Breathe easy, Thunder fans.
Everybody's in shape.
That was the most significant story for the Oklahoma City Thunder on the opening day of training camp.
After a five-month lockout that pushed the start of the season back two months, there was just no telling what kind of conditioning players would come back in.
And even though Thunder coach Scott Brooks and forward Serge Ibaka on Friday were seen playfully tugging at whatever extra inches might be on Kevin Durant's slender belly, there were no reports of Thunder players being overweight and out of shape like many throughout the league were the last time the NBA endured a lengthy lockout in 1998-99.
“They're all in good shape,” Brooks said. “That says a lot about the character of our players…I think the guys are really committed to improving; to getting better. It started off with how they came back, and they came back in good shape.”
Twelve regulars were in uniform on the first day. Rookie guard Reggie Jackson, the 24th overall pick, and shooting guard Daequan Cook did not practice as they wait for contracts to be finalized. Jackson will receive a standard rookie scale deal, while Cook agreed to a two-year, $6.5 million contract Friday. Both are awaiting league approval.
The Thunder also added three to its training camp roster: forwards Marcus Dove, an Oklahoma State product, and former Syracuse forward Terrance Roberts, as well as former Stanford guard Anthony Goods.
Already considered to be at an advantage in this shortened 66-game regular season because of its youth, the Thunder is now expected to benefit from both having a nearly complete roster at the start of camp, as well as coming in well-conditioned.
Because the league opened the signing period for free agents two hours before practices could begin Friday afternoon, several teams had only a handful of players under contract. Just to bring their roster to 15, New Orleans was forced to sign nine fringe players — that have a combined 78 career NBA games played — to camp contracts.
With those challenges not being an issue for the Thunder, the team can focus on preparing for an abnormally hasty start to the season. Oklahoma City's first preseason game is Dec. 18 at Dallas. With Brooks planning to grant a day off before the preseason opener, the Thunder will have only eight days to prepare. In those eight days, Brooks said he will squeeze in a couple of two-a-day sessions, with the first coming Saturday.
“It's not going to change from us on the preparation side,” Brooks said. “We are going to be prepared. We have to be intelligent with our rest, with our time and with our practice plans. And our guys understand that. They've been together for a while, and we have a very mature young team.”
Led by veterans Nick Collison, Royal Ivey and Nazr Mohammed, the Thunder's players assembled as best they could three times throughout the offseason. They held voluntary minicamps in Austin, Texas, Lexington, Ky., and at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany.
“We were getting together during the summer, but it's not as good as when we have our coaches there and our staff here,” Durant said. “It felt good. Everybody played hard. We got after it, and it feels like we didn't miss a beat.”