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Meyers Leonard misses playoffs, but eager to return to Blazers' lineup/KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS



TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Trail Blazers forward Meyers Leonard had season-ending shoulder surgery on April 8. He says he's recovering well.The Trail Blazers’ ride to the NBA playoffs has been bittersweet for Meyers Leonard.

He is glad for his team’s surprisingly successful run through the season, but he is greatly disappointed to be on the sidelines watching the action when it counts most.

“I have to be honest — it’s really, really tough,” says the Blazers’ power forward, who underwent surgery for a dislocated left shoulder on April 8. “I wouldn’t use words like ‘jealous’ or ‘envious,’ but I’d give anything to be out there.”

Leonard initially injured his shoulder in November, missing seven games. He then dislocated the same shoulder in practice on March 16, necessitating the surgery performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerman-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic in Los Angeles. ElAttrache had previously done operations on ex-Blazers LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum.

After the surgery, Leonard remained in L.A. to recuperate and stayed there through the first two games of the Blazers-Clippers first-round playoff series. He says he was happy to be there with his teammates through the first two games at Staples Center, but felt helpless not being able to play.

Leonard returned to Portland with the Blazers after Game 2 and watched from the bench as they beat the Clippers 96-88 in Game 3 at Moda Center. He said it conjured visions of last year’s playoff series with Memphis, when he played well in the first two games, then came through with 13 points and 13 rebounds in a Game-4 home victory.TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - Meyers Leonard, injured Portland forward, misses being in the playoffs. Last year, his good postseason performances against Memphis led to a bigger role in 2015-16 before shoulder injuries forced him to the sideline.

“In some ways, I made a name for myself late in the season and in the playoffs,” Leonard says. “People saw I could be a factor. Sitting there at the Moda Center (Saturday night), hearing the crowd and seeing the emotion of the players, brought back those memories from last year.

“I wish I were out there now. I feel like I could have done a lot of good things at both ends of the court for our team. Unfortunately, it’s not to be.”

Leonard says his recovery from the surgery is going “pretty well, honestly.”

“I’m only two weeks and change out, but I have no pain,” he says. “I stopped (pain medication) cold turkey the fourth day (after surgery). I’m sleeping better now.

“I saw the doctor 10 days after the surgery. He took my stitches out and said I’m looking great. I’m happy with where I’m at.”

Leonard has begun some mild rehabilitation with Chris Stackpole, the Blazers’ director of player health and performance.

“I can move my arm a little bit,” Leonard says. “I can do small raises at a 45-degree angle. You want (the shoulder) to be tight and allow itself to heal, and then you start to slowly gain more and more range of motion.”

Leonard is using an apparatus to stimulate blood flow stimulation five to six minutes at a time.

“Nobody knows about it yet, but it’s going to become huge the next few years,” he says of the BFR machine. “It’s really cool stuff. I’m doing isometric holds. We’re trying to engage some of the muscles, while keeping the shoulder as mobile as possible when you progress with increments in the rehab.”

After the surgery, Leonard’s rehab timetable was announced as a six-to-eighth-month process.

“In five months, I can start doing individual workouts,” Leonard says. “Six months would be in October and the preseason. With where I’m at now — no pain and decent movement already — I would hope by the beginning of the regular season I’ll be good to go.”

The 6-11 Leonard had an up-and-down go of it during his fourth NBA season, the final year of his rookie contract. He averaged 8.4 points in 21 minutes a game, mostly off the bench, and shot a solid .377 from 3-point range. Leonard turned down an extension before the season, gambling that a big year would propel him into a more lucrative deal.

With the salary cap expanding to an expected $90 million next season, Leonard is likely to command big-money offers from around the league. He’s a restricted free agent, allowing the Blazers to match any offer.

Leonard says he has been given no indication of what president/general manager Neil Olshey has in mind, but Leonard knows what he’d like to see happen.

“I hope I can be back here, I really do,” he says. “I love the city and the organization. I’ve been here with (coach) Terry Stotts for four years. I’ve been here with (Damian Lillard) for four years. It’s just a good feel. Free agency can get crazy, but my hope is to be back in Portland.

“There were no hard feelings from either side when I turned down the extension. I wanted to wait it out. Now free agency is this summer, and we’ll see what happens. I have no idea how it will unfold.”

Leonard, 24, has stayed engaged with his team since the untimely injury. He has maintained a positive attitude about the future.

“When this all happened, I wondered why,” he says. “Why me? Why this? Why now, with the playoffs coming and an unbelievable opportunity?

“But there is a silver lining to it. I’m going to come back better in the weight room. My teammates and coaches have a lot of confidence in me and what I can do.

“Every year I’ve been here, I’ve made big jumps, and I will continue to do that. I’m still young. I know I have so much room for improvement. It’s been hard for me, I can admit that, not being able to be out there playing. But I’m going to work even harder than I ever have and continue to prove people my worth. I’m going to do everything I can to become the best player I can be.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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