It’s been a month since Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller had surgery in Los Angeles to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee.
He is right on schedule with what his surgeon projected as a timeline for recovery. But Zeller is still weeks away from being ready to practice, and then to play. By the time he is cleared for games, the Hornets’ playoff pursuit could well be over.
Zeller, in his fifth NBA season, was replaced as the starting center with the June trade for future Hall-of-Famer Dwight Howard. Zeller embraced the idea of playing with the second unit, a major weakness for the Hornets last season.
Instead, he’s missed the Hornets’ last 16 games after hurting himself in the Dec. 6 home loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Tuesday marked four weeks since the surgery, which involved removing some torn meniscus, the body’s natural shock absorber in joints. Zeller’s doctor has performed similar surgery on Los Angeles Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin.
“He told me I would feel like I want to play after four weeks, and I do. I feel healthy, I feel good (when) walking up stairs,” Zeller told the Observer in a one-on-one interview Wednesday. “(However,) he said it is a little bit of an adjustment without that extra cushion in my knee.”
This is the second significant injury of Zeller’s NBA career. The former Indiana Hoosiers star needed right shoulder surgery in April of 2015, but that was shortly after the conclusion of the regular season. This is the first extended time he has missed during a season. It’s been frustrating watching the Hornets slip to 15-24 after entering this season expecting a return to the playoffs.
“It’s been such an out-of-body experience watching (road) games on TV,” Zeller said.
“They were on the West Coast for 10 or 11 days. You are around these guys every day for so much of the year, and not only on the basketball court. You get to know them so well that they become your close friends, as well. Being away from the team is tough.”
Until the past couple of days, Zeller’s exercise was restricted to equipment that minimizes stress on joints; an elliptical trainer, an underwater treadmill and a machine that reduces gravitational pull to a calibrated percentage of a person’s actual weight while running.
“Now I can do a little bit of jumping (in order to do) spot shooting. And a little bit more jogging. That’s kind of the progression,” Zeller said.
In Zeller’s absence, Frank Kaminsky and Johnny O’Bryant have each seen additional playing time at center. The fourth overall pick by the then-Bobcats in the 2013 draft, Zeller has been injured often during brief stints of his NBA career, in part because he tends to draw a lot of contact in the lane to the head and shoulders.
Zeller missed 20 games last season. He’s already has missed 20 games this season, including four games in October due to a right knee bruise.
Bonnell 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell