Russell Westbrook returned from his knee injury last week, and we’re all very happy to have him back. Russell being on the floor for us means, in a lot of ways, that we have our heartbeat again.
Russell isn’t just a dynamic basketball player statistically; he also has a dynamic presence. There’s no replacing his energy level and his voice, and he just brings a certain brand of toughness, confidence and swagger to our game as a team. I definitely think it’s a big step for us to get him back.
There’s always an adjustment period for a player coming back off of an injury that has had him out for a while. You’re trying to do something that you haven’t done for weeks — or in Russell’s case, that you haven’t done in months.
The reality is: It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. If you have to stop doing that thing for weeks or months, it takes a while for you to get used to doing it again. It takes even longer to do it at an elite or excellent level.
So when you talk about playing professional basketball, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve gone to rehab, run through practice or participated in shootaround. There’s nothing that fully simulates playing the game itself. It takes time to re-adjust, really find that comfort level and get back to an elite All-Star, All-NBA caliber level guy like Russell is when he is at his best.
There’s also an adjustment period for the team. Basketball is a team game, and it takes time to develop certain levels of chemistry, timing and cohesion in the way that you play.
So when you insert a player back into a team’s lineup, particularly one of Russell’s caliber, a lot of things change. People’s roles, the amount of minutes guys are playing, the decision-making as it relates to shot opportunities, who guys are guarding defensively, the way the coach manages personalities — the list goes on and on.
It’s all part of being a team. As long as everybody’s common goal is the same, I think the transition period is short. I think we have what we need to handle it pretty well.
We showed earlier this season that we can manage it pretty seamlessly. We were playing some of our best basketball before Russell had to leave the lineup after Christmas. The 25 regular season games we have left will give us a chance to find that balance and chemistry we’ll need to be at our best by the time we reach the playoffs.