Ronnie Brewer bounced off the Thunder bench, ripped off his warmups and dutifully darted to the scorer’s table.
He was checking in for the first time Wednesday night.
Just 4:44 was left in the ballgame.
The Thunder led the visiting Utah Jazz by 19 points.
“Like I said, coming here is kind of like a gift and a curse,” Brewer said.
This is what it’s come to for Brewer. Mop-up minutes. Garbage-time treatment.
The swingman has been stuck on the bench since arriving from New York in a deadline-day deal. Nobody really knows why, and the few that do, namely Scott Brooks and his staff, aren’t saying. Brewer said Brooks hasn’t provided an explanation. And Brewer’s been in the league long enough to know that on a successful team like the Thunder it’s best to not ask. Thus, that gift but cursed feeling.
“A gift because you’re joining such a great team with great players,” Brewer said. “A curse being that they are such a great team and they’ve been playing so well throughout the whole year that you don’t want to try to come and bring something and mess the chemistry up.”
The Thunder bumped its record to 48-17 after finishing off the Jazz. No matter what happens in Friday’s contest against Orlando, the Thunder is guaranteed to have a better record than last year through 66 games. It’s that fact that leads Brewer to believe there has to be a method to what must feel like Brooks madness. Brewer has played in only five of the nine games that he’s been available since joining the team. In those five games, Brewer has logged 32 minutes, 19 seconds of playing time.
Most are amazed. Brewer is accepting.
“Obviously he’s been doing something right,” Brewer said of Brooks. “I mean, this team is a phenomenal team. Different guys step up every night to play well other than (Kevin Durant) and (Russell Westbrook). When the time comes I just got to be ready.”
That last bit has become a familiar refrain at Thunder headquarters. It’s the message that every non-rotation player — Chris Wilcox, D.J. White, Etan Thomas, Daequan Cook, Nate Robinson and now Brewer – has been forced to buy into during their inexplicable bench stints. It’s what Brooks and GM Sam Presti both sell when things aren’t convenient for players, and it’s a philosophy which Brewer, who has an impeccable reputation as a consummate professional, has adopted.
“As an NBA player, you’ve got to stay ready,” Brewer said. “You got to continue to work in the gym, keep your conditioning up, stay in the weight room, do everything you possibly can to simulate game-like situations on the court practicing. And whenever coach calls my name go out there and be ready. Play as hard as I possibly can. That’s how I try to prepare myself every day.”
Brewer, despite appearing a bit bulkier than his Chicago days, said his conditioning is not a problem. Even after falling out of the Knicks rotation and essentially being benched for 10 weeks now, Brewer said he maintained his dedication to staying in shape. He said he did extra running during the final six weeks he was with the Knicks and did not see consistent playing time. He’d get up extra shots and spend additional time in the weight room, too. Brewer has been forced to do the same in Oklahoma City.
“I’m not playing right now, but you have to be game ready,” Brewer said.
Brewer said the Thunder brain trust told him the reason he was brought in was to add toughness and another defensive-minded player to the mix. That’s precisely what most thought OKC was getting in yet another of the team’s low-risk, high-reward transactions. Joakim Noah, one of Brewer’s former teammates with Chicago, recently summarized Brewer’s impact this way. “He’s somebody who just affects winning in a lot of different ways,” Noah told The Oklahoman.
Seemingly everyone, including Brewer, is left to wonder why then can’t the man get on the court.
“I don’t let it get me down,” Brewer said. “If I don’t play, you can do other things. You can cheer your teammates on. You can tell them things that maybe you see that they don’t see on the court. You got to just do your part and that’s part of being part of a great organization. Everybody has their role and does their part. I just got to be ready and make the most of the opportunity.”