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What does Bagley’s Kings future look like upon his return? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The press release came early Thursday morning, especially for those covering a game until late hours the night before. The fact that it was two short sentences may speak volumes.

Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III underwent further evaluation and it has been determined that the fourth metacarpal has healed. He is cleared to return to basketball activities and a return to game action will be updated as appropriate.”

This isn’t your typical injury update. Just days two days earlier, the 22-year-old power forward was on the court working with the development staff. He was still wearing a brace on his injured left hand and using his right to flick the ball into the basket.

Bagley’s injury isn’t unique. A few players every season suffer similar types of breaks, but the handling of this one was much different than a typical setback. 

On March 15, Bagley tried to follow his man through a crowd of players and ended up banging his hand on his opponent. You could instantly see that something was wrong, but the former No. 2 overall pick continued to play while shaking his hand. 

Bagley left the court early to go get X-rays and from that moment on, he hasn’t been seen or heard from until he rejoined the team last week in Phoenix. Three days after the initial injury, the team released a medical update confirming the break with an update set for four weeks out. 

These are strange times we are living in with the coronavirus pandemic hanging over everything that we do. Instead of staying with the team and living under the strict guidelines of the NBA, sources confirm that Bagley went to Arizona where his parents are currently residing to recover from the injury surrounded by his family.

The team’s handling of the situation may speak volumes to Bagley’s future in Sacramento. 

According to a league source, the plan is for Bagley to return to game action next week. Whether he retains his starting power forward position upon his return is unknown, but unlikely at this point. 

While he’s expected back, coach Luke Walton was unsure about the timeline when he spoke following Friday’s practice.

“He’s got a lot of work to do still before he gets to me,” Walton said. “He’s cleared to do basketball activities and the injury has healed, but basketball activities — what he’s doing is working with coaches 1-on-0 right now. So there’s still a couple of phases he’s got to get through before he gets 5-on-5 contact.”

Bagley has missed the last 20 games and that number will be a little higher before he actually steps on the court. The team is 9-11 in his absence, but their path to that record is packed with the highest highs and lowest lows.

Can the Kings use Bagley’s interior scoring and rebounding? Absolutely. But it always comes back to one simple issue with the talented big — his career has been nothing but fits and starts from the beginning, and his on-court development has been hurt by this reality. 

To date, Bagley has played a total of 112 out of a possible 213 games. That equates to him being available for just 52.5 percent of possible games.

It’s not just that he misses time, but it’s his inability to stay healthy for long stretches that hurt him. Before this season, his longest games played streak was 21 games. He played in 24 straight this season before missing a pair game and he saw action in 37 of the team’s first 39 games before the hand injury.

It’s nearly impossible to find a rhythm, develop chemistry and grow as a player when you can’t stay on the court. None of these injuries are Bagley’s fault, but it’s a reality of the situation for both the player and the franchise.

When Bagley was on the court, he was productive on the offensive end. He’s averaging 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from long range in 25.7 minutes per game. 

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On the defensive end, he’s a work in progress and that’s being generous. But it’s more about his experience level than it is effort or energy. 

This isn’t the way anyone envisioned Bagley’s career when he came to the NBA. He shows flashes of brilliance, but the injuries have taken a toll, both mentally and in his on-court development. 

The Kings are already committed to Bagley for an $11.3 million contract for next season, but at this point, it would be shocking to see him return to the team for a fourth year and he certainly isn’t getting the extension he’s eligible for this summer.

Whether he makes it back to the court Monday against the Dallas Mavericks or Wednesday against the Utah Jazz or at some later date, we are likely watching the final few games of Bagley in a Kings uniform. 

With a need to open up salary-cap space to attempt to retain center Richaun Holmes, Sacramento will likely shop Bagley leading up to the draft, much in the same way it did before the March 25 trade deadline

When he’s healthy, Bagley has shown plenty of ability. He’s also a solid teammate and still young enough to rebound from his rash of injuries. To date, he hasn’t had a single major injury that would cause a team concern, although the accumulation of setbacks are a red flag.

At this point, both Bagley and the Kings need a fresh start. With a handful of games remaining, the former Duke star will be auditioning for 29 other teams. With Bagley’s injury history, that’s a huge risk for Sacramento, but it sounds like they want to see that he’s fully recovered and ready heading into the offseason.

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