Wearing his uniform — man, it was awesome to see him back in uniform — Russell Westbrook came walking into the tiny room where cameras and reporters waited for him on Thunder media day, plopped down in his chair and flashed a big smile.
“Positive,” Westbrook said when asked what his state of mind is right now. “Positive.”
That’s definitely the spirit and attitude Westbrook gave off during his near 10-minute interview session. Picking up from where he left off post-injury last spring, he was unusually chipper and conversational with the assembled media members, joking, laughing and smiling as he answered questions. He seemed genuinely happy to be speaking with the media. Maybe his knee wasn’t the only thing that was operated on this summer.
But really, it’s probably just because Westbrook can finally see the light at the end of the dark tunnel he’s been in. The first injury of his career, forcing him to watch his team struggle to an unexpected second-round exit. Then surgery, then rehab.
“In the process of rehab you have to be confident that everything is healing as it’s supposed to,” he said.
But the question everyone wants to know: When will he be back?
“Not sure, man. I’m not sure,” Westbrook said. “I just I wake up in the morning, get to my rehab, then go back to sleep and then do it all over again. I just try and take it one day at a time, man. Try not to look ahead. I think when something like this happens, you have to take it slow. There’s no need for me to rush ahead to looking at the schedule or anything like that. Just take it one day at a time and find a way to get back.”
Scott Brooks said Westbrook will practice, but that his workload will likely be limited.
“He will participate in some of our practices, some of the thing we’ve planned out three or four months prior to training camp,” he said. “The last 24 hours he had a little bit of swelling that we will monitor, but that’s pretty common. When you have a surgery, you’re going to have some peaks and valleys.
“We’ve had a plan all along that he’s going to participate in some of the practices, early on in the practice,” Brooks said. “He’s going to continue to do some individual work with Coach Pack.”
As for what he’s been doing, Westbrook said, “On the court, doing some spot shooting, trying to get my rhythm back. The first day of training camp, I’ll be on the floor.”
Westbrook hasn’t had an official timetable since his surgery, but isn’t worried about how long it takes him to get back. He’s just focused on making sure he’s listening to his body and taking his time.
“I don’t know how long the process takes normally. Everybody’s body is different,” he said. “Once people see a certain knee injury, everybody expects three-to-four months or 10 days. But everybody reacts to certain injuries differently. This is my first time ever being hurt and out this long.”
For Westbrook, there remains a little question as to when, but not if. He’ll be back, and the expectation is that he’ll be back if not to start the season, but early in the season. And when he comes back, who will he be? The same old reckless Russell, barreling through the paint like a wrecking ball juiced up on heroin and Red Bull? Will he change the way he plays with this injury in mind?
“Not at all, he said. “Not at all.”
So yeah, sounds like he’s still Russell Westbrook.