The Thunder are saying it’s just “maintenance,” but this has to put a scare into Oklahoma City fans.
The Thunder announced that Russell Westbrook had arthroscopic surgery on right knee Wednesday and will be re-evaluated in four weeks. That means Westbrook almost certainly will be out for the entire preseason, and the Thunder aren’t going to rush him back just to play opening night. He could miss first few games of the season, which for Oklahoma City begins Oct. 16 in Golden State (when the Warriors raise their new banner).
In training to prepare for the start of training camp, Westbrook “experienced inflammation in his knee this past weekend (and determined) that the best course of action was the proactive procedure” the Thunder said in their official release. It’s a smart move by Westbrook to deal with it now, even if it costs him a few games, rather than to play through it and risk something worse during the season (or miss a month of the season in a Western Conference where there is little margin for error because of the depth of quality teams).
That doesn’t take all the edge off the concern. Here is why this surgery is especially scary for OKC:
• This is Westbrook’s fourth surgery on that knee, although as Royce Young of ESPN noted it’s the first in more than four years. His issues with this knee date back to the 2013 playoffs when Patrick Beverley crashed into it and tore the meniscus. Westbrook at three surgeries on the knee within a year, but had been fine since.
• Westbrook is about to turn 30 and has some heavy-usage miles on that body, his aggressive and attacking style can wear a player down.
• He just signed a five-year, $205 million contract extension.
It may turn out to be minor and barely slow Westbrook, but it’s something to monitor.
Westbrook has averaged a triple-double each of the past two seasons — 25.4 points, 10.3 assists, and 10.1 rebounds a game last season — the first player to ever reach this feat for two consecutive seasons. He’s an MVP and one of the game’s handful of elite players, and the Thunder need him to be that to make the postseason. Last season the Thunder offense fell off a cliff when Westbrook sat, dropping 9.6 points per 100 possessions. More will fall on Paul George‘s shoulders in the short term, but the Thunder need both of their stars to be a top-four team in the West as many (including myself) project.