Thunder coach Scott Brooks revealed after Tuesday's practice that third-year center Cole Aldrich will start in place of starter Kendrick Perkins in the team's preseason opener Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets in Hidalgo, Texas.
Perkins is still recovering from offseason surgery on his left wrist and is not expected to play until late in the preseason, if at all.
However, Brooks said he has yet to decide who will start at shooting guard in place of Thabo Sefolosha, who is recovering from a thigh bruise. It's likely that Daequan Cook will replace Sefolosha, as he did for 22 starts last season when Sefolosha had a foot injury. This would allow Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to spend time with the second unit and point guard Eric Maynor, who is returning from season-ending knee surgery.
It's envisioned that 17 of the 19 players at training camp will suit up for the Thunder, with Perkins and Sefolosha being the exceptions. Newcomers to this year's roster are centers Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton, forwards Perry Jones III and Hollis Thompson, plus guards Andy Rautins, DeAndre Liggins and Walker Russell.
Aldrich, Thabeet and Orton are expected to share time at center, while Maynor and Reggie Jackson split time at backup point guard.
“I think everybody's going to get an opportunity,” Brooks said. “Our starters are not going to play heavy minutes. I can't imagine those guys playing over 16 to 18 minutes, but maybe right at that number. … It's a great time for them to get out there and show what they can do and how they do it within a team concept, but there are only so many minutes you can play within a game.”
The Thunder plays at Utah on Friday night.
Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson was the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Champions of Health gala at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum on Monday night and shared his thoughts on the Thunder.
“I'm predicting that in three years — by 2016 — if the Thunder has not won a championship in three years, then they have disappointed all of us, including myself,” Johnson said. “They're supposed to win one in the next three years, whether that's this season, next season or the year after that. They're too good. I know the organization, that's their goal. They have the talent. They have the coach. Everything is in place. Now it's up to them to just get it done. No, it won't be easy. But when you've got that talent, that's the main thing, you have to get that talent and they have it, both inside and outside, they're going to be good.”
Brooks on Johnson's prediction: “I don't look at the word ‘disappointment' as part of it. We're no different that any other team in this league. We work hard to put ourselves in a position to win a championship and we feel like we've done that throughout the years and last year we came close. We definitely are going to give every effort and energy toward winning the championship, but we don't talk about it. We don't put it on the chalkboard or in halftime speeches. We just talk about doing what we have to do to get better and win games, and I think we've done a good job as an organization of putting ourselves in a position of competing for championships.”
Three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, who is entering his sixth season in the league, hasn't changed his approach for several seasons now.
“I'm just trying to focus on one day at a time,” Durant said. “That (winning the title) is so far down the line. It's easy for guys outside the circle looking in to think that far down the line. But us, we're just taking it one day at a time. Of course we want to get there. Of course that's every team's goal, especially ours. But we know it's going to take a process. We can't get bored with it. We've just got to take it a day at a time, see where we're at.”
FACING THE ODDS
Sports website Bovada.lv has posted its NBA odds on who will win the NBA title and the Eastern and Western Conference titles, as well as projections on how many wins each team will have.
2012-13 NBA title
11/5 — Miami Heat; 5/2 — Los Angeles Lakers; 9/2 — OKC Thunder; 14/1 — Chicago Bulls; 18/1 — San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics; 25/1 — Los Angeles Clippers; 30/1 — Brooklyn Nets; 33/1 — Dallas Mavericks; 35/1 — Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks; 50/1 — Philadelphia 76ers; 66/1 — Denver Nuggets; 75/1 — Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves; 100/1 — Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz; 125/1 — Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks; 150/1 — New Orleans Hornets, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns; 200/1 — Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards; 500/1 — Charlotte Bobcats.
Western Conference title
13/10 — Lakers; 9/5 — Thunder; 17/2 — Spurs; 12/1 — Clippers; 16/1 — Mavericks, Grizzlies; 33/1 — Nuggets; 40/1 — Rockets, Timberwolves; 45/1 — Jazz; 60/1 — Warriors, Trail Blazers; 75/1 — Suns; 100/1 — Hornets, Kings.
Eastern Conference title
5/8 — Heat; 1/2 — Bulls; 8/1 — Celtics; 12/1 — Nets; 14/1 — Pacers, Knicks; 18/1 — 76ers; 35/1 — Hawks
60/1 — Bucks, Magic; 100/1 — Cavaliers, Pistons, Raptors, Wizards; 200/1 — Bobcats.
61 — Heat; 59.5 — Thunder, Lakers; 53.5 — Spurs; 50.5 — Celtics, Pacers; 49.5 — Clippers; 48.5 — Nuggets; 47.5 — Bulls, Grizzlies; 46.5 — 76ers; 45.5 — Knicks; 44.5 — Mavericks, Nets; 42.5 — Hawks, Jazz; 39.5 — Timberwolves; 35.5 — Bucks, Trail Blazers; 34.5 — Warriors; 33.5 — Suns; 31.5 — Cavaliers, Pistons, Raptors, Wizards; 30.5 — Rockets, Kings; 24.5 — Hornets; 23.5 — Magic; 22.5 — Bobcats;