Thunder guard Russell Westbrook will be out through the All-Star break after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Friday.
It is the third surgery that Westbrook has undergone since tearing his lateral meniscus in April.
The latest setback comes as a surprise, but the cause is much like the second procedure the All-Star point guard needed on Oct. 1. Recent swelling in the knee called for the scope to be administered.
Westbrook could now miss 27 games if he is indeed sidelined through the All-Star break. The Thunder's first game after All-Star Weekend is against Miami on Feb 20.
On a conference call discussing Westbrook's surgery Friday afternoon, however, Thunder general manager Sam Presti said the timeline doesn't necessarily mean Westbrook will be back in the first game after the All-Star break.
“The health of our players is obviously the first and foremost concern for us as an organization,” Presti said.
But it's not unreasonable to think Westbrook will return early.
He did just that after undergoing an arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 1 to remove a loose stitch in his surgically repaired knee. Westbrook was projected to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. He missed only two games.
When asked about the possibility of Westbrook returning early, Presti said the team “needs to let nature take its course.” But he insisted that Westbrook's early return to start the season did not lead to this setback. Presti added that this third surgery wouldn't make him more cautious about allowing Westbrook to again attempt an early return.
“I don't think we can be more cautious,” Presti said. “I think the level of caution that was demonstrated previously, if we can execute the same amount, then I think that would be consistent because it was as diligent as we felt we could be and we were very process-driven in regard to that. So we'll be matching the same amount of diligence in that regard.”
Westbrook had undergone monthly MRIs on his knee since his original surgery. Though persistent swelling had been present over the last several weeks, the MRIs hadn't shown any structural damage.
Westbrook had been getting his knee drained regularly to alleviate the chronic swelling. But when the swelling refused to go away, and the most recent MRI just days before Christmas revealed an area of concern, it was determined that the procedure would be necessary.
“From what we've been told, that area was not detectable in the previous images,” Presti said. “And from there, it was necessary to (send) him to L.A. to have it evaluated further.
“The area of concern has taken a significant amount of time to reveal itself, and we've been told that it stems from the initial injury suffered when a player crashed into Russell last spring as he was attempting to call a 20-second timeout.”
Presti said the Thunder must now “manage” Westbrook's knee going forward, though he did not specify what that would entail. The Thunder held Westbrook out of a Nov. 24 home game against Utah to give him an additional day of rest. Other teams routinely limit the minutes of players coming back from injury, or prohibit them from competing on the second night of back-to-backs.
“I think it's way too early to look at that right now,” Presti said. “I think what we're looking at first and foremost is getting him back on the floor this season when he's healthy ... But I think we also just have to recognize that given that we're in this situation right now, I think it's fair to say we need to be flexible and understand that there could be more management of the situation.”
Westbrook had not been experiencing any pain, according to Presti, and had showed no sign of troublesome symptoms. He had been producing at an extraordinary level, with averages of 21.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists in his last 10 games.
In his last game, a 29-point road win over New York on Christmas Day, Westbrook became only the fifth player in NBA history to record a triple-double on Christmas.
In 25 games this season, Westbrook is averaging 21.3 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
“We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate,” Presti said.
Third-year point guard Reggie Jackson will again start in place of Westbrook. It's a role Jackson filled after Westbrook sustained the original injury in the first round of the playoffs and again in the first two games of the regular season. Jackson is having a career year this season, averaging 12.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists. His emergence, coupled with strong play by second-year guard Jeremy Lamb and rookie center Steven Adams, has helped keep the Thunder at the top of the league standings despite the departure of former sixth man Kevin Martin.
Oklahoma City had won 18 of its last 20 games and entered Friday's game at Charlotte with a 23-5 record, second best in the West behind only Portland.
“As a team, we're going to approach this with the same frame of mind that we have each time that we've been dealt a setback as an organization, as a team,” Presti said. “And I'd expect us to delve into it and to find a way to actually improve from this adversity, because a lot of our progress as a team has come from some of the things that have been thrown our way.”
On conference call, Presti says post All-Star break timeline doesn't mean Westbrook will be back in first game after All-Star weekend.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) December 27, 2013