As so ominously put by NBA injury analyst and certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts in his report on the Durant injury, The inherent risk for re-injury is particularly high, and surgery can’t guarantee anything.
Yet along the way, and as a result of all these unwelcome realities in their world, Oklahoma City has become Silver Lining Central out of sheer necessity. Cue Thunder general manager Sam Presti on Sunday, when he had his latest déjà-vu moment with the media to explain what the latest injury means and found himself channeling Ernest Hemingway.
Forget your personal tragedy, Presti said.
And remember the ones who remain.
Westbrook, above all the rest, will have his best chance yet to evolve and flourish in ways that Durant did last season when the tables were turned (the Thunder were 19-7 with Durant leading the way without Westbrook when he was recovering from right knee surgery).
It could be a trigger-happy hot mess, with Westbrook firing away to such a degree that the Thunder are even more imbalanced offensively than before as they slide down the Western Conference standings. Or perhaps Westbrook will be a galvanizing force here, finding a way to elevate the games of role players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones in such a way that the whole is even better than the sum of its parts when Durant finally returns.
But make no mistake, this is a devastating blow for the Thunder. As Durant replacements go, the gap between the Slim Reaper, as some have deemed him, and the inexperienced Perry Jones is extraordinarily wide. Veteran small forward Caron Butler left via free agency over the summer (signing with the Detroit Pistons), leaving coach Scott Brooks to no doubt consider all options now (perhaps granting Jackson’s wishes of being a starter or going super-small with Lamb, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, also in the starting lineup).
What’s more, the brutal Western Conference waits for no one. Last season, five games separated the second-seeded Thunder and the fifth-seed Portland Trail Blazers. This season is no different, with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs still as strong as ever and teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors poised to take their next step. The still-formidable Memphis Grizzlies, the more-experienced Trail Blazers, the remodeled Dallas Mavericks, on down the line.
Even the Dwight Howard-James Harden Houston Rockets, who lost the likes of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik during their disappointing offseason, would appear to have the edge on this Thunder team that has never known life without Durant before.
Another serious setback, indeed.
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