Thanks to the help of hindsight, it is now clear that any use of the phrase "camp battle" during the previous two Thunder training camps never should have amounted to anything more than a passing punch line.
What we considered critical campaigns for playing time then look like real comic relief now. The butt of the joke being each and every former Thunder player who is no longer with the team or, worse, no longer in the NBA.
As a quick refresher, there was a time when a question like 'Earl Watson or Russell Westbrook' was posed at water coolers throughout Oklahoma with a straight face. There was a Desmond Mason-or-Jeff Green "debate," a Chris Wilcox-or-Nick Collison "conundrum" and, the most laughable of them all, a Robert Swift-or-Johan Petro "dilemma."
But as the Thunder prepares to open its third training camp Tuesday, fans in Oklahoma are finally about to see what a real camp battle looks like. For the first time in Oklahoma City's abbreviated NBA history, the Thunder has some real depth.
It's a coach's dream. It's a 10th man's nightmare.
"There's been a lot of improvement this year but we have to see it come October and see how it all works out together," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Since the first-round playoff loss to the Lakers, Thunder general manager Sam Presti replaced Etan Thomas, Kyle Weaver, Kevin Ollie and Mustafa Shakur with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Morris Peterson and Royal Ivey. It won't go down in history as the greatest offseason overhaul the league has seen, but it was an improvement nonetheless as Presti fetched much-needed shooting and defense.
The Thunder also didn't require a major renovation thanks to last season's nine-man rotation remaining intact after a 50-win season and an unexpected playoff berth. Second-year center Byron Mullens and third-year forward D.J. White have continued to show glimpses of their promise as well.
Combined, it should lead to the most competitive camp the Thunder has ever had, setting the stage for what many project to be a banner season.
Monday: Media Day
Tuesday: Training camp opens
Friday: Blue and White scrimmage at Yukon High
Oct. 6: Thunder at Charlotte (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Oct. 8: Thunder at Miami (Kansas City, Mo.)
Oct. 12: Thunder vs. Memphis (Tulsa)
Oct. 14: Thunder vs. Moscow
Oct. 18: Thunder at San Antonio
Oct. 19: Thunder at Denver
Oct. 21: Thunder vs. New Orleans
Oct. 24: The Oklahoman's special Thunder/NBA preview section publication
Oct. 27: Thunder vs. Chicago (regular season opener)