Just before ducking under a doorway and into NBA offseason oblivion, Hasheem Thabeet, all smiles as usual, thanked the media and wished writers and broadcasters a good summer.
“I don’t get to talk very often,” the Thunder’s jovial 7-foot-3 center joked at the conclusion of his exit interview.
Nothing sums up Thabeet’s season better than that scene.
He was happy. He was positive. He was professional.
Thabeet’s lack of playing time this season, a result of an unforeseen rookie stepping onto the team and stealing his minutes, never modified his mindset or altered his approach. Despite difficult circumstances, Thabeet stayed ready all year and delivered when called upon. In doing so, Thabeet established himself as a trustworthy veteran who can contribute in a pinch.
“I just can’t stop working because you never know what’s going to happen in this league,” Thabeet explained. “I kept working. I kept believing...When the time came, I was able to go and produce.”
The question is whether Thabeet’s production will be enough to keep him in Oklahoma City for a third consecutive season.
The Thunder has a $1.25 million team option on Thabeet for next season. His contract, as well as his willingness to accept and succeed at his role, makes him a quality yet relatively inexpensive option as a third string center, one who proved this year that he can provide solid minutes when given the opportunity. But this could be a big summer for the Thunder, with roster changes coming and the always complicated salary cap to consider.
Thabeet wants to return. The Thunder gave him a chance two years ago when it seemed the rest of the league had given up on him. Oklahoma City is where Thabeet has grown confident and regained a passion for playing the game and being a part of a team.
“That’s the goal,” Thabeet said of coming back. “I don’t know anything else. I haven’t heard anything else. I’m going to be here over the summer working out. That’s really all I can say about that situation.”
Thabeet’s minutes dipped from 11.7 minutes per game as the primary backup to Kendrick Perkins last season to 8.3 per game this year. Most of those came in mop-up duty. Steven Adams, the 12th overall selection in last year’s draft, slid in as Perk’s primary backup this year. The only change remotely possible for next season is the order of the top two of the depth chart.
That leaves Thabeet looking at a likely repeat of 2013-14 next season.