Daniel Orton has journeyed back and forth between the NBA and the D-League a bunch this season.
The Turner Turnpike has become the road most traveled.
Every time the center goes from the Thunder to the 66ers, he takes the toll road between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. He sees the same exit signs, the same gas stations, the same toll booths.
No, he doesn't get to bypass the $4 toll.
And the Thunder issues no special Pike Pass.
“Not at all,” Orton said.
During a season when the Thunder has made more assignments to the D-League than any other team in the NBA, Orton is part of a group of players who have become accustomed to making the trip from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, from the NBA to the D-League. They straddle the two worlds, the glitz of the NBA and the grind of the D-League.
Thunder fans are familiar with that NBA glam.
But what about the D-League?
For Thunder players, most assignments occur when both the Thunder and 66ers are at home. In that case, players can either drive themselves to Tulsa or use a car service.
That decision often depends on how long they'll be staying with the 66ers.
With a short stint of a couple days, players often employ a car service to drive them since they don't have time to do much else other than practice and play. And they don't need a car to get to the arena.
“The hotel that we stay at is literally right next to the arena,” said forward Perry Jones, who's played 11 games with the 66ers. “Practice and everything, you just walk across the street.”
But with longer stints, having a car is the way to go.
Orton, who's played 19 games with the 66ers, likes to be able to get around town. Go to the mall. Find something to eat. Just get out of the hotel.
The hotel where the players stay is nice enough — albeit a serious step down from the fancy places where the Thunder stays on the road — but the walls can still start to close in around you.
“I pretty much go to Applebee's the whole time and watch TV there just to be around people,” Orton said.
Meals are a bit trickier when players are with the 66ers. For Thunder players, food is often provided at the team's practice facility. Before a morning practice, the players can eat breakfast, and once practice is over, they are provided lunch.
When players go to Tulsa, they have to take care of themselves.
“You've got to be disciplined,” guard Jeremy Lamb said. “Right by the hotel is Chick-fil-A, Popeye's, all that type of stuff. It's easy to go right there.”
Having discipline extends to the basketball court.
The Thunder has more than a dozen coaches and staff members who help with player development, but the 66ers have only three coaches. Players don't receive as much individualized attention in Tulsa and have to take responsibility for getting in extra work.
Despite the differences in the D-League, the Thunder players who've spent time there have flourished. Reggie Jackson and DeAndre Liggins, for example, parlayed short stints with the 66ers into the backup duties with the Thunder, and Lamb has been named to the D-League All-Star Game.
“Both places, you can get better and really work on your game,” said Lamb, who has averaged 21.1 points in 14 games with the 66ers. “It's really helped my game, so I can't be mad at it.”
What he can be miffed about is how he and the rest of the players have to travel when they're with the 66ers. The Thunder flies to road games via private jet, but the 66ers fly commercial. That means going through airport security, making connections and hoping for a good seat.
Basically, it's a hassle just like it is for the rest of us.
These guys are tall.
Even though the 66ers fly first class with bigger seats and more legroom whenever possible, they often have to use smaller planes when they're flying in and out of Tulsa.
“You learn to deal with it,” Orton said.
How does a 6-10 guy do that?
“I actually like windows,” Orton said of the window seats. “Try to lean up against it and go to sleep.”
The 6-11 Jones prefers exit rows and said, “I'm cool if I get the window. I don't want to sit in the middle. They don't let you get the arm rest. You're squished.”
He demonstrated, rolling his shoulders in and bringing his arms together.
Life in the D-League is not as comfortable as it is in the NBA. Not as easy. Not as posh. However, it does give the players who've live in both worlds a new appreciation for the good thing that they have in the NBA.
“You have to deal with it,” Orton said of going to the D-League. “Don't think. Just go.”
And don't forget to pay the toll.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.