Since falling out of the rotation and becoming a seldom-used third stringer, Eric Maynor has logged just 20 minutes in the past 10 games.
He now enters Friday's road game against the rival yet reeling Los Angeles Lakers at a crossroad.
Maynor has appeared in only five of the past 10 contests, and the majority of those sparse minutes have come in mop-up duty.
But rather than agreeing to a D-League assignment simply for playing purposes as he continues to regain his rhythm from last year's devastating knee injury that cost him the final 57 games and the entire playoffs, Maynor said he prefers to remain on the Thunder roster.
“No,” Maynor said emphatically, repeating it two additional times, when asked if he had any desire for a D-League assignment to the Tulsa 66ers. “I get good court work in every day so I'm going to be straight whenever the opportunity comes back around.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks transitioned the primary backup point guard spot to Reggie Jackson in the second half of a six-point road loss to Minnesota on Dec. 20. Jackson, the second-year guard out of Boston College, has exhibited growth after struggling in the role as a rookie when thrust into emergency duty following Maynor's injury.
After proclaiming throughout training camp that the backup spot was an open competition, Brooks gave Maynor an initial 25-game trial to maintain his position. He couldn't. Maynor averaged 3.5 points on 30.9 percent shooting and 2.4 assists against 0.9 turnovers in his first 25 games. Unlike previous seasons, when he made playmaking look easy, Maynor struggled to initiate the offense and set up teammates for easy scores.
The Thunder, however, is just 6-4 since Jackson supplanted Maynor and the second unit has at times been just as shaky as it was when Maynor manned the position. But when Brooks recently expressed satisfaction with the job Jackson has done, it left a cloud hanging over Maynor and when he might get another shot to run the show in the second string.
In the meantime, the D-League appears to be a logical temporary location for Maynor. No longer considered a demotion, the D-League has increasingly become a hotbed for player development. The Thunder has been at the forefront of the movement.
In previous years, fourth-year players like Maynor were prohibited from being assigned to the D-League. Only players in their first and second seasons could be sent down and only a maximum of three times. But under the new collective bargaining agreement, veterans who give their consent are now allowed to be sent to the D-League. New York recently started off Amar'e Stoudemire, a perennial All-Star and 11-year veteran, in the D-League after he missed the Knicks' first 30 games while recovering from a knee injury.
Though playing time, no matter the setting, would seem to be the most beneficial thing for Maynor at the moment he said he's confident practices are sufficient. On nongame days, Maynor said he busies himself with a lot of shooting and conditioning work, all with the goal of staying sharp and staying in shape.
“I honestly think with the 30-35 minutes that I work out every day it's equivalent to the minutes I was getting anyway, the 10-11 minutes on the court in spurts,” he said. “It's like the same thing.”
Maynor averaged just 13.1 minutes in his first 25 games, an amount he admitted was difficult for him to be able to regain his rhythm.
“It's tough. Not just for me, that's tough for anybody to do, playing eight or nine minutes and (being) expected to really produce,” Maynor said. “But I'm not the guy that makes that call. Like I said, it's a tough situation for anybody to be in.”
Further complicating the situation is the looming trading deadline. Maynor will be a restricted free agent next season after the Thunder did not come to terms with him on a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline. Once regarded as one of the league's premier backup point guards, Maynor could now be expendable given Jackson's youth, health, potential and improving performance.
A recent report, citing an anonymous source, said Philadelphia has explored trade options to acquire Maynor. When asked about the report, Maynor claimed he hadn't heard of it and added he tunes out rumors.
“I haven't seen a report about nobody,” Maynor said. “That's what I pay my agent for. So whatever is going on in that department, that's for my agent and whoever to talk about.”