OKLAHOMA CITY — An effervescent Russell Westbrook said he’s ready for Saturday’s first team practice — albeit in a limited capacity — but he made no promises for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s opener on Oct. 30 at Utah.
The Thunder’s invaluable three-time All-Star point guard’s continuous rehab from surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee is threatening his status as the league’s reigning iron man. Westbrook has played in 394 consecutive games. He hasn’t missed a regular-season game since the Thunder drafted him No. 4 overall in 2008. The injury occurred in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs and ended Westbrook’s season.
Asked if he’ll be ready for the opener at Media Day on Friday, Westbrook said: “Not sure. I’m not sure.”
“I just know I wake up in the morning, I get to my rehab and then go back to sleep and do it all over again,” Westbrook said. “I just take it one day at a time and try not to look ahead. When something like this happens you have to take it slow. There’s no need for me to rush into looking ahead at the schedule or anything like that, just taking one day at time and try to find a way to get back.”
When he does, the 6-foot-3 Westbrook, whose advantage over defenders is his extreme athleticism and a fearless, attacking style, flatly stated that he has no plans of pursuing a more conservative approach.
“Not at all,” he said.
OKC general manager Sam Presti on Wednesday emphasized the organization’s cautious approach with Westbrook, who will turn 25 on Nov. 12. Coach Scott Brooks reported that Westbrook has experienced swelling in the knee within the last 24 hours, but couched it by saying it is “pretty common when you have surgery, there’s going to be some peaks and valleys.”
Third-year guard Reggie Jackson would likely fill Westbrook’s starting spot as he did throughout the playoffs with Derek Fisher backing him up.
“He’s really worked hard and looks good,” Brooks said of Westbrook. “He will participate in some of our practices, some of the things we planned out three or four months prior to training camp. We’ve had a plan all along that he’s going to participate in some of the practices early on in the practice and he’s going to continue to do some individual work with [new assistant] coach [Robert] Pack.”
The long road back and the prospect of starting the new season like he ended the old one in a suit certainly hasn’t dampened Westbrook’s enthusiasm for the Thunder’s prospects for reclaiming the Western Conference title. He reiterated his belief back in May that observing games while injured will help him return a smarter player and make OKC a better team.
He averaged 23.2 ppg, 7.4 apg, 5.2 rpg and 1.8 spg last season. He scored 48 points with 14 assists and 13 rebounds in the first two games of the playoffs against Houston, part of which he played with the torn meniscus.
The Thunder couldn’t replace such a significant loss. After getting past the Rockets in six games, the Memphis Grizzlies bottled up Kevin Durant in the fourth quarters of their second-round series and won in five games.
OKC will welcome Westbrook’s return, at whichever point it may be.
“My state of mind is positive, always positive for me, confident,” Westbrook said. “In the process of rehab you have to be confident in knowing everything is healing like it’s supposed to. So I’m just confident and taking it one day at a time.”