Thunder forward Desmond Mason will miss the remainder of the season after hyperextending his right knee in Wednesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Mason was seen at practice Thursday walking on crutches after undergoing an MRI in the morning. He will not join the team on the upcoming two-game road trip at Utah on Friday and Sacramento on Sunday.
“We are disappointed to lose Desmond for the remainder of the season,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. “He is a valuable part of our efforts on and off the court. We will support Desmond and work with him throughout the rehabilitation process. Unfortunately, the timing of the injury does not allow Desmond to return this season.”
Mason sustained the injury with 4:02 remaining in the third quarter while coming down awkwardly after attempting to block a layup by Grizzlies point guard Kyle Lowry. Mason appeared in 39 games, 19 as a starter, and averaged 7.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 27.3 minutes.
The injury leaves Thunder coach Scott Brooks with a tough decision to make with his starting unit.
Brooks could insert Damien Wilkins into the starting shooting guard spot, which is what he did in his first move as interim coach. That would leave Kevin Durant at small forward and Jeff Green at power forward.
Brooks could also insert Nenad Krstic or Chris Wilcox into the starting lineup. Starting Krstic would move Nick Collison over to his natural power forward position and bump Jeff Green to small forward and Kevin Durant to shooting guard. Inserting Wilcox likely would mean Collison would remain as the starting center and Wilcox would play power forward. That would also move Green to small forward and Durant to shooting guard. Either of these options would be risking tampering with the success Durant has enjoyed over the past two months while playing at small forward.
A third option that shouldn’t be overlooked is for Brooks to start Earl Watson at point guard and move Russell Westbrook over to shooting guard. Brooks has gone with that lineup several times this season throughout stretches and would be able to get away with it on many nights because of Westbrook’s versatility. Having Chuck Atkins on board now also gives Brooks a quality backup point guard to spell Watson and you’d still have Weaver and Wilkins who could split time as reserves at the wing positions.
Whatever Brooks chooses to do, much of the defensive responsibilities are now on Green’s shoulders. With Mason and Green, the Thunder had a nice one-two punch of defenders. But Green is going to be challenged more than he’s ever been now that Mason isn’t available to help him wear down some of the league’s better scorers.
Green talked about stepping up to the challenge today after practice and said he’s now accustomed to guarding All-Star caliber players.
“That’s going to be tough to do,” said Kevin Durant of the Thunder replacing Mason’s effort. “He’s like the heart and soul of this team. I think we just got to help each other out even more now.”