, missing just four games to injury in that span. And those four games came as a senior due to a left knee injury.

“It's really irrelevant to me, but the doctors and everything, they've got to do what they've got to do, because they're investing a lot of money," Valentine said.

Valentine added, “I'm healthy right now, I have workouts, I've been going about my business no problems."

Some have compared Valentine’s knee issue to what afflicted former Indiana Pacers All-Star Danny Granger. While Granger wound up playing 10 NBA seasons, injuries limited him to just 76 games total in his last four seasons.

While there’s certainly a higher risk in drafting Valentine than some other prospects, he may very well be an option to consider at No. 16.

In 2012 the Celtics selected Jared Sullinger with the 21st pick of the first round, knowing at some point he would require back surgery. His rookie season was limited to 45 games (5 starts) before undergoing season-ending back surgery. Upon his return to the lineup the following season, the 6-foot-9 Sullinger would become one of Boston’s most effective big men. His back wasn't a major issue in his play or his availability.

This past season Sullinger appeared in a career-high 81 games (73 starts, which was also a career high) while averaging 10.3 points with career highs in rebounds (8.3) and assists (2.3) per game.

Austin Ainge, Boston’s director of player personnel, said there are a number of factors and voices that go into a decision to draft a player whose medical history has been red-flagged as a potential problem.

“We do it in tandem with the medical group and Dr. [Brian] McKeon,” said Ainge, referring to the Celtics’ team doctor. “He has a good track record. He’s got a lot of good people who help him. We sit together and talk.”

While not getting into specifics, Ainge said the medical information that gets out in the media is just a small fraction of what the various teams know about the medical history of draft prospects.

“Everybody has something,” Ainge said. “It’s weighing their potential play versus their potential medical risk. Doctors have different opinions just like scouts have different opinions with those things. We’re all doing the best job we can to make the most educated guesses."


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