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Quincy Pondexter’s scary ordeal casts doubt over his time with the New Orleans Pelicans

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Thank goodness Q-Pon is fine, but we’re stuck with more damning questions.

Portland Trail Blazers v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Five Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

For months, Quincy Pondexter promised to reveal his story to the public, but no one could have expected the news to be so heart-wrenching — where at one point, his life was legitimately in danger.

First and foremost, praise all that is good in this world because Q-Pon is still with us today.

After reading through this wonderfully written piece by Chris Haynes, which details Pondexter’s travails over the last two years, one should now recognize why it’s never a good idea to jump to conclusions about a situation where so little factual evidence is present. Trust me, there’s boatloads of people who probably owe Q-Pon sincere apologies.

For shame all of you narrow-minded, heartless jerks who hid behind internet walls and decided to take a minute of your lives to spit venom at a total stranger going through an ordeal you absolutely failed to understand.

But I digress, I’m not here to solely point fingers at all the twerps among us. Social media is often good at singling out these imbeciles — so have at them! Rather, I want to talk shop about the New Orleans Pelicans and Quincy Pondexter because some of the words printed in this ESPN article trouble me.

Once again, it would appear the team’s beleaguered medical staff sits front and center.

  • Initially, the doctors were quite confident the knee in question would only require a cleanup.
  • The first microfracture procedure ultimately failed.
  • And somehow, someway, Pondexter contracted a skin infection that almost would up killing him.

Microfracture surgeries do not guarantee success — about 1 in 4 procedures fail, yet different types of surgical techniques exist. Moreover, there does appear to be several that are favored for athletic, high-demand patients.

For Jadeveon Clowney, a defensive end for the Houston Texans, Dr. Walt Lowe seems to have preferred executing an osteochondral allograft transplant (OCA).

Microfracture involves the drilling of tiny - less than a millimeter in diameter - holes in the knee bone, permitting marrow and stem cells to leak through to the surface and rebuild articular cartilage where it has been gouged out by a sports injury or accident. The problem with the procedure's early incarnations was that the new "fibrocartilage" was essentially just scar tissue that grew in to unpredictable thicknesses and didn't hold up to the rigors of high-level athletic competition, jumping and sharp cutting in particular.

The current version, however, involves first setting a cartilage "matrix" from a donor (i.e., a cadaver) into the lesion, providing a structure not unlike rebar in concrete. This promotes the growth of new cartilage that far more closely approximates the natural material, called hyaline cartilage. There are several products now on the market that, Lowe said, "allow us to dictate the (cartilage's) thickness from the very beginning." Finally, a sticky, gluelike, man-made protein is applied to seal it.

From Haynes’ article, it appears Pondexter tried the OCA route detailed in the blocked quote above, after the most common of all microfracture procedures failed to solve the problem the first time round. This isn’t entirely uncommon as other doctors have followed this exact pattern — 23% of a group of 43 competitive athletes whom had a failed prior cartilage surgery next attempted the OCA route and many of them achieved success.

Also, I get that the size of a lesion is quite determinative in which path a doctor takes, but considering Pondexter is a professional athlete, wouldn’t inserting cartilage from a cadaver (OCA) have made more sense from the start? Or, possibly electing to do an osteochondral autograft transfer (OAT) since studies show this technique boasts the highest return rates to sports?

These are all great questions, but do we know with absolute certainty who we should ask for the answers? Are we certain the Pelicans medical staff was in total agreement with all selected courses of action?

Pondexter was excited about the team's potential and desperate to solve his knee issue so it wouldn't linger into the next season. The day after the season ended, he had another MRI and then met with a few doctors for consultations. They came to the conclusion he would need his knee scoped, with the outside chance he might require microfracture surgery.

then met with a few doctors for consultations

And then later in Haynes story:

Midway through the season, he decided to consult other specialists, who concluded that his microfracture procedure had failed. He was infuriated by the news but had no choice but to go through with a second procedure in January 2016 that involved inserting cartilage from a cadaver. It was a season-ending decision to ensure he would be ready for the start of the 2016-17 season.

decided to consult other specialists

To me, it sounds like there was plenty of involvement by a gang of doctors outside of the Pelicans organization, and on more than one occasion. It’s important to note that in neither blurb does Haynes specifically mention New Orleans team doctors.

