The bad news: For the third time in eight months, Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Friday.
The good news: This time there was no torn meniscus, no loose stitch, just regular “swelling.”
The Thunder have stated his expected return is after the All-Star break in mid-February, which is longer than the four to six weeks timetable they announced after his surgery in October that saw Westbrook return after just two games. Who knows with Russ, nobody would be surprised if he came back next week, but still, three surgeries for one injury just doesn’t sound good.
Just like in October Westbrook’s absence, the Thunder play 27 games between now and the February 16th All-Star Game, all of which could alter the final seeding in the West come playoff time. The Thunder are currently 23-5 and sit just a half game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the best record in the West.
Surely, there will be some expected slippage for OKC, even with Kevin Durant having another phenomenal season and Reggie Jackson turning himself into a viable third option and short term Westbrook replacement. But, the Spurs are right on the Thunder’s heels just a game behind them, and the Clippers and Rockets lurk four games behind.
Another league wide consequence of Westbrook’s injury (and Kobe Bryant’s as well) is a new available spot on the All-Star roster in the West. The starters are set for the foreseeable future in the West. Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard will all be voted in for years to come.
In order to play in the game players must be healthy enough to play the game before and after the break. It’s likely that if they’re out until close to that time Russ and Kobe may just decide to forgo the game this year in order to rest up their injured knees a bit longer.
Still, the West bench is as crowded as ever. Like, so crowded they could have another team.
Tony Parker, James Harden, Steph Curry, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love are all locks off the bench (there’s the possibility that Curry and Love catch Griffin and Paul in the fan vote, but those four will all be in the game one way or another). That’s five locks for the seven slots available, with Demarcus Cousins, Antony Davis, Tim Duncan, Klay Thompson, Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Serge Ibaka and Damien Lillard all vying for the remaining two spots (three, if Kobe doesn’t make it back in time).
If Russ and Kobe makes it back, that would leave just one spot for those eight players. It’s more than just a spot in the game at stake for those players. Many players have bonuses in their contracts for an All-Star selection and, with the “Derrick Rose Rule,” it could have a effect on their yearly salaries and team’s cap space in the future. Who knew that Patrick Beverly lunge back in April would impact so many players.
Anyway back to Russ and the Thunder, OKC’s right to practice patience and caution with Westbrook’s knee, as he just turned 25 and is barely in his sixth season. Westbrook is a star and relies on his explosiveness to be effective on the court. His 21 points and seven assist per game are just as important as the output of Durant, and Russ’s ferocity on both ends of the court make him the heart and soul of that team.
Despite what the records say the Thunder are the best team in the West, and they need a 100% healthy Westbrook to make a run at a title this year and however many years in the future. The Thunder front office, like the Bulls front office before them, chose the long-term route to take care of their stars, and they may be rewarded in the future when said stars have a chance to leave their team, because you don’t want unhappy stars with a chance to leave.
Just ask the Lakers.