HOUSTON — Russell Westbrook's season officially came to an abrupt end on Saturday morning, but hope still remains for a long and productive NBA career from the Thunder's All-Star point guard.
Westbrook underwent successful surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. The operation took place at the Stedman Clinic in Vail, Colo., with Thunder medical personnel present.
“The results of the surgery itself were the best-case scenario for Russ as both a player and as a person,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti explained, “because the meniscus itself was able to be repaired and not simply removed. By being repaired, it's able to remain fully intact, which is the best possible situation.”
The procedure means Westbrook will miss the remainder of this year's playoffs and faces several weeks of rehabilitation.
Westbrook's streak of 439 consecutive games in the regular season and postseason — the league's longest active streak — ended Saturday night when he missed Game 3 of his team's opening-round series against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center.
He had not missed a game since joining the NBA five years ago, nor had Westbrook missed a game his two seasons at UCLA and reportedly in his entire career at Leuzinger High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Lawndale, Calif.
Westbrook tore his meniscus midway through the second quarter of Game 2 on Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena when his right knee collided with the left side of Houston guard Patrick Beverley's hip as Westbrook was calling for a timeout.
Angry and hobbled, the determined Westbrook remained in the game, scored 20 points thereafter and played all 24 minutes of the second half in a 105-102 victory that gave OKC a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Team doctors initially diagnosed Westbrook with a bruised knee, but it became evident Friday morning the injury was more serious, and tests detected the meniscus damage.
“As far as the time frame for him to return to the floor, he's actually starting his rehabilitation (Saturday),” Presti said in a teleconference call from Vail. “As we get deeper into the rehab process, we'll be able to provide a more accurate timetable as to when it is he'll be back on the floor. We're very confident in Russell's ability to do well in this rehab and we're very confident in our group, and we know he'll be back on the floor relatively soon.”
Widely regarded as one of the NBA's best players, the 24-year-old Westbrook has been the coaches' choice as a Western Conference All-Star reserve the last three seasons.
Recover time varies for each patient. Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace suffered a meniscus tear to his left knee one month ago and returned 12 days after surgery.
“You can't compare injuries,” Presti said. “They're for doctors to really assess.”
Presti said a quick return for Westbrook would not necessarily have been good news for the long-term.
“When you see players return quickly from these procedures, it's easy to see the short-term benefit of that,” Presti said. “They're returning because the meniscus was not able to be repaired. It in fact is removed, which allows there to be some short-term gain, but ultimately there's long-term loss. So any time you enter into these types of situations, what you're looking for is a full repair, which is what Russell was able to have today.
“Obviously in the short-term, it's a disappointment. Everybody would like to see him on the floor, but entering into the procedure this is the best-case scenario for Russell Westbrook. … What's important here is the fact this young man has a very long NBA career ahead of him. You're always entering into these situations looking to do the repair and keep the meniscus intact.”
During the 2012-13 regular season, Westbrook finished sixth in the league in scoring (23.2), seventh in assists (7.4), ninth in steals (1.77) and also averaged a career-high in rebounds (5.2).
“Russell's long-term health and his wellness is our No. 1 priority,” Presti reiterated, “and when you take your pragmatic perspective and understand what is truly important in this situation, you have to be really satisfied with the results of (Saturday) morning.”