The Canberra Capitals insist they can get bang for their buck out of Lauren Jackson, confident they will reap the rewards of a five-year $1 million investment in the superstar despite Jackson suffering another surgery setback.
Jackson will miss Australia's world championships campaign next month and at least the first two weeks of the Capitals' WNBL campaign after having hip surgery on Tuesday and needing more rehabilitation on her knee. She has now had four operations in eight months and hasn't played a game since January.
The 33-year-old signed the biggest deal in WNBL history with the Capitals in 2011, committing to play three seasons in five years after the club sourced a third-party deal worth $330,000 per season.
Capitals coach Carrie Graf says Jackson's latest surgery is "good news" because the four-time Olympian will be able to play injury and pain free for the first time in four years.
Jackson has committed to playing the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons in Canberra and helping the club return to the WNBL finals. "What cost do you put on her name and face being attached to the Capitals?" Graf said.
"The contract was to play three seasons with the Capitals over five years. That gave us a five-year plan to build marketing and give her chances to go overseas and make money. She got a couple of injuries that were odd. But she's got two years left ... who knows what the value of that is? When she last played with us, the entire league benefited. They had their biggest crowds, everyone made money.
"It's a total package, not just 20 points on the court. She's a competitor, an intimidator ... Canberra and the Capitals have two seasons of Lauren and hopefully we can look beyond that too. Some of the timing is imperfect. That's sport. There has been overarching value in her committing to the Capitals long-term."
Jackson failed to play a game in her first season of her landmark deal, the 2012-13 campaign, because of injury. She wanted to play last season, but Capitals management failed to meet a contract deadline and Jackson instead played overseas.
Jackson needs another 12 weeks to recover from knee surgery, ruling her out of the world championships in Turkey later this month. She has had four operations this year, one on her Achilles, two on her knee and her hip.
"I've worked so hard on my rehab program and my knee injury has actually progressed well – sadly, just not enough to compete at worlds. Put simply, we just ran out of time," Jackson said. "Further, a problem with my hip has continued to worsen and it's now impacting on my rehab program.
"After scans this week the medical advice was to operate today. I'll be back with the great, supportive team at the AIS in just two weeks and preparing to play for the Capitals in November. I can't wait to be finally back on court – I'm actually fit and strong so the hard work will not be lost."
Jackson will report to Capitals training for the pre-season schedule and do her rehabilitation at the AIS. She will also help the team in its opening WNBL rounds, with the Capitals set to call on Sam Norwood to help Abby Bishop shoulder the "bigs" load in Jackson's absence.
Her much-anticipated match-up with Dandenong star Elizabeth Cambage on November 1 at AIS Arena, a clash the WNBL was keen to heavily promote, is unlikely to happen.
"We've got two seasons, in the long term it will be great for Lauren to come back fully fit," Graf said. "Everyone who is working with her is totally confident this isn't going to be an ongoing issue. She doesn't want to let people down – the Opals, Canberra and our sponsors.
"Ultimately, Lauren wants to play basketball and she's world class with a lot of games left in her. It's exciting to see where Lauren can go. She signed a five-year deal because she saw it as part of longevity ... I'm confident she can play these two seasons and go beyond."