A half-naked Brian Scalabrine stood in the middle of the Chicago Bulls locker room covered from the waist down by only a towel. About an hour before Scalabrine's Bulls took the court against the Thunder on Dec. 6 at United Center, a member of Chicago's staff approached. He whispered three words.
“You're active tonight,” the staffer told Scalabrine.
The seldom-used, red-haired forward responded with a smile, a bobbing head and a fist pump.
“Yes!” Scalabrine exclaimed, the 10-year veteran standing all by his lonesome.
Down the hall, Thunder guard Daequan Cook could empathize with the emotion. That night, Cook was placed on the inactive list for the 12th time in 14 games. Hearing those three simple words, Cook said, can be a soothing and significant sound.
“It tells you that what you've been doing has been paying off,” said Cook, who was relegated to the inactive list in 31 of 34 games between Nov. 14 and Jan. 19.
“It gets tough, very tough. You want to play. You want to be out there. Or at least dressing, feeling that there's some way you could help.”
The inactive list provides no such feeling.
Cook is one of four Thunder players who have spent significant time this season in suits on the sideline. Byron Mullens, Cole Aldrich and Morris Peterson are the other three.
Under league rules, each team is required to carry 12 players on its active list and at least one player on the inactive list. The Thunder's roster stands at the league-maximum 15 players, meaning three players get stuck in suits. Any player assigned to the NBA D-League, such as Mullens now, counts as an inactive.
“It's not an easy role to be in mentally,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Players who are in that role, Brooks said, need to remain supportive, cheer on teammates and continue to be positive while also practice hard consistently.
“I look for guys that believe in team and have a competitive spirit and don't have a downer personality,” Brooks said. “If that's all it's about — your minutes, your points, your stats —then that's a tough position to be in because it's not about that. It's about helping the team get better.”
Brooks is fond of guys who can handle that demanding job description — because he's seen the other side when guys can't.
“When it's like that, it's not good,” Brooks said. “And there's no turning back once it gets to that negative environment.”
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