The Heat announced mere hours before McGruder boarded a plane headed to Missouri on Thursday night that he would miss anywhere between three to six months with a stress fracture in his leg.
McGruder might have stayed in South Florida, devastated by news he might miss half of his second season in the NBA.
But the significance of the discovery meant little when he thought about how important it was for him to be on the sidelines with his teammates, who lost the preseason finale 119-95 to the Philadelphia 76ers at the Sprint Center here Friday night.
“I hope my teammates do great and I see some of the camp guys get in,” McGruder said. “That’s why I really wanted to come because I’ve been in their position before. I just wanted to be there for support.”
McGruder’s obligation extended beyond his current team, too. He left 56 tickets for family and friends, many of whom watched him play two hours west of here at Kansas State from 2009-13.
McGruder said he will undergo surgery to repair the fracture in his left tibia sometime next week. He played with the injury thinking only that he was experiencing shin splints. He and trainers tried treatments to build the muscle around the bone but never saw progress.
X-ray results returned with news more devastating than he expected.
But, in the end, it’s just another bump in the already windy path he’s taken to the NBA.
“Sucks but nothing you can’t get over,” he said.
McGruder’s not worried about the recovery process, nor is he concerned about keeping his basketball mind sharp. He’ll do the mental reps, watch the video, immerse himself in basketball same as ever.
He’s focused on the path forward — which for his team could involve roster magic and using Justise Winslow or Josh Richardson at small forward.
Coach Erik Spoelstra would only say in the morning shootaround that “guys are ready to step in” and that the team will have to figure things out.
Later, in a pregame conference outside the Heat locker room, he praised McGruder’s determination to return.
“He’s always upbeat, he’s always positive,” Spoelstra said. “If you just walk into the locker room and start talking to him, you have no idea he has an injury. … He’s still going to be an integral of just being around the team, of providing that leadership and we’re gonna feed him positive energy.
“I know one thing about him. Whatever timetable they say, he’ll do it in the most intelligent way and he’ll come back sooner.”