It’s not good news.
Russell Westbrook having to go back under the knife because a loose stich in the repair of his torn meniscus was causing irritation, now he’s going to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. That puts him back likely some time after Thanksgiving but before Christmas. He’s going to miss 15 games or so, give or take. That’s not good.
But how bad is it?
To hear the Thunder spin it, it’s not that bad. GM Sam Presti was wisely taking the long view when talking to the media on a conference call Tuesday. Here’s his quote, via NBA.com.
“From our standpoint we’d like to have him on the floor as soon as possible,” Presti said during a teleconference Tuesday. “But in this case, although we lost a little bit of time, we gained a tremendous amount of confidence in the actual progression and recovery process of the knee itself.”
He’s right. If Westbrook comes back in December, and even if it takes to the All-Star Game for him to really trust his knee again and start to play like his old self, then the Thunder are a scary team come the playoffs.
But there will be a price to play short term, one that could bite them come the playoffs.
OKC was already a thin team looking for guys like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to step up big. There were legitimate depth questions before this injury. Now even more pressure falls on Jackson’s shoulders (and Serge Ibaka’s) because defenses will load up on Kevin Durant. They will dare the other Thunder players to beat them.
If Westbrook was to play the first 15 games of the Thunder season, they likely go 12-3 or 11-4. Without him, that could be more like 9-6 or a little worse. If you say “that’s just a couple of wins” remember that two wins separated the two seed from the five seed in the West last season — two wins was the difference between being at home against the struggling Lakers or on the road against the Clippers. In a West six deep with powerful teams, seeding is going to matter come the playoffs.
Ultimately Oklahoma City will be just fine — this is still a team with two elite players at its core that can contend for years to come. But this injury is not a good thing when you think about the Thunder this season.