Russell Westbrook isn't making any promises about when he'll be back on the basketball court.
But the All-Star point guard does offer something of a guarantee for whenever that day might be.
“I'm going to come back and be better,” Westbrook said matter-of-factly Monday, with the same unshakable swagger he's always shown.
As excitement builds over Saturday's start to training camp, Westbrook is eagerly anticipating his long-awaited return from the knee injury that cut short his 2013 postseason.
Westbrook has not yet been cleared to resume full basketball activities, and neither he nor team officials are providing a timetable for when that final obstacle will be overcome.
“We expect him to take part in parts of camp and work his way through different parts until he's ultimately cleared for unrestricted activity,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “But it's all going to be contingent upon how his body reacts to the additional load that he'll be carrying.”
Westbrook spent much of his summer months preparing his body for a comeback. He remained in Oklahoma City for long stretches, at the team's training facility with a singular focus — strengthening his leg. When he traveled he journeyed with training partners or made appointments with physical therapists.
“I tried taking it one day at a time and not (worry about) the timetable,” Westbrook said. “Just take it one day at a time and try to find a way to strengthen myself and make sure I'm ready to go when it's time.”
For now, Westbrook sounds confident about all the questions he'll undoubtedly face in his return.
When asked about regaining his rhythm after such a long layoff (he was injured April 24), Westbrook said bouncing back from this setback is no different from any other.
“That's just part of rehab,” Westbrook said. “You have an injury. Whenever you twist your ankle or anything minor you still need to find a way to keep your rhythm and gain your rhythm back.”
When asked about his confidence, specifically whether his belief in his abilities will need to be restored, Westbrook didn't hesitate.
“I'll always have confidence,” he said. “I never lose confidence in myself or my ability to do whatever. The organization has been doing a great job of helping me through the rehab process so I'm confident and I'll be confident enough in my leg to do whatever I need to do.”
As for what is perhaps the biggest question, his playing style, Westbrook nearly scoffed at the idea that it might be different. His retort: “not at all.”
“Every season I try to come back and be a better player,” Westbrook said. “This season should be no different. I should try to come back and be a better player, better teammate and come back and try to win.”
Still, for as confident as Westbrook sounds, both he and the team knows this recovery will take time. The organization, historically cautious with injuries, is again playing it safe with Westbrook. The team wants to make sure Westbrook is healthy not just to start the season but also maintains that health throughout the season and throughout his career.
“When he returns to play, he's not returning to play for that specific day, he's returning to play at a level for a very, very long time,” Presti said. “And we want to make sure that the process is reflective of how serious we were taking his return to the court.”
Westbrook, who was forced to watch the Thunder's final nine playoff games from either a suite inside Chesapeake Energy Arena or his couch, said his motivation throughout rehab was simple.
“I want to get back on the floor,” Westbrook said. “I see my teammates out there and want to go out there and help them. It was tough watching them in the playoffs, and it was tough for me getting down to business in the summer on my rehab. It's just buckling down and taking it one day at a time. I come in every morning and do what I need to do and just think about the next day after that. That's just the process of wanting to get better, wanting to get stronger and wanting to come back better.”
Now, Westbrook is weeks away from his long-awaited return.
“I'll probably be a little overhyped,” Westbrook said of his first game back. “I can't wait to get back on the floor, especially in front of our fans. It'd be almost like my first game when I was a rookie.”