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Dean's Take On The Westbrook Setback

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Just when Russell Westbrook and his Thunder team were beginning to play better than ever, today's speculation is confirmed: Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery this morning in Los Angeles — the third procedure on his right knee since spring.

 

Questions and Answers:

What's wrong?

Westbrook right knee apparently was not causing him pain. But increased swelling led the all-star to undergo a series of MRI's—that last one on December 23rd, which revealed new, problematic information that led his LA surgeon to suggest the scope that was executed today. Thunder GM Sam Presti said in a statement: "There was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place."

 

How serious is it?

It's easy to say it's "just a scope." But unfortunately there are caution flags everywhere. First, Russ plays at a pace that we've rarely seen in basketball. Breakneck speed, high-flying acrobatics resulting in odd landing positions, starting and stopping. All in a day's work for this guy. The fact is warped speed and surgically-repaired legs don't mesh very well. If his knee is not one hundred percent it could very well be an ongoing problem. If he has to temper his game, he'll lose his effectiveness and the team will suffer. Second, I'll repeat that this is the third surgery on the same knee since the first injury occurred in the playoffs. Very rare. Very, very rare.

 

How long's he out?

Thunder says till after the all-star break. Could mean the game after or many games after. As people are learning the hard way, successful surgeries are not a given. Especially when performed on a human Rolls Royce. Best case would seem to be if he could return with enough time to play himself back into playing shape before the playoffs begin. There will be new rust to wear off. If Westbrook is out until closer to the playoffs it could be devastating for a team that will have gone from playing the best basketball in the league to what I'd expect to be a team that will have lost home court advantage in the playoffs.

 

What's up with the repeat surgeries for the star guards?

For Westbrook, Derek Rose and Kobe Bryant, the first surgeries were bad enough. But interestingly, each has had to undergo additional surgery that could greatly hamper their careers. Westbrook's initial injury on April 24 was not as serious as either the torn-up knee of Rose or Kobe's Achilles injury. But still, things have not gone smoothly since the initial meniscus surgery following the sideline scrape with Patrick Beverly in the playoffs. Then there's the loose stitch, requiring another knife job. The second procedure done by a second surgeon (first one at Steadman Hawkins in Vail, CO and the other two by an LA surgeon) seemed odd. Then Russ stunned us all missing just two games before resuming play. The NBA is hard on even the best of bodies. Unfortunately, this trio of guards can attest to that. Also unfortunate is that they've had a coincidental string of bad luck.

 

Is there anything positive?

Yes. Guards Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb will see more playing time. That can only help. When the season started, the key to how good this team would be fell on the shoulders of this tandem. With both of them playing winning basketball, the primary issue now is with Russell. When's he back and will he be the same old Russ? Even though I believe OKC will lose home court advantage now, if Russ returns good to go for the playoffs, and if Jackson and Lamb use this opportunity to continue their steady ascent, some good could come out of what looks like a devastating blow. And this team is much more equipped overall to handle the adversity with a much-improved bench.

 

How bad is this news?

As much as I hate these words, they are true: Only time will tell. But it scares me. Lots of cuts in a short period of time. If Westbrook had to pull back on the throttle that makes him extraordinary, he won't be the same. For this team to compete for a title, it'll take the Westbrook we were beginning to see. A triple-double threat every time out. An assist-assassin. A revved-up example to his mates who can't help but play harder and better when they see the free-safety in shorts flying baseline to baseline. Is it chronic? If so, the franchise won't reach it's championship potential. If not, this team is too good and too young to be denied.

Russell is hit with a new challenge. He'd never played better or been more appreciated by the fans. And when he returns, all eyes will once again be on No. 0. Not just to see if he can return to form but to see if he'll get up off the floor after one of his dozen spills a game. Here's to hoping so. All that's riding on it is the upside of the franchise.

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