Houston center Yao Ming will have surgery on his broken left foot next week and will likely miss all of next season, the latest blow to the Rockets’ faltering bid to return to the NBA’s elite.
The team said on Friday there was no timetable set for the return of the 229cm Yao, a seven-time NBA All Star, but that he was “expected to be available for the team’s training camp in 2010.” That camp is in October — 16 months away.
The 28-year-old Yao chose a surgery that will involve a bone graft to promote bone regeneration, the team said. He’s also hoping to reduce the arch in the foot by realigning and restructuring the bones.
“This surgery will allow me to continue my career playing basketball and I look forward to returning to the court,” Yao said in a statement. “I would like to thank everyone who sent me their best wishes. I am very grateful to have the support of teammates, friends and fans as I dedicate myself to making a completely successful recovery.”
The decision for surgery was expected. The Rockets applied for a disabled player exception from the NBA a few weeks ago, betting that their center would miss next season as he recovers. The NBA agreed that Yao’s return was unlikely and approved the request, freeing up about US$5.7 million that the Rockets used to sign free agent Trevor Ariza from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Houston has also scrambled to find a center since free agency began and this week acquired 211cm Australian David Andersen in a trade with Atlanta.
Yao has been consulting with doctors since late last month, when the Rockets said he would be out indefinitely.
He suffered a hairline fracture in the foot in a playoff game on May 3 and the team initially said Yao would miss only eight to 12 weeks. When doctors re-examined the injury about seven weeks later, they discovered that the injury had not healed and amended the prognosis. Tom Clanton, the Rockets’ team doctor, will perform the surgery.
“This combination of procedures should not only allow healing of his navicular stress fracture, but also improve the mechanics of his foot to reduce the stress on that bone and give him the best long-term prognosis,” Clanton said in a statement.
He also said Cleveland Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a similar procedure in 2001 that allowed him to return to action.
Ilgauskas missed 58 games in the 2000-2001 season with the same injury and had surgery on Feb. 7, 2001. He returned to action on Dec. 4, 2001, after missing the first 17 games of the season.
Yao started 77 games last season, his most injury-free season since 2004-2005, when he played in 80. He led the Rockets past Portland in the first round — Houston’s first playoff series win since 1997 — before hurting his foot late in Game 3 of the second round against the Lakers.
Yao is due to make about US$16 million next season and holds the option of returning to the Rockets next season. General manager Daryl Morey called Yao the “cornerstone” of the franchise before the team changed Yao’s prognosis last month.
Yao recently purchased his former team, the financially troubled Shanghai Sharks, but said this week that was not an indication that he was planning an early retirement.
“I do not have any plans to retire and my doctors and I are very confident that I can fully recover and return to the stadium; the team and the acquisition has nothing to do with my injury,” Yao said in an interview on Friday with Xinhua news agency.