Kevin Durant will miss the rest of the campaign after undergoing surgery on his foot for a third time this season, and so the Oklahoma City Thunder have now officially become Russell Westbrook’s team.
Durant to undergo season-ending surgery: NBA MVP out again with foot problem.
Durant out indefinitely after setback: OKC star removed from basketball activities.
Westbrook to drag Thunder into playoffs: Point guard is on a mission to get to post-season.
OKC currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a 41-31 record, with their recent good form ensuring that they have opened up a three-game gap over their closest rivals, the New Orleans Pelicans.
In the short-term, Westbrook will be key to their chances of making an impression in the playoffs as the explosive point guard has been on triple-double alert practically every night for the last two months.
While the Thunder should have enough to get themselves into the post-season, a first-round match-up with the Golden State Warriors would have been a tough enough assignment even with a healthy Durant and Serge Ibaka.
Without that star pair, it is highly likely that their season ends early and it will only add to the growing disappointment within the franchise as they continue to fall short of their ultimate goal.
Injuries have certainly been unkind on them, and questions will start to be asked of Durant’s long-term health as his foot is becoming a real worry.
The initial surgery in pre-season was to fix a Jones fracture, while the second procedure was a move to relieve some of the soreness that he was feeling after having a screw inserted into his foot.
That problem never went away hence the third operation, and with such a tricky injury, the Thunder front office will be anxious to see how Durant reacts when he returns in training camp ahead of next season.
There is also the free agency cloud hanging over them as Durant will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016, and it remains to be seen whether or not he opts to re-sign.
Nevertheless, Westbrook will relish the underdog tag and attack each night with his usual ferocious pace as the 26-year-old is averaging 27.3 points, 8.7 assists and 7.1 rebounds per game this season.
While OKC did add quality and depth ahead of the trade deadline last month, it isn’t going to be enough to topple the NBA’s best team in the playoffs and so their concern will likely switch to next season sooner rather than later.
Not only has Westbrook become an unstoppable force for the opposition, but he has grown into more of a leader for the Thunder and has dismissed the notion that he can’t be one of the best point guards in the league.
Naturally, he would have preferred to have Durant alongside him pushing for a championship, but he’s going to have to go it alone and while he has proven that he is up to the task, he hasn’t got enough around him to ensure that OKC will make a splash in the playoffs.