With the first week of training camp complete and the Thunder's seven-game preseason schedule set to commence Wednesday, time management is now of the essence.
For coach Scott Brooks, unlike years past, time management now includes handling his stars with care.
Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are all coming off a taxing year of basketball. They journeyed to the NBA Finals and all made it to the Olympic gold medal game. No other NBA team has four players that did both.
That grueling schedule led to a short summer and questions about how the four Olympians will be impacted this season. All four insist they got ample rest after the Olympics, and Brooks hasn't seemed concerned about the need to lighten their loads this preseason.
“The thing with our Olympians is they do not want me to take them out and take time off,” Brooks said. “They're young and they want to keep getting better, and they know they have to practice to get better.”
But it's Brooks' job to protect his young guys from themselves. Durant is 24, and Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka are 23. Each season the young guns brag about being able to play more and never wanting to sit.
Westbrook has never missed a game, and Durant led the league in minutes played last season. Both are badges of honor, but they're also additional reasons why the stars need rest.
Additionally, the Thunder is now at a different place. Oklahoma City has to protect players not only for the grind of an 82-game season but also for what likely will be another deep playoff run.
To do so, Brooks already has lessened practice reps and will soon limit playing time.
“I definitely protect them from themselves,” Brooks said. “We've cut some time off our practices, not a lot but just enough. And there's plenty of reps to go around that everybody's getting a fair look at what they can do and what they can do to help our team get better.”
The NBA allows teams to hold six two-a-day sessions over the first 13 days of training camp. Brooks, however, has opted for only one session per day and doesn't sound interested in adding a second practice. The lone practice has been longer at times than normal, but Brooks thinks getting everything done in one session has helped players have more rest time.
With 19 players in camp, the four Olympians also have had more opportunities to sub out of drills and scrimmages to save their bodies.
“They're kind of limiting our repetitions,” Harden said. “We're still getting it in, but not as much as we would in the previous years.”
Brooks said he will sit Durant, Harden, Westbrook and Ibaka for at least one game this preseason but hasn't decided which one it will be — or if it'll be the same contest for all four. It'll be more about providing a chance for other players, Brooks said, than anything designed to protect his stars.
“You always want to give guys a fair chance to not only make the team but also earn the minutes,” Brooks said. “So I can see them sitting out a game.”
Every little bit will help.