First Impressions Of Thunder Camp
The first question posed to Thunder coach Scott Brooks as the 2011-12 season officially began Friday couldn’t have been better.
“Who’s starting, James Harden or Thabo Sefolosha?”
Unfortunately, the question we all want to know the answer to was posed in a playful manner, allowing Brooks to send a return volley of “next question, please.”
What a shame.
Brooks, however, wasn’t likely to answer at this point even if it had been a serious inquiry. It’s a mystery and perhaps will continue to be until Dec. 17, the day before the Thunder opens the preseason at Dallas — if we’re lucky. Brooks might just hold onto the answer until his roster must be submitted an hour and a half prior to tip-off against the Mavs. Oh well.
But it was good to be back! Back for the 2011-12 season. Back for a season that has high hopes and great expectations. Back for our first look at the league’s newest training facility that now serves as the headquarters for Thunder basketball.
Though the media still has yet to see the ins and outs of the facility, I can tell you just from walking into the gym for the first time tonight that it was taxpayer money well spent. The thing is just stunning, complete with all the bells and whistles you could ever dream of. And the players were clearly appreciative, if not still in awe.
“This is probably the best one in all of sports,” said All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. “You can pretty much sleep here if you want. They did a good job of giving us everything we want.”
A media tour of the facility is planned for a later date, so stay tuned for much more on this puppy. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything about the public getting a tour. Sorry, Thunder heads. But rest assured that’s not a common practice done throughout the league, even if it is the taxpayers who paid for it. Just know that the franchise has been given the best to be the best.
It was an odd first day. All the media got to see today was the team shoot free throws, which really is nothing new. But it had that fresh, first-day-of-school feeling that can be so telling. Just seeing (and really studying) everyone again after the better part of six long months can be an enlightening exercise in and of itself.
As I wrote for Saturday’s paper, everybody came into camp in shape. That really was the most important thing to hear on the first day. After a 149-day lockout, the last thing the Thunder needed was for players to return for a shortened season overweight and out of shape. But Brooks gladly reported that none of his guys grew lazy during the lockout.
“They’re all in good shape,” Brooks said. “That says a lot about the character of our players…I think the guys are really committed to improving; to getting better. It started off with how they came back, and they came back in good shape.”
Kendrick Perkins gets the award for the biggest transformation. Homeboy is slim, which you can clearly see here. Royal Ivey is probably a close second. Both have shed pounds and appear to have gotten their bodies into tremendous shape.
Today wasn’t the day for actual analysis on whose game is different and how. But that day will soon come. There’s seven days of practice remaining (Brooks is giving the team a day off at some point) before the first preseason game, and a few two-a-days will be thrown in the mix. It’s not much time for a whole lot, but Brooks vowed his boys will be ready.
“We are going to be prepared,” Brooks assured. “We have to be intelligent with our rest, with our time and with our practice plans. And our guys understand that. They’ve been together for a while, and we have a very mature young team.”
Now, let’s get to some nuggets from my notebook.
- The biggest news of the day was Daequan Cook re-signing, agreeing to a two-year deal worth $6.5million.A couple of thoughts: 1) That’s an average salary of roughly $123,000 more than Cook would have made on his one-year qualifying offer. I’d say that’s a heck of a signing. 2) This signing was absolutely essential. Cook is only 24 years old and has proven himself capable of canning 3-pointers in limited minutes if need be. How many guys around the league can come off the bench and do what he does? Not many. 3) The deal is for the perfect length. One year might have insulted Cook and caused him to look elsewhere even though he clearly wanted to be here. And three years would have run into the first year of extensions for Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
- Here’s what Kevin Durant said about Cook coming back: “To have him back on our team was big. His role for us last year kind of grew toward the end of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing that progress and build on that coming into this year.”
- And here’s what Cook tweeted about the deal shortly after it was announced by the team late Friday night: “It’s official tweeps Re-Signed a 2yr ext. with the Thunder tonight. So back in business I am. Feels good to still be in the “Thunder Family”
- Cook did not practice today because the deal had not been finalized by the league. Same with 24th overall pick Reggie Jackson, whose rookie scale deal needs to be OK’d by the league office. Cook will be in camp Saturday. It’s still unclear when Jackson will report.
- Russell Westbrook wasn’t quite sure when the lockout would end. “It feels good to get back on the floor,” Westbrook said. “I didn’t know when it would be, whether it was this year or next year. But I’m happy to be back on the floor and I’m looking forward to the season.”
- Durant, who two summers ago boldly predicted the Thunder would make the playoffs, didn’t bite this time when I asked what the goal is for this season. “Just take it a day at a time and get better every time we step on the floor. You know me,” Durant said.
- Several media members marveled at how Durant looks bigger throughout and especially in his upper body. (I’m not sure I saw it.) KD said he’s now about 235 pounds, which is five pounds more than his listed weight last season and 20 pounds more than when he first entered the league. “I’m still skinny, but I feel a little bigger,” Durant said.
- Although Royal Ivey has said Westbrook looks thicker, Westbrook said he hasn’t added much weight. “I just stayed lifting and stayed consistent. That’s about it.”
- Everybody agreed Perk looks much different and has gotten healthier. Said Westbrook: “He’s in great shape. He’s moving quicker. He did a great job in the summertime.” Said KD: “I expect a lot out of him. He feels good. He feels confident in his knees and his conditioning and his weight. I’m behind him 100 percent.”
- If Westbrook really does have a fine-tuned shooting stroke, he wasn’t in the mood to brag about it when I asked Friday. “I was just going in every day staying consistent trying to patent down my shots and just trying to get ready,” he said.
- KD on the new facility: “It’s a blessing, man, to have such great resources here. They make us better players. They care so much about our progression as players. It’s a big-time facility.”
- KD on the league making the rip move a point of emphasis: “I heard it’s still a foul, but not a shooting foul. I didn’t get it last year as much as I did the year before. But it’s changes you got to make. That’s what being a pro is all about. Hopefully in the bonus I can get me one of those and still get to the free throw line.” When asked if he will start his shooting motion higher to try to continue getting calls Durant said “I might just have to get rid of it.”
- KD on his new Nike commercial: “Everybody said they like that commercial. It’s good for the game of basketball, I guess, and it shows kind of what my summer was like; going around playing everywhere and just having fun.”
- Scott Brooks laid out a couple of areas of focus for this season. “We want to defend the basketball much better,” Brooks said. “We want to defend the paint much better…We made some improvements, but we have to continue to focus on making another jump…Offensively, it’s so important for our guys to really pass the ball. We’re a very good scoring team, but we can improve how we score.”
More after practice on Saturday. How good does that sound?
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