Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose are two of the most violent, slashing point guards in the game. Their abrupt cutting abilities, quick movements and explosive leaping abilities are what separate them from the pack. However, the recent string of curious injuries makes you wonder if it is also making them susceptible to knee injuries.
On Friday afternoon, the Oklahoma City Thunder announced that Russell Westbrook would be going under the knife for the third time on the right knee he originally injured, after Patrick Beverley crashed into it during Game 2 of the first round playoff series between Houston and Oklahoma City last April. This injury is expected to keep him out of a Thunder uniform through the All-Star break. The news of his third arthroscopic surgery was just as much of a surprise as his first one was to everyone outside the organization.
“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.” General manager Sam Presti said during his Friday news conference without addressing Beverley by name.
Reportedly, Westbrook was playing pain-free when he re-experienced swelling and an MRI revealed an area of concern that previously wasn't detectable. Surgeons won't just be draining his knee. Instead, they'll have to repair what is causing this biological reaction. Whether this injury is chronic or acute is out of their control.
There are two sides of the "shock absorbing" meniscus and Westbrook's previous two injuries were to the lateral side, which is under greater stress than the medial sides. According to Fox Sports 1 medical expert Dr. Robert Klapper, another key finding at Westbrook's surgery will be if they are dealing with new pathology or further issues of meniscus repair.
Westbrook's frequent aggravations of his previously torn meniscus gives critics of the James Harden trade another reason to cry out. "None of this happens if they don't trade Harden," is what they'll say. "Patrick Beverley would have been sitting at home watching the playoffs from some beach in Florida," is what they're muttering. Kevin Martin averaging 20 points a game in Minnesota compounds the pain of the Harden phantom limb.
Yet, the Thunder franchise’s ability to manage with Westbrook out proves just how superior their management structure is to the Chicago Bulls. Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are spiraling into the Eastern Conference standings cellar.
In the meantime, Reggie Jackson, the understudy will have to keep the Thunder's ship on course with plays like the thunderous jam he threw over Amar'e Stoudemire on Christmas Day.
Jackson has developed into a solid replacement for Eric Maynor and Derek Fisher as Westbrook's backup while averaging career-highs in assists (3.5) and points (12.5), but he'll have to raise his game for the next two months against starters. Westbrook's 21.5 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 33 minutes per game will be sorely missed.
In 2013, the limits of the bodies of athetes reached their breaking points. After years of pushing the limits, RGIII, Westbrook, Rose and Bryant succumbed to aggravating knee injuries or never returned to full-strength after undergoing high-tech, intense, but abbreviated rehabs. Following his first arthroscopic surgery on Oct. 1, Westbrook returned after two games instead of his missing the prescribed four to six weeks.
Nevertheless, until Russell Westbrook returns to the floor, and remains consistently healthy, the Thunder's future will be in more peril than an ice sculpture under the beating sun.
Presti was quoted earlier this month in a press conference waxing philosophically about the franchise’s direction saying, “The cement is not dry for the identity of the Thunder.” He was referring to keeping the Thunder in a static formation so that they could respond to challenges that arose unexpectedly.
A more appropriate analogy may be waiting for the bones and ligaments of the Thunder organization to rejuvenate. Presti is one of the brightest small market front office executives in the entire league. Two summers ago, it appeared frequent trips to the NBA Finals were in Oklahoma City's future. Whether they return depends on how Westbrook's responds mentally and physically to a random act of fate. Presti can control salary negotiations, draft picks, trade executions and the coaching staff, but Westbrook's fate is out of his hands.