After sitting out a game for the first time in his life when he was physically able to play, Russell Westbrook was asked Monday if he slept better or worse Sunday night.
“I slept good actually,” Westbrook said, smiling. “I slept good. I'm well-rested, I can tell you that.”
That was the plan.
Westbrook received the night off in the Thunder's home win over Utah on Sunday, surprisingly becoming the first rotation player in Thunder history to take a game off for rest.
It's a strategy other veteran, championship-caliber teams such as San Antonio and Miami routinely employ but one Oklahoma City had shunned before Sunday.
Under normal circumstances, Westbrook would have been the last player on the roster to use “rest” as a reason for missing a game. He had played 394 consecutive regular season contests, the most among active players, before his streak was snapped in the season opener. So it was safe to assume that sitting was not exactly Westbrook's idea. He doesn't like to miss games.
“Nah, I don't,” he said. “But I also got my body to worry about and worry about the future as well.”
Sunday's night off was the Thunder simply striving to protect Westbrook's present and future. The All-Star point guard on Nov. 3 returned earlier than expected from a second offseason knee surgery, and the decision to sit Westbrook against the Jazz was made with the sole intention of getting him more rest throughout the regular season as he continues to regain his form.
Westbrook and team officials all insist that the knee is fine.
“Everything is good,” Westbrook said.
But with two days off following last Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, and another two days off following the Jazz game, the Thunder saw a rare opportunity to get Westbrook five days of rest going into Wednesday's showdown with San Antonio. It's a creative way to manage the schedule and something the Thunder intends to do more as the season goes on.
“It's planned throughout the season,” Westbrook said. “It's 82 games of nonstop, and right now is the best time for me to take a break regardless of who we were playing. But on the schedule, we sit down and look at the schedule each month and try to find the best way to get me recovered.”
Asked if he agreed with the philosophy, Westbrook said “Yeah, I'm cool with it.”
“I don't know if it's going to happen every time. But I just know that was the best thing for right now,” he said.
Westbrook declined to offer any further insight into how often he will sit. But he said his rehab process is ongoing, and strengthening his right knee is still a focus.
“It's going to take time,” Westbrook said. “You really kind of got to sit back and think about it. I mean, I don't play basketball for six months. And then I come back. Compared to everybody else, the rehab process is a tough process. It's still a rehab process. Your legs got to get stronger, your body, all your muscles got to get used to working and getting back going. So it's a process, and once you feel like that then you give it a go.”
Westbrook called the current layoff a great week for him to “get my mind and my body right and ready to go for the next game.”
The team's willingness to sit Westbrook, as well as the strategy's apparent effectiveness, makes you wonder whether the Thunder will implement the approach with other players.
It would take a culture change by Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who has spoke often about not sitting players out of respect to the game, the opponent and the fans. Thunder players, Brooks said, also have been young enough to play all 82 games. If rest ever was warranted, Brooks' preferred method was limiting practice sessions.
“I think our team has evolved,” Brooks said when asked about the approach. “I think it's player to player, game to game. It won't happen often. If it does happen, it'll be something that we've put a lot of thought into it. This last one, to me, was a no-brainer. It was an easy decision with Russell going through the process. But if he wasn't going through the process he would have played.”
But with this can of worms now cracked, could it be possible that a player like Kevin Durant, who is averaging 38.5 minutes for the second straight season, also will see some nights off?
“It's something that we will consider. If we need it, we definitely will consider (it),” Brooks said. “It's not something that we're looking into and strategizing with other guys. But with Russell, it's part of the process.”
And part of the process for Westbrook, and now it seems fans, is maintaining patience.
“It's tough,” Westbrook said. “But I realized once I got hurt that's what it was going to take from the get go, just being patient and listening to the training staff and listening to the doctors as well.”