LAS VEGAS -- It was the simplest little gesture; a boss telling an employee that a hospital stay wouldn't cost him his job.
But to Adam Morrison, that phone message from Charlotte Bobcats managing partner Michael Jordan -- "Everything is going to be fine. You're still a part of us." -- got him through six months of knee rehabilitation.
Those six months for the Bobcats' small forward occasionally were excruciating, continuously tedious and intermittently frustrating. His left knee shredded from a freak accident in an exhibition, Morrison had to remove himself from basketball for the first time since grade school.
Maybe, just maybe, the injury that tore ligaments in his knee granted something else in compensation: perspective.
"I should have grown up more than I did," Morrison said Monday of his center-of-attention rookie season.
That was in 2006 when the Bobcats selected Morrison third in the draft. Instead of a sense of entitlement, being the third pick burdened Morrison with a sense of obligation. Every time some season-ticket holder yelled, "Shoot!" Morrison felt obliged to deliver, often clanging long jumpers off the rim.
He played dramatically better on the road than at home, a clear sign his head was spinning with expectation. So the summer between his first and second NBA seasons, he promised himself he'd slow down and stop hearing the voices.
That led to a strong preseason, until he made a simple move on Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton at the Staples Center. His left calf went one way, his left thigh went the other and it was obvious immediately his knee was injured.
That's where this story picks up in the present: Morrison is with the Bobcats' summer-league team, which will begin practice today at UNLV. He'll participate in non-contact drills this week, working toward a clearance to scrimmage in September, a month before training camp.
The knee is fine, he's told. His head seems healed, too. Difficult as this has been -- he'd never been seriously injured before -- there have been positives in the experience.
"I let stuff bother me, and I've learned to let it slide," said Morrison, who was at times painfully self-conscious as a rookie. "I've got to let wins slide and I've got to let losses slide. Just keep an even (temperament)."
It sounds like his forced absence has granted Morrison an appreciation for basketball he never would have had with a healthy body. He's not thinking contracts or playing time or the over-abundance of wing players on the Bobcats. "I simply want to play basketball again," Morrison said. "I miss it."
He's had time to miss it. First it was two weeks of bed rest, following the November surgery. Then it was the incessant rehab, which started with a kind of torture machine that flexed his knee for nine hours a day.
Morrison couldn't stand the monotony, so he hooked it up at night, trying somehow to sleep through the movement, noise and pain.
"It's one of the worst things," he recalled, "just constant motion the whole night to break up the scar tissue."
Then came the strength-and-stretching exercises and running in a swimming pool to lower the impact on an injured joint. In between, he'd attend home games, trying to stay a part of the circle without ever pulling on a uniform.
He'd sit with power forward Sean May -- also out for the season with knee surgery -- and try to be a cheerleader. He and May could have made a difference if healthy.
"I think we were last in the league in bench scoring," Morrison observed. "Sean and I each could have scored at least 10 points a game. That would have taken some pressure off of Jason (Richardson) and Gerald (Wallace)."
"Try to keep the same approach," Morrison concluded. "I honestly believe I have a solid role here."