After a half of season in Oklahoma City, swingman Ronnie Brewer is set to sign with Houston.
While his presence on the Rockets certainly falls short of striking fear into anyone with the Thunder, you can’t help but think about how Brewer’s defensive skills might be a boost to a Houston team that suddenly is a contender. And if those defensive skills someday come back to bite the Thunder in the butt, Brewer’s uneventful stint in OKC will become even more mind-boggling.
That possibility got me to thinking.
Who are the Thunder’s top five doghouse getaways of all time? Who are the players who, for whatever reason, couldn’t get off the bench or simply couldn’t make it work with the Thunder despite having productive careers before or after their time in a Thunder uniform. Here’s my list, in reverse order.
5) Chris Wilcox
The skinny: “Weezy,” at the time, was perhaps the most athletic player on the squad. The things he did sometimes left you speechless, and his occasional feats always left you wondering why he wasn’t a fixture in the rotation. Wilcox came to Oklahoma City as a member of the inaugural 2008-09 team. He arrived fresh off the best two years of his career in the previous two seasons, averaging about 13.5 points and seven boards in 06-07 and 07-08. Then something happened between him and coach P.J. Carlesimo. Wilcox’s minutes dipped from 28 minutes his a night in his last year in Seattle to 19.4 minutes per game with the Thunder. He went from starting 55 games to six. Inconsistency is what seemed to plague Wilcox. He’d have 21 and seven against Minnesota and then post six and three a night later against Memphis. Or hang 23 and nine against Golden State and follow that up with eight and four against Denver. Those numbers actually happened. And so “Weezy” became one of Oklahoma City’s first NBA mysteries. He was traded to New York for Malik Rose at the 2009 deadline. And fortunately for Oklahoma City he never strung it together with the Knicks or, later, Pistons and Celtics. He never could top the 8.4 points and 5.3 rebounds he averaged in 37 games as a member of the Thunder. Instead, the curious case of Chris Wilcox was all about what he could have been and why he never became that in OKC.
4) Ronnie Brewer
The skinny: It appeared as if Thunder GM Sam Presti landed a steal when he sent only a 2014 second-round pick (one that could end up being the last pick in next year’s draft) and cash to New York for Brewer. But Presti and coach Scott Brooks clearly weren’t on the same page. Brewer played just 14 games with the Thunder, much of his 142 minutes coming in garbage time. His Thunder career ended with 13 points, 40 rebounds, 10 assists, nine steals and a 6-for-23 shooting. Along the way, there were flashes of what could have been. Brewer would fly in for rebounds, make a few sweet dishes, cut at the perfect time for a layup and attach himself to anyone who could dribble. But for reasons only Brooks knows, Brewer’s skills were rarely used. And what was most confusing is there were times when matchups absolutely called for it — J.R. Smith in New York, Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler in Denver and others. But just like every made 3-pointer by Derek Fisher justified Brooks playing him, each missed shot by Brewer only justified Brooks not playing Brewer. And because Brewer had been banished to the bench for so long (first in New York and then with the Thunder) those misses often weren’t pretty. Unfortunately for Brewer, that’s what will define his stint with the Thunder more than anything else.
3) Daequan Cook
The skinny: It took a mysterious foot injury to Thabo Sefolosha — and a failed two-game experiment (SAMPLE SIZE!!!) with James Harden in the starting lineup — to finally allow Cook to land consistent minutes. But with the exception of those 22 games, Cook was largely yo-yoed in and out of the rotation, receiving spot minutes throughout his two seasons in town. He was solid with the Thunder but inconsistent, averaging 5.5 points in 100 games. The guy was a specialist if there ever was one. Of his 477 shot attempts with the Thunder 382 were 3-pointers. And he connected on 37.7 percent of his 3s. Since being included in the James Harden trade, Cook hasn’t gone on to do anything great with the Rockets or Bulls. But isn’t it funny how the Thunder spent this summer chasing cheap 3-point shooting?
2) Byron Mullens
The skinny: Who would you rather have now, Mullens or Roddy Beaubois? Come on now, be honest. Most would probably say Mullens. He’s a big man and he has a knack for scoring, even if 37 percent of his shot attempts came from behind the 3-point line last season. Still, the Thunder was all but crucified for drafting Mullens ahead of Beaubois in the 2009 draft. And those critics — the smart ones, anyway — have gone silent about that draft-night decision. That’s because Mullens, when given the opportunity in Charlotte, showed he had some game. He averaged a shade under 10 points and 5.6 rebounds in his two seasons with the Bobcats, who acquired him in a trade with the Thunder just before the start of the 2011-12 season. But in Oklahoma City, Mullens appeared in just 26 games. Twenty-six! He averaged 5.3 largely meaningless minutes in those contests and never got a chance to show what he could do.
And the No. 1 Thunder doghouse getaway of all time is…
1) Nate Robinson
The skinny: How could you not love Nate? He wasn’t big, but he was bold and brash and had the heart of a lion. Plus, he is perhaps the most fun-loving player in the league.
But none of that was good enough for Brooks, who played Nate in just four games after he was acquired from Boston along with Kendrick Perkins at the 2011 trade deadline. Robinson could have been a spark plug off the bench. Instant offense in those instances when the Thunder was stuck in the mud. He had proven himself capable of such before arriving in OKC and after his departure. Instead, he scored a mere 13 points in a Thunder uniform — the same amount he tallied in the third quarter while carrying the Bulls to a Game 1 road win over Miami in this year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. Robinson was so useless to the Thunder that the team thought it best for him to not even show up for training camp prior to the start of the 2011-12 season. Shortly thereafter, the two sides came to terms on a buyout, allowing Robinson to become a free agent. After stops in Golden State and Chicago, Robinson this summer signed a two-year contract with Denver. And now that he plays for a Northwest Division rival, is there any doubt Robinson will now be the next random role player to light up the Thunder? It’s coming, right? It’s only a matter of time.