When the best possible news is also, still, the worst possible news: Serge Ibaka’s right knee has no structural damage, but the Oklahoma City Thunder forward will also miss four-to-six weeks after a undergoing arthroscopic surgery on a knee that has been bugging him all season.
The Thunder, and general manager Sam Presti, announced as much in a press release on Tuesday:
“After monitoring the soreness in Serge’s knee and having taken several intermediate steps to assess and manage the discomfort, it was determined that the necessary next step in the evaluation was to see a specialist to discuss options to help alleviate the soreness and swelling he had been experiencing,” said Presti. “During the consultation with Dr. David Altchek, his recommendation, in agreement with Thunder medical personnel, Serge and his representatives, was for Serge to have arthroscopic surgery to remedy the problematic area.”
This means there is no worrying meniscus tear, and no major ligament or tendon tear. Ibaka will not have to undergo massive microfracture surgery or any sort of reconstruction of his knee. This is all good news in relative terms, considering the frightening half-empty guesswork we were all forced into after it was announced that Ibaka would under go a procedure on Monday.
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He’ll still be out four to six weeks, though. With the playoffs tipping off on April 18, some four weeks and four days from today. Even if Ibaka were to return after four weeks on the dot, he would miss all but one of Oklahoma City’s remaining regular season games, and likely be more than a little gimpy during the first round. It’s true that there was nothing to repair in Ibaka’s balky right knee, the operation just dealt with the soreness that has been plaguing him, but it’s more than possible that he won’t be at 100 percent until 2015-16 tips off, even if the Thunder make a long playoff run.
Of course, any sort of playoff run or even playoff appearance is hardly a guarantee at this point.
The Thunder are currently a half-game up on the New Orleans Pelicans in the race for the final playoff seed in the West, and the Pelicans hold the tie-breaker should they finish with identical records. Considered a championship contender entering 2014-15, the Thunder have struggled relative to those expectations, as reigning MVP Kevin Durant (40 contests) and Russell Westbrook (15 games) have missed significant time. Ibaka had missed just three games this year prior to this diagnosis.
OKC was one of the big winners at the NBA trade deadline, securing depth through several trades – most notably in the form of offensive-minded center Enes Kanter. In February, the talented big man joined with Ibaka, Steven Adams, Nick Collison, young athlete Mitch McGary and sometimes Durant to form quite possibly the NBA’s deepest backcourt.
On paper, adding a young center that could come right in to average 16 points and 11 rebounds in only 30 minutes of play, for just about any price (much less a middling future first-round pick) seems like a steal, but Kanter’s defensive woes have carried over from his time at Utah. Even when paired with Ibaka, the Thunder defend terribly with Kanter on the court, and the removal of one of the NBA’s great rim protectors and shot blockers won’t help in the slightest.
Worse, Kevin Durant has yet to establish a timetable for his return from a second surgery to repair a frightening foot fracture.
It’s true that this is still around ...
With Ibaka and Durant off the floor, Westbrook is averaging 36.7-8.1-7.7 per-36. This is gonna be interesting.
— Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS) March 17, 2015
... but the Thunder haven’t done well to consistently win with Russell Westbrook going off, in ways that aren’t the fault of RW.
Ten of the Thunder’s remaining 15 games will come against teams either in or tied for a spot in the playoff bracket. They’ll also take on a lottery-bound Utah Jazz team that has easily been the best defensive team in the NBA in the wake of the Kanter trade. They’re enjoying a half-game cushion entering New Orleans’ Tuesday night battle with the Milwaukee Bucks, and rotations featuring Kanter, Adams (who has started alongside Kanter for the last two Ibaka-less games), Collison and McGary should provide options, this will be a tough road to the postseason.
And then an offseason, clouded by Kevin Durant’s 2016 free agency and the looming presence of a luxury tax the Thunder owners have never paid, to worry about after that.
The best possible news is some bad, bad news.
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