Oklahoma City Thunder Should Not Rush the Return of Russell Westbrook

Jared Porter@@JaredPorter_BRCorrespondent IIJanuary 9, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: Russell Westbrook
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook was once known for his durability. He never missed a game throughout high school, college and in the NBA until last postseason. But that trend has suddenly changed after he underwent three knee surgeries since April, and it is in the Thunder's best interest to give him enough time to make a full recovery.

It's hard to keep a guy like Westbrook off the court, however.

He has undying drive and is relentless as a competitor. These traits are great for a professional basketball player, but they could also lead to a rushed rehabilitation process after injury. 

For example, Westbrook had his second arthroscopic knee surgery just before this season's start. The surgery wasn't major; it was simply to repair a loose stitch from the initial surgery. But the timetable for Westbrook's return was supposed to be four to six weeks into the season.

Westbrook only missed the first two games.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - DECEMBER 19: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for the dunk against the Chicago Bulls during an NBA game on December 19, 2013 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User express
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

I'm not saying Westbrook wasn't ready to go. I'm sure in his mind he thought he was perfectly capable of going full speed. His performance didn't reveal any signs of existing injury or pain either. Besides a little rust, he was the explosive, awe-inspiring Westbrook of old.

Everything seemed to be fine until the Thunder's Christmas matchup with the New York Knicks

According to Royce Young on DailyThunder.com, Westbrook had swelling in his knee prior to the game. Since Westbrook claimed to be pain-free, he ended up playing in the game and recorded a triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. 

The very next day, shock ripped its way through the Sooner State when news broke that Westbrook had undergone yet another knee surgery.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti sent out a press release concerning the situation (hat tip to DailyThunder.com for the quote):

Russell has been playing pain free, but recently had experienced increased swelling. After consultation and consideration by his surgeon in Los Angeles, a plan was established to monitor the swelling that included a series of scheduled MRIs. On the most recent MRI it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place. We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate.

After Westbrook's recent surgery, his timetable for return is sometime after the All-Star break. But just like the beginning of this season, Westbrook seems to be eyeing a quicker comeback. 

Just a couple weeks out of surgery, Westbrook is off his crutches, walking normally and even participating in light pregame warm-ups with the team, via Young and Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman

After his latest knee surgery, Russell Westbrook says he still pays no attention to the team's recovery timeline: http://t.co/r1z70dUp6B

— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) January 5, 2014

Via @talkhoops, Russell Westbrook warmed up a little on the court pregame: http://t.co/4dPmQJWdTm

— Royce Young (@royceyoung) January 5, 2014

The assumption can be drawn that Westbrook intends to make his comeback earlier than the Thunder's given timetable. And while the Thunder are certainly a far, far better team with him on the floor, is it worth the risk?

At this point, Westbrook's health should be the main concern. Three surgeries within a year on the same knee is not something to overlook. He is going to try to come back early because he is Russell Westbrook. He lives for the game, and he can't stand being kept from playing.

But in the end, the decision is up to Thunder management. If we're talking about what's best for both Westbrook and the team in the long run, then Presti needs to give him enough time to fully recover.

The Thunder will struggle in Westbrook's absence, but it doesn't mean they are throwing their season away if they keep Westbrook from playing until after the All-Star break.

If Westbrook is given the time he needs to make a full recovery, then the Thunder will be a better team because of it come playoff time, and a title run in June would overshadow Westbrook's injury anyways when it is all said and done.  

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