Next steps for Pelicans’ Trey Murphy after meniscus surgery? We asked a sports injury expert – The Athletic

While evaluating the multitude of injuries that have plagued the Pelicans the past few seasons, I’ve been able to get quite familiar with sports injury expert Jeff Stotts.

Stotts is a certified athletic trainer and operator of He’s one of the most knowledgeable people around when it comes to the injuries we see NBA players go through on a regular basis.

Our talks usually center around Zion Williamson and the different ailments he’s overcome throughout the years. This time, I wanted to hear an expert’s opinion on the meniscus surgery Pelicans forward Trey Murphy underwent last week that will sideline him for a minimum of 10 to 12 weeks, according to the Pelicans.

Murphy’s absence will be a huge blow to the Pelicans’ lineup, but his recovery also will be a major sticking point for some Pels fans after some of the mishaps on the injury front that have spoiled the last few seasons in New Orleans.


Trey Murphy’s knee injury raises tactical and existential questions for Pelicans

Both Zion and Brandon Ingram missed large chunks of last season after suffering an injury, then re-aggravating the injury during the recovery process. Williamson missed the entire 2021-22 season after the recovery from his foot surgery took much longer than expected.

Let’s hear what Stotts has to say about the procedure Murphy underwent and what comes next for the Pels’ forward as he works his way back into the lineup:

Thanks for taking the time to do this, Jeff. Let’s start off with the basics: Give us a breakdown of the injury Murphy suffered and how common it is among NBA players.

Murphy suffered a partial tear to one of the two menisci in his knee. The menisci are cartilaginous discs that act as shock absorbers in the knee. Unfortunately, their positioning on the knee makes them vulnerable to injury.

Meniscus tears are like real estate. It’s all about location. The location of the sustained damage influences the possible treatment options. For a true meniscus repair to occur, the tear has to have occurred in a specific area of the disc. If the damage occurs elsewhere, often on the outer portions of the disc, a partial meniscectomy (removal) is carried out. The Pelicans reported Murphy needed the latter and had the partial meniscectomy with an additional biological injection.

Meniscus tears in the NBA are relatively uncommon when compared to something like an ankle sprain or a hamstring strain, but multiple incidences occur every season. I’ve recorded over 150 cases since the 2005-06 season, including four last year.

Who are some of the more prominent players that have undergone this procedure in recent years?

Pelicans fans undoubtedly remember Zion Williamson tearing his meniscus, but other players to sustain a meniscus injury include Kawhi Leonard, Cam Johnson, Reggie Bullock and Robert Williams III.

Does the procedure Murphy elected to undergo tell you anything about the severity of the injury or where the tear may have been located?

“Elected” is a strong word because Murphy may not have had a choice. Most surgeons will try to preserve as much cartilage as possible, but if the tear didn’t occur in a repairable spot, removing the damaged tissue may be the only option. Because it was a partial meniscectomy, it is likely Murphy’s tear was not in a well vascularized area, meaning an area without a great supply of blood. It doesn’t sound like it was a massive tear, but that’s a bit speculative.

People speak a lot about the two recovery paths a player can go down after suffering a torn meniscus. Can you break down why a doctor would recommend the path Murphy has taken versus a more short-term recovery? Is it mostly about the amount of damage done to the meniscus?

I think the two-path approach is more linked to the two different procedures. A repair comes with a longer recovery as the injured athlete waits for the cartilage to heal. A partial meniscectomy allows for a quicker return as the damaged tissue is no longer within the joint.

The associated symptoms, like pain and swelling, are treated, and then the athlete shifts their focus to a rehab protocol designed to return them to basketball. Any potential underlying issues, like weight or gait pattern, that may have contributed to the injury can be addressed at this time.

Based on the cases you’ve seen before, do you think the 10-to-12-week timeline the Pels have laid out is realistic for a potential return?

Absolutely, but it’s important to remember most recoveries are fluid and don’t always follow a linear pattern.

How common is it for athletes to experience some sort of setback while recovering from this particular procedure?

Setback in recovery can occur, but the bigger issue is re-injury in the future. Murphy will now be at an increased risk for a future meniscus problem. The likelihood of re-injury can be influenced by other factors, too, including BMI and the exact meniscus (medial versus lateral) injured.

What does your database say about how often this occurs?

According to my recent data, the chances of a secondary mensical injury is roughly one out of every five cases.

Who are some of the players that have gone through that type of setback recently?

De’Andre Hunter of the Hawks suffered multiple injuries to his meniscus following a meniscectomy, as did Patrick Beverley, Kemba Walker, Joel Embiid and Blake Griffin. Russell Westbrook and James Wiseman had issues after undergoing true repairs.

If we’re talking purely about how he’s moving on the court, what are some of the hurdles Murphy has to overcome before he’s back to 100 percent? Is there any particular movement that’ll be more difficult for him as he recovers from this injury?

As long as there isn’t some underlying issue to address, his recovery is simply symptom management and a gradual build of activity, focusing first on range of motion, followed by strengthening and, finally, sport-specific activities. Twisting and flexion activities are often limited early on as they can stress the meniscus. He may be limited moving in a certain direction depending on which meniscus was involved.

Since I have you here, I have to get a few Zion thoughts from you. What are you going to be looking at once Zion takes the court again in training camp after missing most of last season with a hamstring injury? He’s now dealt with long-term injuries to his knee, foot and hamstring in his right leg. How much of a concern is that for you?

The fact that he has missed such a large percentage of games in his young career is frustrating, and it would be foolish to ignore his injury history, especially since they have all occurred along the same kinetic chain. However, I’m interested to see how he physically looks entering camp and if he can put together a sustained stretch of good health. Zion is a difficult athlete to gauge because the physical traits that make him so valuable can work against his health. I hope the Pelicans medical team and Zion can find a formula that maximizes his explosiveness along with his size.

Do you think it’s imperative for him to come in at a lower weight like he did at the start of training camp last year?

It’s a balance. I think it is important that he comes in at a weight that helps reduce his overall load while maintaining his strength and explosiveness. He seems to have spent the offseason working on those things, and I hope he gets there. He’s an amazing talent and so fun to watch when at full strength.

(Photo of Trey Murphy: Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)

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