The timetable for All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook’s return from a knee injury remains uncertain as Oklahoma City opens training camp.
General manager Sam Presti said Wednesday during his annual ”state of the franchise” news conference that it would be ”irresponsible” of him to say when Westbrook would be fully cleared medically, but didn’t dispute the notion that Westbrook could miss the season opener Oct. 30 at Utah.
”I wouldn’t say that he will be (ready) and I wouldn’t say that he won’t be,” Presti said. ”We’ve got to see how the next month goes.”
Westbrook tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee when Houston guard Patrick Beverley banged knees with him while Westbrook stopped to call a timeout during Game 2 of the first-round NBA playoff series. Westbrook had surgery April 27.
”He’s on pace, to this point, in the recovery process, but we’re not going to put a specific timetable on his return, simply because it’s just too big of a decision,” Presti said. ”His health is most important, not just for this season, but for many years to come. He’s done an excellent job in showing unbelievable discipline and rigor through the process. We expect him to come back at full strength, but he’s got to finish the rest of the benchmarks.”
Westbrook has had no unexpected setbacks while rehabilitating the knee, Presti said.
”When you’re dealing with rehabilitation, it’s a day-by-day thing, because you’re constantly retraining the body to do things that it has not done for a while,” Presti said.
Westbrook told The Oklahoman this week he is anxious to return and promised that, ”I’m going to come back and be better.” During the 2012-13 regular season, the three-time All-Star averaged 23.2 points (sixth in the NBA), 7.4 assists (seventh), a career-high 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals (ninth).
Westbrook expressed optimism that he’ll be able to quickly return to form, although Presti cautioned that it might take a while.
”Once he gets back on the court … there’s going to be a period of adjustment,” Presti said. ”Any time someone goes through a rehabilitation process, it’s not just a physical thing, but also a skill thing. So there will be some time for him to adjust. The team understands that. The organization understands that. Russell understands that.
”But it falls in line with a lot of what we’re about as an organization, which is, we want to get better on a daily basis. We want to be in a position where we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the season. We’re focused on building those habits early on.”
Without Westbrook, the top-seeded Thunder beat the Rockets in six games but lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the Western Conference semifinals.
Other than the draft, the Thunder made few roster moves during the offseason, trading guard Kevin Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves and signing free-agent forward Ryan Gomes.
The Thunder also released guard DeAndre Liggins after he was arrested Aug. 31 and charged in Oklahoma County District Court with two counts of kidnapping, two counts of domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, three counts of domestic abuse in the presence of a minor and one count of violating a protective order. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Presti expressed confidence that Reggie Jackson – who played well at point guard in Westbrook’s absence during the playoffs – and fellow guard Jeremy Lamb would be able to fill key roles in the absence of Martin, who served as Oklahoma City’s sixth man last season. Those roles, however, remain undefined and Presti said he will leave it to coach Scott Brooks to determine what they will be.
”We’ve always, for us, focused on how we grow, how we improve,” Presti said. ”We’ve never been a huge free-agency team. With that being said, I think that the group that we have is proven, has been together, has been through some ups and downs.”
In the draft, the Thunder picked up center Steven Adams from Pittsburgh, Andre Roberson from Colorado and Grant Jerrett from Arizona. Adams and Roberson have signed and will be at training camp, although Presti said it’s too early to say if they’ll start the season with the Thunder or with the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League.