Everyone was expecting the Oklahoma City Thunder to be competitive in the Western Conference and potentially contend for an NBA Championship this season, even with the departure of Kevin Martin this summer. After all, they were still going to be led by two of the league’s best in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
However, they are going to be without Westbrook for much longer than expected. While it was originally expected that Westbrook could miss some of training camp, but should be good to go when the regular season got underway, that’s no longer the case.
The Thunder sent out an official release, as reported by Daily Thunder, Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his already surgically repaired knee to “alleviate swelling” and pain. This most recent surgery will put Westbrook out for four-to-six weeks of the regular season, putting his potential return date somewhere around mid-to-late December, but that also doesn’t take into account him getting back into shape and into peak form.
With Westbrook out, this dramatically changes the Thunder’s outlook for the season, not just the start of the season. Obviously the Thunder will struggle without Westbrook, who is a huge part of everything that they do. As if OKC’s performance without Westbrook in last year’s postseason isn’t enough evidence, the Thunder were also 5.7 points per 100 possessions worse without Westbrook on the floor during the regular season last year.
Looking at how the team will be affected long-term, though, Westbrook being out will certainly dampen any title hopes or aspirations of making the Finals that this team had.
There’s no question that a lot of teams in the West improved this summer, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors being two prime examples. With the Thunder taking a step back to start the season, that could really affect their seeding in the playoffs if they are trying to play catch-up in the standings. Potentially, OKC could actually end up without home-court advantage in the first round. Instead of getting to play games one and two in front of their raucous home crowd, this team could be playing those games in a place like ORACLE Arena, which is an enormous difference.
Perhaps Reggie Jackson will make a leap this season and maybe Jeremy Lamb will surprise everyone and fit beautifully in as the team’s new sixth man on the wing. However, those two things aren’t certainties and could go in the opposite direction. Essentially, this surgery for Westbrook definitely places a lot about the Thunder’s season in limbo.
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