As the Oklahoma City Thunder held their first practice in Orlando, Florida, on Friday, they had a familiar face joining them on the floor for the first time in almost a year: guard Andre Roberson.
It’s been two and a half years since Roberson has played in an actual game, but he participated in the Thunder’s opening practice, which included contact and going up and down the floor in 5-on-5.
“He looked really, really good in terms of the way he was moving,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It was great to see him out there. I was really happy for him. But like we’ve talked about in the past, we’ll see how he can continue to build up and develop here over the next week, but he was out there today and he participated in everything.”
Roberson ruptured his patellar tendon in his left knee in January 2018 while elevating to catch a lob on a backdoor cut. His initial timetable had him set to return in November 2018, but he had a setback when a loose suture caused irritation and required an additional surgery. He was progressing toward a return six weeks later, but then had another setback, suffering an avulsion fracture in his knee after coming down from a jump. Following the second setback, which included a timetable of six weeks, Roberson made progress toward a return but never got back on the court that season.
He entered the 2019-20 season optimistic about playing, saying he was “full go” the day before training camp opened, although he didn’t participate in the Thunder’s first practice of the season. He continued to rehab, ramping up his activity and then ramping back down as discomfort in his knee persisted, eventually taking a step away from the team entirely in December to continue his rehab individually in Los Angeles.
But now, after battling through adversity both mentally and physically in a grueling comeback, Roberson appears on track to make a return to the court.
“Man, it’s the best thing ever,” Chris Paul said. “I used to have to fry Dre back in the day when I was on another team and he was the stopper for the Thunder.”
Roberson was a staple starter for the Thunder for four seasons, establishing himself as one of the league’s premier defenders. Prior to his injury in 2018, he was garnering growing buzz about being named Defensive Player of the Year. Roberson is known for his team-first mentality and has remained a strong presence in the Thunder organization despite his time away from the game, mentoring younger defenders such as Terrance Ferguson and Luguentz Dort.
“Since I’ve been here, even before I actually played a game, I did a movie release out in L.A. and Dre came,” Paul said. “So when I talk about a guy being a consummate teammate, for a guy to go through all the things that’s he’s been through, and me to get back to Oklahoma during the [hiatus] and see he was out on the court working, and to actually play, I’m so happy for him. He’s had some of the toughest times that people wouldn’t even know. Unbelievably happy to see him out there playing and practicing.”
It’s unclear where Roberson might fit in a potential Thunder rotation, or if he can return to the top-level defensive form he once had, but his size and length make him an available option at a number of different positions.
“He’s doing great. I thought he had a great time off, and he was able to work a lot on rehabbing his knee,” Danilo Gallinari said. “He looks great, and I’m very happy to see him back because I know what it means to be out that long with that injury, so to see him back and the joy and energy he brings to the team, it’s great to see.”
Roberson, 28, holds career averages of 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.