If Cole Aldrich wants significant playing time this season, he'll have to beat out last year's big men.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Monday that he isn't likely to make an exception to his preferred nine-man rotation to accommodate the promising rookie from Kansas.
"Nine is a good number for me," Brooks said. "That's what the league (plays), from eight to nine and sometimes you might have a 10th guy. And we're pretty set, but we're not set. There's minutes to be had. There are spots that are open, and he has to come in and earn."
Aldrich, at least to start the season, is likely to play behind last year's starting center Nenad Krstic, who logged right at 23 minutes per game in 2009-10. Krstic's backup, customary power forward Nick Collison, played 20.8 minutes, and rookie forward Serge Ibaka received 18.1 minutes per game.
Aldrich also will be competing against second-year center Byron Mullens, who has shown the most improvement of the second- and third-year players this off-season.
"One of the strengths of our team, how we got to the point we were at last season was our ability to practice with extreme intensity," Brooks said. "Our guys get after each other, and I expect training camp to be a battle every day.
"Minutes, who knows? I met the guy four days ago. We have to see how he gets better the rest of the summer and in training camp. We don't know what's going to happen in training camp. But I know our guys are going to be ready to compete and he's going to be in there competing with them."
Helping Aldrich's cause is his defensive skills. No other player on the Thunder's roster is more capable of providing the combined defensive attributes that Aldrich possesses. Those traits, rebounding, shot-blocking, protecting the basket and outlet passing, could allow Aldrich to steal some minutes from Krstic and Collison and leapfrog the more offensive-oriented Mullens.
"The paint is my home, and I don't want anybody coming in my home," Aldrich said.
But whether it's this season or a year from now, the Thunder thinks it has added an integral player to the mix to help Oklahoma City find long-term success.
"We feel like Cole really shares the same mentality and approach that we try to embody with our team," said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. "We feel like we're adding another hard-working, high-character player, somebody that understands the concept of team and all that goes into it.
"This is a player that makes the routine play. He's a guy that does the things it takes to win basketball games consistently, dependably and from a very reliable standpoint."