We’re not expecting to see Russell Westbrook back on the court in an NBA game until around Thanksgiving at the earliest — he had knee surgery at the start of the month and was supposed to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season.
“There were bits and pieces where Russell participated in practice, so that was good,” coach Scott Brooks said. “It was good to get everybody out there, working together.”
“Oh, man. Russell today…” Reggie Jackson said when asked how Westbrook looked, cracking a sly smile. “It’s actually funny. My brother and his brother talk a little before games. His brother told mine that Russell’s probably bouncing better than ever. I had to see it to believe it. One of the dunks (today), he went up and looked like the old Russell, plus some, head at the rim. We’ll be happy when he gets back fully healthy, but it’s good to see him with a smile on his face, being about the team, bouncing back and happy to be back on the court.”
Westbrook was running drills, not taking full contact or making the kind of sharp cuts you see in a game. It’s going to take time. Still, this is a good sign for Thunder fans that Westbrook could be back earlier than expected and find his old form quickly.
That matters — in the West last year the difference between the No. 1 seed and the No. 5 seed was four games, just a few early season losses can make the playoff run that much harder. The earlier the return the better for OKC.
Report: Derrick Rose away from Cavaliers, evaluating his future in basketball
Rose has been out with what seemed like a relative minor, for him at least, ankle injury. The 29-year-old could stick in the league for a while thanks to his reputation and ability to attack the rim to create shots for himself. But the guard is a shell of peak form after years of more serious injuries. This isn’t the career anyone expected for him when he was named the youngest MVP ever in 2011.
The Suns made Mike James – a 27-year-old rookie on a two-way contract – their starting point guard.
Though he eventually ceded the role to Tyler Ulis, James – the only player on a two-way contract to start an NBA game – is still a rotation regular. He’s an aggressive defender and possesses plenty of offensive moves.
The problem: Unless demoted to Phoenix’s minor-league affiliate before then, he’ll max out the 45 allowable NBA days for a two-way player Dec. 6.
We’d still like to get him on the 15-man roster and we’re looking at different ways to do that.
The Suns can unilaterally convert James’ two-contract into a standard one-year minimum deal. Both sides could also negotiate a longer contract.
The bigger issue is clearing a roster spot.
Phoenix has the maximum 15 players with standard contracts with no obvious cuts. Derrick Jones Jr. doesn’t play much, but the 20-year-old’s athleticism creates intriguing upside. Second-rounder Davon Reed is hurt, though teams rarely cut bait so quickly.
The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.
However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.
“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”
This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.
Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.
Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.