From NBA.com staff reports
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Whatever plans the Oklahoma City Thunder had for Russell Westbrook will have to be put on hold. Their All-Star point guard will miss 4-6 weeks at the start of the season after another surgery Tuesday on his ailing right knee.
Westbrook injured his knee after a collision with Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverly on April 24 and had surgery to fix a torn meniscus on April 27 in Vail, Colo. He was progressing well, until recently.
Persistent swelling in the knee as Westbrook began limited activity during the Thunder’s training camp caused alarm and spurred a trip to California to consult with a medical team.
“Russell has been incredible in his work and rehabilitation. He has been pain-free and has performed at a high level during practice, but has experienced recent swelling that had not subsided,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said in a statement released by the team. “After careful consideration and recommendations from the medical team, we elected to do the procedure [Tuesday] based on our consulting physician’s belief that the swelling would be alleviated, and in turn give Russell the best chance for sustained performance throughout the season and beyond. During the procedure it was determined that the source of swelling was due to a loose stitch, and fortunately we were also able to confirm that the meniscus has healed properly.”
Both the initial surgery and the arthroscopic surgery performed Tuesday were done by surgeons chosen by Westbrook’s representation, according to Presti. The Thunder’s doctors were present in both cases, but only as observers.
Presti said he does not regret allowing an outside medical group to perform the operations.
“The way that it has been described to me is that it [a loose stitch] is a little bit of an outlier. It does happen,” Presti said. “When those things happen the best course of action is to obviously remove it because there’s something that’s aggravating the knee.”
During the Thunder’s Media Day on Friday, Westbrook was in high spirits, though he was unsure if he would be ready to start the regular season on Oct. 30. Now, with his initial recovery ongoing and combined with Tuesday’s procedure, it is possible he won’t play until Christmas nears.
The good news? The extra look into Westbrook’s knee confirmed that it has healed properly from the original surgery, Presti said. That knowledge should supply the explosive guard with some peace of mind.
Meanwhile, Westbrook, the NBA’s reigning iron man, will miss the first regular-season game of his career. His streak will end at 394.
“He is a very, very smart guy. He understands that although there is some loss of time here, a small amount from what was initially forecasted, what was gained was a tremendous amount of confidence in the healing of the knee,” Presti said. “Combining that information with the way he has looked in practice and the way he was moving in practice, I think he understands this bodes very well for him, not only this season, but also for the foreseeable future with the Thunder.”
It doesn’t necessarily bode well for teammate Kevin Durant and the Thunder, who went 4-5 in the playoffs sans Westbrook — losing in the semifinals to Memphis. The Thunder also lost sixth man Kevin Martin in free agency without signing a replacement.
Reggie Jackson will be Westbrook’s likely replacement in the starting lineup (as he was during the playoffs) with veteran Derek Fisher first off the bench. The shuffling will also accelerate second-year shooting guard Jeremy Lamb’s role as he’s introduced into the Thunder’s rotation.
“I think that we’ll be more prepared knowing a lot more about our team, some of the players that were able to perform at the time that we were dealing with this particular situation in the past,” Presti said. “And I think over time as we work through this period, when Russell does come back and joins us, A) he’ll be as good as ever, and B) I believe the team will be better than the one he last played with based on the fact that they’ll have to play through some situations that are not necessarily the way that we expected them.”
NBA.com’s Sekou Smith and Jeff Caplan contributed to this report