Justise Winslow's second NBA season likely will not make it into the new year, with coach Erik Spoelstra announcing before Wednesday night's game against the Sacramento Kings that the Miami Heat forward will undergo Thursday what is expected to be season-ending shoulder surgery.
Winslow was injured on the final play of Friday's loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden in a tangle with Celtics center Al Horford. The Heat had listed the No. 10 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft as being out for the two games prior to Wednesday with a "right shoulder injury."
The team then learned the sobering reality of that injury, that Winslow tore his labrum in his right shoulder. Winslow shoots left-handed.
Spoelstra began Wednesday's pregame media session saying, "I'll start with the bad news, or the tough news, right now."
And it was, especially for a team hoping to groom the versatile forward for better days beyond this now almost-assured lottery-bound season.
"Justise was checked out by Dr. [Harlan] Selesnick on Monday," Spoelstra said of the team physician, "found that he has a torn labrum, so we sent him out to get a second opinion. They confirmed it. So that's going to require surgery. He's going to have surgery [Thursday]. He'll likely be out the rest of the season."
Spoelstra said he felt from the moment that Winslow was injured that it was not as benign as it initially appeared.
"It was that last tangle up with Horford," he said. "I didn't like the way it looked as I saw it. And then, talking with him on the plane afterwards, I didn't like how he was describing it.
"And he's such a tough kid. And you really feel for him. And he said he felt fine, that he was moving around on the plane. He said, 'I'm playing the next game.' But as he was describing it, I left with just a pit in my stomach, when he said it felt like it popped out and then just popped it back in. But he said he would be ready to go."
The Heat then left Winslow behind from the current six-game trip for what initially was described as rehabilitation. Then came the sobering exams.
"That's sometimes the exuberance of youth and of a 20-year-old," Spoelstra said of Winslow's initial hope to push through the injury. "I really feel for him, because I know how much time he put in this summer. He really put in as much time as anybody to develop his game and be ready."
It has been an injury-ravaged season for Winslow, who missed 16 games with a sore left wrist in November, ultimately limited to 18 games this season.
"He had a great preseason and then since the second-to-last preseason game, it feels like it's been one injury after another," Spoelstra said.
Teammate Tyler Johnson, who missed half of last season due to shoulder surgery, said he appreciates what his teammate will have to go through.
"Mine wasn't as big as what we thought it initially was going to be, and I still sat out four months," Johnson said. "Then you have to start rehabbing and try to get the range of motion back early and then trying to strengthen it and strengthen all the muscles all around it. It's definitely a process.
"I think it's more of a mental thing than it is a physical thing, just because most young guys haven't gone through an injury like this, where you're sitting out this long. It's definitely more about getting your mind right that you can come back and be the same player."
Spoelstra said this was not the time to analyze how much such an injury could set back Winslow or the team.
"It's more about you just feel for a kid that's put in so much time," he said. "I know how much it means to him and how much he wanted to be there for his team and to show how much he can impact a team."
Spoelstra said the Heat, even with Winslow's shooting struggles, saw enough to still have hope going forward.
"Even through the injuries," Spoelstra said, "he was still one of our best plus-minus guys, and that's for a reason. He makes winning plays all the time and he knows how to make impact plays at the right times, at both ends of the court. It's really an underrated thing in this league."
email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat or facebook.com/ira.winderman