The Thunder released reserve center Daniel Orton on Thursday.
It's a move that had become increasingly likely given that Orton, a Bishop McGuinness product, was projected to be the fourth center after the team drafted center Steven Adams in June with the 12th overall pick.
Adams is on a guaranteed rookie scale contract, while Orton was on a non-guaranteed deal, meaning the Thunder saves approximately $900,000 by waiving Orton now. The Thunder would have had to pay Orton his full salary for this season had he made the team.
“It's just part of the business,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I thought he did a good job while he was here. It's just we have to make cuts … But I wish him well. I'm sure he'll get picked up.”
Releasing Orton now also gives the Thunder an opportunity to enter the regular season with 14 players, a strategic move many teams employ to maintain flexibility in the event a roster move must be made during the regular season.
But with starting point guard Russell Westbrook expected to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season, the Thunder also could give its 15th roster spot to Diante Garrett, a third-string point guard who's currently on a training camp invitation.
Orton appeared in 13 games with the Thunder last season, averaging two points, two rebounds and eight minutes.
He had a strong summer league showing in Orlando, and with nearly three weeks remaining before the regular season begins his release should give him an opportunity to latch on with another team.
JEREMY LAMB'S SHOOTING STRUGGLES NOT YET A CONCERN
With guard Kevin Martin now in Minnesota, the role of bench shooter now falls to Jeremy Lamb, the second-year guard out of UConn who appeared in just 23 games as a rookie.
But Lamb didn't exactly alleviate concerns of whether he is ready with his performance in the Thunder's first two preseason games. He missed 11 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. Some rattled in and out. Others were air-balls.
The Thunder, however, plans to stick with Lamb.
“Jeremy hasn't shot the ball well,” said Brooks. “But I believe in what he does. He continues to work on his game. Like all of our players, we're focusing on defense. But the shots will eventually fall for him. He works extremely hard on his game. He has missed some shots that he's going to continue to get. They're going to be open looks and he's going to be able to step up and stick them in. I believe in that. I think our guys do.”
Collectively, the Thunder made just eight of 41 3-pointers. Kevin Durant had half of them.
“It helps when we make 3-point shots, and we've been a great 3-point shooting team the last year,” Brooks said. “I still anticipate that.”
For that to happen, the Thunder will need Lamb.
“The ball just didn't go in,” Reggie Jackson said of Lamb's shots. “He's a confident shooter so he's just got to stay confident. That's what we need him to do. I mean, he can stretch the floor. Every shot he takes inside of halfcourt I believe the whole team thinks is going in. So we need him to stay aggressive. He can't have any self-doubt. That's probably the biggest thing we'll pitch to him, just keep shooting, keep trusting and once you get those open opportunities let it fly.”
Five writers polled by ESPN.com predicted the Thunder's season would come to an end in the Western Conference Finals.
If so, it would widely be considered a disappointment but it would also be the third time in four seasons that OKC has journeyed to at least the conference finals.
“The Thunder will win 50-plus games and steamroll in the opening of the playoffs,” wrote ESPN.com's Henry Abbott. “Once they're facing the Spurs or Clippers, though, whatever round that is, I believe they'll have a real fight on their hands. My hunch is the Clippers will make the Finals.”
BY DARNELL MAYBERRY