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Shouldering expectations: The future of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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MKG is done for the season. What effect will a second major shoulder injury have on the trajectory of his young career?

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

You'd think it'd be tough to injure your shoulder when you're all heart.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, for all intents and purposes, is that ever-beating heart for the Charlotte Hornets. Well, not just the heart — the size of which is Grinch-esque (post-Cindy Lou Who) — but the freaking pulsing aortic valve of a team he joined just a short three and a half seasons ago. A heart that’s provided a largely dormant fan base with blood, more than enough sweat, and now some figurative tears. A reality which has been all too literal for a Charlotte fan base that had just finished dabbing (apologies) their blubbering eyes from a blown Super Bowl — not to mention a traumatic aftermath that has seen a depressing amount of blowback towards, and questioning of, the exact heart-size of the city’s greatest current athlete.

But no individual pundit, fan, player, or internet commenter — no matter how cluelessly vindictive or aggressively boneheaded — has ever questioned Michael’s heart. Because frankly, for a long time now, it’s really been all he’s had. Athletes devoid of skill aren’t uncommon in the NBA. However, they’re either seven feet tall or have butts that are perennially stuck fast to benches. MKG is neither of those things precisely because he cares more than everyone else. Watch a Houston Rockets game and you can see the extent to which players can in fact not care about playing basketball, how their (original) Grinch-sized hearts might be confused for something like a Raisinete — or really any other small, mediocre, piece of nutrition-less matter that you may find in an NBA arena but for the life of you cannot fathom how it actually somehow found its way onto the court. It’s a shame that this kind of thing happened to someone who is the antithesis of that. A young man who plays the game like he’s still in college, or for that matter, high school. A guy no one has ever said an ill-word about because it is simply not possible to accomplish such a feat within the current laws of nature we’re all forced to abide.

And this year, fans of basketball will only get seven games of him. Hurt for the first 46, and done before the All Star break. A second overall pick trying his damnedest to live up to that selection — a selection immediately following superstar-friend Anthony Davis much in the same way another Charlotte-bound defensive menace was picked after first overall choice and subsequent superstar Dwight Howard. Kidd-Gilchrist does not want to be the reminder that even when the Hornets try to be bad they still manage to come up short in the worst way.

So what of his future? It cannot be avoided that Kidd-Gilchrist plays the game similar to the only All-Star the Charlotte Bobcats ever laid claim to, Gerald Wallace — aptly nicknamed "Crash" due to the sad empirical factoid that he never was able to play the entirety of that full, cruel, 82-game slate even once during his 16-year career. The two have been compared since the former’s time at Kentucky, and many hope he’ll be able to recreate the kind of hustle-magic that saw Crash do just that to the 2010 All Star festivities in Dallas. And while you cannot in good faith kill what makes him great, Wallace should serve as a reminder to players like Mike that even the best running quarterbacks — even the one just across town — eventually must learn to slide every now and again. To learn to control your best quality for the better, before it ends up controlling you otherwise.

Wallace should serve as a reminder to players like Mike that even the best running quarterbacks — even the one just across town — eventually must learn to slide every now and again. To learn to control your best quality for the better, before it ends up controlling you otherwise.

It’s perhaps a tad serendipitous that this piece on Stephen Curry came out last week. It describes what many seem to forget about Curry, that his first several years in the league were marred by a slew of ankle injuries. In fact, it was Curry’s third year in the league, when he was 24, (two years older than MKG is now) that he only managed to participate in 26 games due to injury (Curry also has yet to play the entirety of an 82-game season, though in fairness it hasn’t really seemed to matter all that much). In the article, Steph frames his success in the context of these injuries, and his responses to them. How he felt "... like I've been doing nothing but rehabbing for two years," as well as the looming spectre that Steph, like most injury prone athletes experienced, "I feel like I'm never going to be able to play again."

But instead of succumbing to that fear, the now-MVP and world champion decided to battle as hard and as diligently as he could in order to get back on the court, the tenacity of which led him to become the meticulously obsessed future-All Time Great you see before you today. Point being, not every repeatedly injured athlete is Derrick Rose. Just look at the recently re-crowned UFC Featherweight Champion Dominick Cruz, who suffered through years of rehabbing both ACL's and a torn hamstring. Or hell, how about the Carolina Panthers’ own Thomas Davis, who after three ACL tears and rehabilitations of the same knee, went on to become a Pro Bowl linebacker known primarily for just how fast he could move that once devastated joint. There is in fact a precedent for injuries, repeat, devastating injuries, early in an athlete’s career, that go onto play a — no, the — central role in instigating greatness. It’s happened before and it will happen again, the only question is whether MKG has what it takes to become one of them.

And for that answer, we’ll all be waiting. Because at the moment, it’s our only option.