The book on Chris Wilcox reads the same now as it did during his rookie season in 2002. For the Thunder power forward, the theme in chapter one of his pro career was about raw skills, freakish athleticism and limitless potential.
Six years later, Wilcox's story is dangerously close to centering on much of the same. "Weezy (Chris' nickname) is pretty much in the prime of his career,” said Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo. "He's at a time now where it's time for him to make another step.” As the Thunder opens the 2008-09 season Tuesday with the start of training camp, perhaps no player is at a more pivotal point than Wilcox, a former No. 8 overall pick of the Los Angeles Clippers who was taken one spot ahead of Phoenix All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire and two spots ahead of Washington All-Star forward Caron Butler. Injuries and inconsistency have plagued the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Wilcox throughout his career. Some in NBA circles say Wilcox is maxed out, a player who'll never average more than 14 points and eight rebounds. Others see a player who, at only 26 after leaving Maryland after a national-championship-winning sophomore year, still could maximize his natural ability and reach his full potential. Thickening the plot of Wilcox's is his expiring contract. Wilcox's career is at a crossroads. Shed his inconsistent label and exceed expectations and he could be rewarded with a contract that etches his name alongside franchise cornerstones Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. Flop and it could mean goodbye and good luck on the free agent market. "This is a big season not only for him but our whole team,” Durant said. "And he's a big part of our team. So I'm excited to see how he does this year under a whole new environment. I'm happy for what he's accomplished thus far, and I think it's going to be a big year.” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said he likes Wilcox's athleticism and the depth he provides in the frontcourt but wouldn't elaborate on his future with the team. "We're looking forward to him helping us during the year,” said Presti. "We're really focused on this season. That's what all of our players and staff are focused on. We understand that Chris is a free agent at the end of the year, but we'll be dealing with that at the appropriate time.” Wilcox's past 2 seasons were his best, indicating he might be ready to fully blossom given the right opportunity. He averaged 13.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in 62 games last season while shooting 52.4 percent from the field. But perhaps supporting his critics' claims, his production was nearly identical a year earlier when he averaged 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds on 52.9 percent shooting while playing in all 82 games. "He's a bona fide NBA talent,” said Carlesimo. "Even by NBA standards he's a helluva athlete, and that's a big part of his game. And you ask more of people when they have that much God-given ability. "When you see someone who's capable of doing the things that Weezy can do, you set the bar higher.
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Chris Wilcox, right, is at a crossroads in his career, with his contract expiring soon. associated press