Photo from Barbara.K via Flickr
In a startling awakening from typical training camp jubilance, in a land typically reserved for 15 pounds of gained muscle and a commitment to a faster pace, comes the young, plaintive cry of a young, all-world knee:
The team announced that Westbrook needed the operation after experiencing swelling in his right knee, which he injured during last season’s playoffs.
The three-time All-Star had surgery on the same knee April 27 to repair a torn lateral meniscus.”
There will be plenty of time for implications, and plenty of implications for quite some time. Such is the case whenever any team loses one of the 10 best players in the world for a stretch that could amount to a quarter of the season. The Thunder, fresh off losing their third leading scorer in the offseason, with a backcourt that now consists of two young guards with three years of combined experience, a limited role player in Thabo Sefolosha, and whatever the hell Derek Fisher is called nowadays, seem unlikely to prove the exception to the rule. Much like last playoffs, Russell Westbrook being out is a deadly blow, and the effects should quickly thunder down Oklahoma City’s roster (no pun intended).
Kevin Durant, employer of a meticulous, if not reluctant, shooting regimen, will once again be thrust into an even larger offensive role, and may not be able to afford discretion with his shot attempts. Serge Ibaka was already lambasted for his inability to create his own shot without Westbrook at the helm last playoffs, and now, with Kevin Martin in a Wolves jersey, could follow up those struggles by becoming the team’s secondary scoring option by default. Martin’s absence already required some development from Jackson and Lamb, and now whatever margin of error left has been scorched by the fire the two will subsequently be baptized with. Scott Brooks, a coach who has drawn increasingly loud criticism for his unimaginative offensive schemes, now has one less focal point to re-jigger around. And so on, and so forth.
But those burning questions are not going away. We have almost a full month to ponder the consequences of Westbrook’s second surgery in 6 months coming on the heels of what was, before a smidgeon of misplaced Patrick Beverley hustle, a historic bill of health. Instead of instinctively promoting the Spurs or the Clippers to the West’s top spot, or wondering if a Thunder slide down the dense Western standings could create a nightmare matchup for a hapless 5th seed, let us pause to note how depressing a world where Russell Westbrook doesn’t play basketball is.
Westbrook is part of an elite new Pantheon of NBA superstars, graceful Adonises that somehow balance power and skill. The term freight train may be reserved for LeBron James fast breaks, but Russ, with the ball glued to his mitts and uninterrupted hardwood at his disposal, serves as a breathtaking simile. It’s a violent brand of athletics, visceral and emotive, demanding our reaction while remaining apathetic to it. Elsewhere, Westbrook uses a screen to rise for a mid-range jumper, or splits two defenders en route to a gliding layup, similarly awe-inspiring yet opposite in nature. He’s far from a perfect basketball player – few ever are – but glancing at his abilities it’s hard to convince yourself why he couldn’t eventually become one. Everything he lacks is acquirable, and everything that must be bestowed upon you has been.
That idea is, of course, unattainable – basketball careers, much like most other things, do not reach perfection because the odds are too high against it. But something about Westbrook as the unassailable, impenetrable beast made it feel possible. A power forward’s soul is misplaced at birth in a point guard’s body, spoiling him with an inability to get hurt, dooming him to a life of striving for unattainable perfection – it’s an almost mythological concept.
Westbrook is strong enough and 2013 sports medicine is good enough for him to return to his Westbrookian ways – any Penny Hardaway comparisons are eerie and premature. But beyond missing out on 4 to 6 weeks of enjoyable highlights, a delayed start to the season takes away from that mythology. And while we know mythology isn’t real – even before Westbrook went out the first time – we don’t like being reminded of it.