Thunder center Daniel Orton is back home, but his NBA residence remains uncertain.
“I still feel like I'm on an NBA journey,” the former Bishop McGuinness High School standout admitted. “It feels like home in the aspect of my friends and family are here, but that's pretty much it.”
The 6-foot-10, 255-pound Orton signed with OKC as a free agent last August after two nonproductive seasons with the Orlando Magic.
Orton earned the NBA minimum of $854,389 for a third-year player last season and has minimum-wage, non-guaranteed contracts with the Thunder the next two seasons.
If Orton makes the OKC roster, he'll get paid. If not, he'll be an unrestricted free agent once again.
As much as Orton loves being on the roster of a championship contender in his hometown, he said he'll leave in a heartbeat for playing time.
“It's been tough, this being my third year in the NBA and still not playing, but it's all a learning experience,” Orton said.
Orton entered the 2010 NBA Draft after his freshman season at Kentucky. The Magic selected him 29th overall on draft day, but Orton's debut didn't come until 582 days later during garbage time of a 93-67 loss to the New Orleans Hornets.
“Everyone says I'm young, so I guess that's one thing I have to take into (consideration),” said Orton, who will turn 23 on Aug. 6. “It's tough to do but it's part of the process, I guess.”
However, Orton said he was thankful to start 29 games last season for the Tulsa 66ers, OKC's affiliate in the NBA Developmental League. No one on the Thunder roster saw more playing time in the D-League than Orton.
“I didn't find it insulting,” Orton said of being sent to Tulsa. “It did help me a lot. I gained a lot of confidence because that was the first time I played basketball consistently in about three years now, so that was really good. That's one thing I knew going into this year was going to happen most likely, with the guys we had (on the Thunder roster) and especially the guys who are in front of me, too.”
Though OKC's roster for the Orlando Pro Summer League won't be determined for at least another month, Orton said he planned on playing and will work out in town this summer.
Orton will be challenged to make next year's roster.
*General manager Sam Presti repeatedly has said he has no intention of exercising the amnesty clause on starting center Kendrick Perkins, which means Perk remains entrenched.
*Like Orton, Hasheem Thabeet has a non-guaranteed contract the next two seasons, but the 7-foot-3 Thabeet is clearly ahead of Orton.
*OKC has the 12th overall pick in next month's draft and could be looking closely at 7-footers Alex Len of Maryland, Cody Zeller of Indiana, Mason Plumlee of Duke or Steven Adams of Pittsburgh.
The Thunder initially got down to its final 15-man roster last season by waiving Orton at the end of training camp, but brought Orton back four days later after trading James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich and Lazar Hayward to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and three future draft picks.
Depending on whatever maneuvering Presti comes up with next fall, Orton could be in a similar situation to last October.