Reserve center Cole Aldrich was the only player to arrive at the Thunder's new practice facility Thursday, which was the first day NBA players were allowed to use team facilities since the 149-day lockout began July 1.
Aldrich attended classes at the University of Kansas and has “been working out tirelessly every day” with teammate and fellow KU product Nick Collison “doing the same stuff that we had been doing during the season … It's good having a guy like that to work out with.”
Selected No. 11 in last year's draft, the 6-foot-11, 245-pound Aldrich saw limited action with the Thunder as a rookie, playing 141 minutes in 18 games. He excelled during his three assignments with the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Developmental League.
“Everybody individually has something in the back of their mind to improve on,” said Aldrich, who is expected to split time with Nazr Mohammed as a backup to starting center Kendrick Perkins this season. “I need to continue to work offensively, and defensively is always a key aspect of our team. Those things I talked about on the way out with the coaching staff (during exit interviews last May) are always essential.”
Aldrich said Thursday was the first time he has stepped inside the $14 million practice facility at 9600 N. Oklahoma Ave., just east of the Broadway Extension and Britton Road.
“This place is unreal,” Aldrich said during a midafternoon interview session with a handful of reporters. “It has everything you would ever want as an athlete. It's a blessing to have a place like this because this is a facility that makes you get better.”
The Thunder also will play their home games inside refurbished and renamed Chesapeake Energy Arena (formerly the Ford Center).
“That for us the biggest thing,” Aldrich said of playing in front of Thunder fans again. “The fans take the hardest hit (during a lockout) because they never have a say in it, but we are coming back and going to have a lot of fun again.”
Pending ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement, NBA teams are not permitted to reveal when players are expected to arrive. Players are allowed to talk with media if they choose, however.
Members of the Thunder coaching staff and front office personnel are not allowed to supervise or observe any workout sessions until training camp officially opens, which is scheduled for Dec. 9.
Players must sign a waiver before working out in the facility. Team athletic trainers and strength coaches can coordinate with players for weight training and conditioning workouts.
No one else can watch the workouts, except for public relations personnel who are there to facilitate media.
It is anticipated most Thunder players will arrive within the next 3-4 days and participate in voluntary workouts at the practice facility. Thunder players supervised their own voluntary workout sessions on two occasions during the lockout – one in Austin, Texas; the other in Lexington, Ky.
Aldrich acknowledged the excitement of returning to work as one of the league's top teams on the heels of last year's Western Conference Finals loss against the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks.
“I think it's great,” Aldrich said. “I've talked to Kevin (Durant) and all the guys on the team and we are excited. We are all excited to get back together on the court. This is what we love doing and this is our job. It's always fun to get with the team and to work again.”
WHERE YOU AT?
According to messages on their Twitter accounts, here are the latest posts from Thunder players who had yet to arrive in Oklahoma City as of early Thursday evening:
Kevin Durant: Still mad he lost to LeBron James' team in flag football.
Russell Westbrook: Watched Cal State-Northridge sophomore point guard Aqeel Quinn play against Cal State-Bakersfield on Wednesday night.
Serge Ibaka: In Milan, Italy.
Thabo Sefolosha: Played final game in Turkey and thanked the fans.
James Harden: Worked out at Cycle House in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
Nick Collison: Getting a haircut. Whereabouts unknown.
Nazr Mohammed: Worked out at Legacy Fit in Miami.
Eric Maynor: “In a great mood” after a workout. Plans to return to Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
Daequan Cook: Revealed he has not shaved in at least one month. #NoShaveNovember.
Byron Mullens: Did a “killer pool workout” at theDobo of Columbus in Ohio.
Nate Robinson: Played in pickup game with Atlanta Hawks guard and fellow Seattle native Jamal Crawford.
Reggie Jackson: Packed his bags for OKC.
Royal Ivey: Last tweet was seven days ago, when he was celebrating Texas football victory over Texas A&M.
No active Twitter account was found for Kendrick Perkins.
CHRISTMAS GIFT UNWRAPPED?
An NBA official said “there is a chance” the league's entire Christmas Day schedule would be released Friday.
Three original matchups already have been confirmed for Dec. 25, which will serve as opening day for the 66-game schedule – Celtics at the Knicks; Heat at the Mavericks; Bulls at the Lakers.
Reports continue to circulate claiming the Thunder will either play the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 p.m. on ESPN (site unknown), or play the Orlando Magic at Chesapeake Energy Arena, also at 7 p.m.
The fifth Christmas Day game reportedly will be the Los Angeles Clippers at the Golden State Warriors.
The entire 2011-12 schedule is not expected to be released until early next week.