Where to start? (Now THAT is the kind of lede that journalism school professors dream of coaxing out of their students.)
But that’s where Thunder fans are left Friday — not even knowing where to start . Searching. Reeling. Confused. Distraught. Distracted. Hurt. No one knows what to say, or what to do.
It’s safe to assume that a real injury to Russell Westbrook was nowhere on the list of any Thunder fan’s concerns regarding the playoffs this season. Or any season. Personally, I was operating under the assumption that Westbrook was as resilient as a McDonalds cheeseburger. I didn’t think it was possible for him to be hurt enough to miss a game.
Apparently, it’s possible.
So instead of coming up with a nice, coherent column explaining what it means or how Thunder fans should react, I deduced that it’s impossible to do so. At least for me. Instead, here is a random collection of thoughts that have gone through my head since I heard the news.
- This broke in the most “Thunder” fashion possible. Every single bit of earth-shattering news to hit the Thunder landscape has come from out of nowhere, and this is no exception. The Jeff Green trade. The James Harden trade. Now this. Dude played the entire second half with a torn meniscus and looked as lightning-quick as he always does. An off day passed. Then, BOOM. Wow.
- Reggie Jackson just got himself an opportunity to earn a whole bunch of money. We’ll leave the debate on whether that is ultimately good or bad for the Thunder for another day. But he has been a revelation this season. If he is able to provide something for the team close to what Russ has, then this day won’t end up being as black as it seems now, at least for a while, and Jackson will be signing a pretty fat contract in another two summers.
- How much work do you think got done in Oklahoma City offices in the two hours immediately following the trade? I’m guessing not much. Even Gov. Mary Fallin took a timeout to send Westbrook her love.
- I was asked by someone who doesn’t follow the Thunder as closely as most DT devotees out there about who backs up Westbrook after Reggie Jackson. On paper, it’s Derek Fisher. But is it possible that it’s really Kevin Durant? First of all, Fisher has been a point guard in name only in both of his stints with OKC. He only guards slow point guards and usually just stands in the corner on offense to take open 3-pointers. I can’t really imagine anyone but Jackson or Durant will be bringing the ball up and starting the offense for the Thunder as long as the playoff run lasts.
- There has already been a lot of speculation about how long Westbrook will be out. Metta World Peace and Blake Griffin (in college) weren’t out very long after similar injuries (although not THAT similar). But it is definitely just that — speculation. What makes Westbrook unique, first of all, is his blinding athleticism even when compared to other blindingly athletic NBA players, so this injury could affect him more than it might others. But that “touched by God” aspect of his body could also help him heal even faster for all we know. The only thing to be certain of is that the famously tight-lipped Thunder won’t be the source of any light shone on whether or not he can return during these playoffs. We probably won’t know for sure when he’s going to return until we see him on the court someday. Hopefully, that’s in May, and not October.
- I would be surprised if anyone in the Daily Thunder community is among the people who hurled bigoted insults and even death threats to Patrick Beverley on Twitter. Those people are not welcome in this forum, and I’m sure the thoughtful, intelligent and well-meaning commenters — part of what makes this website great — will inform anyone who tries that here in no uncertain terms.
- Assuming Westbrook can’t come back during the conference semifinals — and also assuming, of course, that OKC can still finish off the Rockets — you’ve got to think that the Grizzlies are suddenly the better matchup for the Thunder than the Clippers, right? I think before the Westbrook injury news, most Thunder fans would have liked their chances just a little bit better against the Clippers, despite the presence of Chris Paul. But going into a series against the Clippers without Westbrook as a counter to CP3 is a truly terrifying thought.
- I need to take a moment to apologize to my wife. I’m largely responsible for turning her into a hardcore fan of the Thunder in particular, and also Sooners football. Since that conversion began to take place, here is a partial list of things she has had to go through: Adrian Peterson’s collarbone injury, the Boise State game, Oklahoma State’s ascendency (gross), Sam Bradford’s injuries (one of which was suffered while my wife was in the stands wearing a custom-made “I [heart] Sam” shirt … that I may or may not have been also wearing while seated next to her), 3-29, the Green trade, exposure to Chris “Birdman” Andersen, the Harden trade, losing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of a pivotal game in the Western Conference finals, last year’s NBA Finals heart breaker and now this. And that’s just a partial list. Sure, there have been special (happy) moments in between, but I think we’re going to take up board games soon.
- If the second-best player on your team goes down to an injury, take a minute to thank God that Kevin Durant is the best player on that team. Real talk.
- Back to Reggie Jackson for a second … the more I think about him playing big minutes, the better I actually feel. Seriously. I mean, he’s not Russell Westbrook. But just being Reggie Jackson might be good enough to still keep the Thunder in position to be a serious contender in the West …
- … but not against Miami. Sigh.
- All that talk you hear from the Thunder about being “a defensive team first,” it’s time to make that a reality. There’s no doubt that Westbrook was part of what made OKC such an unstoppable force on offense. But defense relies less than incendiary talent than offense does. The Thunder can stay in games by truly buckling down on defense and playing on a string.
- This is a good time for Thunder fans to remind themselves that the team has some pretty good leadership on the roster. KD and Kendrick Perkins — and Westbrook — are going to do what they can to keep this thing on the rails. Believe that.
- It would be nice, no matter who wins, if the Grizzlies-Clippers series goes to seven games, even if Russ can’t be back for any or all of that series. The more time the team has to adjust to the post-Westbrook reality this postseason, the better.
It’s hard to say what happens next for the Thunder. I think few people doubt OKC will still get past Houston, but that might not happen as quickly as it looked like it was going to happen before the injury news. And certainly, whatever the doctors say following Westbrook’s surgical procedure is not yet known, and will reveal the full extent of this injury and the length of his recovery timetable. Until then, Thunder fans can only wait, and hope for the best as the playoffs continue to unfold.
The thought that’s lingering with me now, though, is that it’s best to keep in mind Westbrook’s signature line when assessing the situation today. Lots of people are asking themselves why this had to happen. But perhaps it’s better to think of it a different way. Don’t ask why it happened. Just look at what the Thunder have left on the roster and in the front office, their leadership and the will to win. When you hear the pundits say the Thunder has no chance now without Russ, keep in mind his words.