The Thunder is missing its starting center and is in need of a few capable bodies to replace the injured Kendrick Perkins.
“If I have to, I'll do it,” joked Kevin Durant following the first practice of the Thunder's 2012-13 season on Tuesday.
Fortunately, other options are available, so the franchise player won't have to mix it up in the paint this preseason. But just how capable those other options are is the question.
Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton will get plenty of chances to showcase their skills once the preseason schedule begins.
“It's a great opportunity,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We don't want Perk to be out, and he's going to work on his conditioning every day. But the opportunity for Cole, Daniel and Thabeet to play those minutes is going to be important for them. They're going to get a great opportunity. I like what I saw (Tuesday). They're all fighting for that opportunity.”
Perkins underwent surgery in mid-July to repair a ligament tear in his left wrist. The operation called for a three-month healing process, putting his estimated recovery at Oct. 11. But the Thunder's plan is to ease Perkins back in rather than rush him into the lineup. The stated goal is to have Perkins ready by the regular-season opener.
That gives the three backups a chance.
“It's a good opportunity for one of those guys to step up and fill that role,” Brooks said.
Aldrich, the third-year man out of Kansas, is the unquestioned front-runner for the backup job behind Perkins. The Thunder traded up to get Aldrich at the 11th overall spot in the 2010 draft, and in two years Aldrich has played in only 44 games. His time has come. But Brooks expressed belief in all three centers.
“They all have the skill set to be effective in this league,” Brooks said. “Cole has to work on what he does well. He's a great screener, a roller, an offensive-rebounder and a rim protector. Thabeet and Daniel, I'm still getting to know their game.”
Thabeet and Orton, who played at Bishop McGuinness, both have had disappointing starts to their careers. But the Thunder is hoping to resurrect the skills that once made both so dominant in previous levels.
“It's not fair for me to really say what they do well and what they don't do,” Brooks said of Thabeet and Orton. “We're just working with both. Both of those guys have a clean slate, and then we're just trying to see what they do and how they can affect, in a positive way, our team.”
After the first day of practice, teammates were most impressed with the energy level of the trio. Still, it was just one day.
“They had a good first day,” said Nick Collison. “They played with energy, which is big. But it's just the first day. You've got to do it all year long.”
It should help Aldrich, Thabeet and Orton that Brooks plans on rotating each of them into the lineup throughout this preseason to get them minutes with the starting unit. None have experienced extended minutes with as much talent as they will this preseason, and that is expected to help their development.
Though it is believed that Aldrich will get the bulk of the minutes with the first string, Brooks didn't reveal his plan for juggling the starts or the minutes throughout the preseason.
“They all will probably get opportunities to play with the starters,” Brooks said. “It just depends how we go exhibition game to exhibition game. But they will get plenty of minutes and get opportunities.”
Durant, for one, thinks they're ready to make the most of the opportunity.
“I think those guys are ready to step in,” Durant said. “We've got a long ways to go before we start having preseason games. But these practices are going to help those guys and give them confidence. Hopefully they step in and fill the void while Perk is out.”