Soon after the Los Angeles Clippers waived Ryan Gomes using the NBA's amnesty provision in July, he received an unexpected call from an unlikely executive.
It was from Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who reached out with words of encouragement.
He told Gomes to keep his head up. To keep working. That someone, someday, would call with an offer.
“It meant a lot to me,” Gomes said of Presti's support.
Gomes had never played for a Presti-run organization. But back when Gomes starred at Providence College, Presti was the first to scout him while a front-office executive with the San Antonio Spurs.
“He was the first guy that ever came to a practice,” Gomes recalled. “So from then on, when I got that call, I was just like, ‘Wow.' That just brought me back to then.”
After spending last season competing in Germany, Gomes received another call from Presti this summer. This one was the offer Presti assured Gomes would someday come.
It was an opportunity to join the Thunder.
“Now it comes back full circle,” Gomes said. “This is the same team and he is the same person that gave me an opportunity to come in here now for the last two months to try to prove my worth.”
At 31, Gomes might have thought he was past the point of proving himself. But that's precisely what he must now do to make the Thunder and cash in on his partially guaranteed contract.
“It's a challenge that I've got to be ready for,” Gomes said. “I know it's a performance league and you've got to go out there and perform and play well.”
Gomes finally got the chance to perform in the Thunder's fourth preseason game Thursday night against New Orleans. He scored 11 points in 12 minutes, making all three of his 3-point attempts while displaying a good defensive disposition.
“I think I can provide that on a daily basis,” Gomes said. “Statistically, of course people watching want to see the numbers. But a part of this team is just doing the little things and stuff that might not show up in the stat sheet, being in the rotations at the right time, running guys off 3-point shots. Those are the types of things that coaches look for and really evaluate.”
Understanding his required role, embracing it and excelling at it are things that have made Gomes stand out in practices while playing time in games has been sparse.
“He's a very talented player,” said Thabo Sefolosha. “He does a lot of great things. He knows his game. He knows his role on the team and he does it very well. … And he fits in very well in any system pretty much.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks called Gomes a quintessential “glue guy.”
“He knows how to play. He knows where to be. That's something that's taken time to get,” Brooks said. “That comes through experience. He can make shots. He knows the rotations. He's had some great experiences in this league.”
Gomes holds career averages of 10.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in seven seasons with Minnesota, Boston and the Clippers. In his best year, the 2008-09 season with the Timberwolves, Gomes averaged 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.
But in Oklahoma City, he's happy taking a lesser role and doing anything he can to help the team.
“Early in your career you want to make a name for yourself. You want to show your value and hopefully you reach superstardom,” Gomes said. “But on a veteran team, a team that's established, you want to come in and fill in. Just do things right and try to follow the lead of guys that are ahead of you.
“This is a team whose roster is set pretty much from last year. … So you just got to be patient and work on your game. I've been here since August and that's what I've been doing. So whenever the opportunity presents itself, two minutes, five minutes, 20 minutes, I think I'll be ready to go out there and play as hard as I can.”