What next for longtime NBA iron man Joe Ingles after serious knee injury?

Joe Ingles' is focused on the NBA Playoffs with the Utah Jazz Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Ever since signing with the Utah Jazz in the days prior to the 2014-15 NBA season, Australian forward Joe Ingles has been one of the league's greatest iron men.

With the ink yet to dry on that initial contract, Ingles made an inauspicious debut, logging just over four minutes of court time in an opening night home loss to the Houston Rockets.

That first outing began a stretch of 635 regular season and postseason appearances out of a possible 650, in which he became a beloved figure within the Utah franchise, carving out a prototypical modern-day role of defensive versatility on the perimeter and knock-down shooting from the outside.

Flick through league pass on any given day and Ingles would be there, with his distinctive lefty stroke, burying a triple and shuffling down the floor -- oftentimes with some words for the crowd or his opponent.

It's that consistency and reliability that made the buckling of his left knee on Monday afternoon in Minnesota so jarring. An emotional Utah locker room feared the worst postgame, with Tuesday morning's diagnosis of a torn anterior cruciate ligament delivering a hammer blow for both Utah and Australian hoops fans.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that surgery will be scheduled for the coming weeks, leaving the 34-year-old's NBA future in question ahead of becoming an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

An expected nine-to-twelve-month recovery period will follow the procedure, setting up a possible return to the floor around the midway point of the 2022-23 NBA season.

The complicated timing of the injury leaves his immediate NBA future in limbo, with Ingles' one-year, $13 million extension signed in 2019 set to expire. At the time, the deal added the 2021-22 season to the two years he had remaining on a longterm deal.

Limited 2022-23 availability could dilute the veteran's free agent market and almost certainly cost him one last significant multi-year payday as a free agent. Given his popularity within the Utah locker room, a one-year deal with the franchise looms as a possible option.

If the Jazz decide against retaining the free agent, a possible return date early in 2023 will line up with the yearly transaction frenzy around the trade deadline period, where valuable veteran players like Ingles are often rostered for the road to the postseason.

It's also possible a rival franchise values the inclusion of Ingles as not only a culture boost, but a reliable on-court addition with extensive playoff experience around the deadline period.

Retirement did not appear on the horizon prior to the injury setback, with Ingles bluntly responding to a fan on Twitter, "lol... I ain't retiring," at the mere mention of the possibility.

Like much of the NBA, the 2021-22 season has been a rollercoaster for Utah, though the Jazz were still 3.6 points per 100 possessions better with Ingles on the floor in 1111 minutes, up from 1.9 a season ago.

The sharpshooter was struggling to scorch the nets to his usual efficiency from 3-point territory, connecting on a career-low 35 percent of his tries. Elsewhere he was his usual productive self however, with his 54 percent mark from midrange and 72 percent finishing at the rim well above average for his position according to Cleaning the Glass.

With a game that has never been based around athleticism, his unique skillset and remarkable IQ separates him from the pack and sparks genuine optimism for a successful return.

As stories rolled in of the affection many in the sport have for Ingles, star teammate Donovan Mitchell's anecdote on meeting 'Slo-mo Joe' for the first time on a basketball court produced arguably the most accurate image of his NBA career thus far.

"The moment I came into training camp my rookie year thinking he was just an old dude, and he kicked my ass, and I was thinking 'how the hell this old ass dude is killin' me like this'."

For many years Ingles has floated the idea of returning for a career swansong in the NBL and while his play on the floor indicates he has gas in the NBA tank, one last shot at a gold medal could potentially speed up that process if opportunities in the United States were sparse.

Regardless of where he next takes the floor, Ingles' place as an Australian legend in the sport is secure. Alongside Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut, Ingles wore the green and gold at every opportunity, oftentimes risking his own professional career and significant financial incentives to do so.

The star five dared to dream of taking the game to new heights in the country, spurring an era that made Aussies in the NBA commonplace instead of a rarity. The Boomers squad for Paris is set to produce the Olympic debut of rising stars such as Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels, with the path blazed by Ingles set to make positions in the squad more competitive than ever.

The enticing carrot of one last Olympic run will loom large with a short turnaround to the 2024 Games in Paris. Ingles would be 36, with a potential swansong alongside Mills, Dellavedova and Baynes a longshot for the complete quartet -- but a fairytale worth pursuing.

If eight straight NBA years and many off seasons playing for the Boomers is any indication, he'll give it his best crack to be there.