It took nearly six seasons, but the injury bug finally has made its way to Oklahoma City.
Kendrick Perkins is sidelined for up to six weeks with a groin injury, and Thabo Sefolosha will miss four-to-six weeks as well with a left calf strain, the team announced Sunday.
But there might be a benefit to being down two starters.
We might get to see the future today.
As Thunder coach Scott Brooks adjusts by shuffling players into the starting lineup, it’s possible that he’ll soon unveil a first string that could become the team’s next fixture as the first five.
In Sunday’s 116-99 win over Charlotte, second-year forward Perry Jones III started in place of Sefolosha, while Steven Adams again took Perkins’ spot. Brooks, however, called the starting shooting guard position “fluid,” and said Jeremy Lamb will get a chance with that group.
Whenever that day comes, we’ll get our first glimpse at a unit that could become the Thunder’s first string as early as next season. If so, it would be the first time Brooks, barring injuries, has changed his starting lineup since Perkins was acquired at the 2011 trade deadline.
It’s also a lineup that has the potential to bring better balance, offering Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka more assistance on the offensive end while, depending on how players develop, might not suffer much of a drop off on the defensive side.
Lamb and Adams both are viewed as potential starters, and it’s important to remember that they are the two biggest pieces the Thunder received in the highly scrutinized James Harden trade. Having them step into the starting lineup and succeed once there would only help the Thunder overcome the negative perception of the Harden trade.
This six-week stretch has turned into an unexpected but potentially telling trial run.
The Thunder would prefer to have its full complement of players. But as Brooks said, this is an opportunity to “see how guys respond in different roles.”
And while the focus clearly must remain on this season while a championship remains the goal, you can’t ignore the intrigue of Lamb stepping in for Sefolosha, a free agent to be, and Adams supplanting Perkins, who has regressed.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti. “We also know that there’s going to be ups and downs like any player. I think how you respond to the challenges and the adversities that will come your way will be the things that we’re most excited about. And I think those guys are prepared to learn from the opportunity, in addition to stabilizing the group and contribute.”
The Thunder wants Adams and Lamb to show that they can fit a role, whatever it might be, while managing inevitable adversity and developing and showing a consistent level of play. The organization knows it’s not easy playing alongside stars like Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka. So supplying steady contributions is more important than being sensational.
“Just get better. That’s it,” Durant said when asked what he’s looking for from Lamb and Adams during this stretch. “Not think about it too much. It’s easy for you to take your mind off your role when you’re worried about (the media) saying you can be a starter. But we just want them to stick with their roles, man. Keep playing hard. Keep doing what they have to do what the team first and we’ll see what happens after that.”