The reason why I am possibly defending a medical staff that has been surrounded by a lot of questions in the past is because surgeries are usually not straightforward matters. More times than not, these decisions involve more parties than just a player and team doctors. Don’t forget about family members, friends, sports agents and anyone else involved in an NBA player’s life. Also, remember the fact that players have the right to seek additional opinions and in instances can elect to have surgery performed by those outside of professional NBA organizations.

The overwhelming majority of us are not doctors, and despite today’s wealth of information, we’re still not privy to all of the facts — so who knows for sure if any preventable mistakes were made. The problem, of course, is there’s more to this story.

Perhaps what’s most troubling in Pondexter’s case is how it appears the Pelicans organization decided to handle his situation publicly.

Pondexter and the Pelicans didn't always see eye-to-eye during this process. In the fall of 2015, months after Pondexter's first surgery, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry told an audience at a meeting held by the 3-Point Club of New Orleans that Pondexter was fined repeatedly by Demps for skipping scheduled MRI exams on his knee out of fear the team would shut him down following the detection of a significant injury.

Pondexter said it was a "false narrative," noting that he was never fined or missed an appointment.

"I sacrificed a lot of my body to play in that Pelicans uniform," he said. "Every day I spent countless hours with the team's trainers trying to get right. I did all that was asked of me and then some."

If we assume Pondexter is telling the full truth, it would mean the Pelicans attempted to place all of the blame solely on the shoulders of a player when perhaps both parties were at fault for allowing Q-Pon to continue to play on an injured knee during the 2014-15 season. I mean if there was no wrong-doing, why not come to the aid of the player who sacrificed his body — perhaps his career — through injury and then tackled his rehabilitation as fiercely as anyone has ever been known to do in the past?

We can all agree that would be a really bad look, but there’s one item sticking out like a sore thumb: Pondexter claims he was never fined or missed an appointment. I know it’s been awhile, but this goes directly against what he said soon after the Pelicans were eliminated by the Warriors from the 2015 postseason.

He made sure nothing got in the way, including his ailing left knee. Pondexter acknowledged on Tuesday that he told team doctors to put off administering an MRI test on his knee until after the Pelicans' postseason run ended.

After the Pelicans were swept in four games by the Golden State Warriors, Pondexter finally had the MRI performed and it revealed he needed arthroscopic surgery in which he underwent successfully in May.

''Even though my knee would be swollen more than it should have been, I just wanted to make the playoffs that bad,'' Pondexter said during Monday's Wetlands Express unveiling at Aububon Zoo.

''I would spend hours and hours getting treatment. I told our team doctors to not let it get looked at. I didn't want to get a MRI. I begged them not to let me get it until the day after the season ended.''

This sure doesn’t read like someone who never missed a single appointment, does it?

Plenty of teams refuse to divulge important details about a player’s case, but considering all of the backlash Pondexter was forced to endure, it casts a big shadow of doubt on the path chosen by Dell Demps, Gentry and anyone else involved.

Anyone else involved.

Hmm, that’s the issue: It sounds like there were a slew of others included in this process. If that’s the case — and it’s entirely understandable because each party has their own motivations needing protection — it won’t be easy locating just one smoking gun, just more questions than answers.

Draw what conclusions you like, but there’s no denying the details of ESPN’s story are not a good look for the New Orleans Pelicans, all involved doctors and Pondexter himself. Some mistakes were obviously made since a player has missed two full regular seasons. Yet, at least we know why the story was kept under wraps for so long — it’s a hell of a sticky situation that could get messier if more facts see the light of day.