Kendrick Perkins strolled onto the court inside Chesapeake Energy Arena 90 minutes before tipoff Sunday night against Atlanta and began his customary pregame workout with Thunder assistant coach Mark Bryant.
But this time, over the next 20 or so minutes, Perkins was testing his left ankle, the one he sprained in the final five minutes of Friday's game against Portland.
Had Perkins not passed the test, had his ankle been slightly too tender, the Thunder would have been faced with the possibility of having to start Hasheem Thabeet at center.
The worst nightmare of many a Thunder fan would have come to fruition just three games into the season.
But that's the state of the Thunder's center position. For as polarizing as Cole Aldrich was, his inclusion in the James Harden trade left the Thunder terribly thin in the middle. Now, as the Thunder tries to navigate its way back to the Finals all of Oklahoma can only hope that an injury-riddled Perkins holds up. If he doesn't, the Thunder's titles hopes might go down with him.
Perkins is that significant, and the Thunder's depth behind him is that squishy.
Thabeet and Daniel Orton, two guys who have played a combined 154 games and have yet to prove they can be backups, are Perkins' potential replacements. After disappointing results in previous stops, both find themselves in Oklahoma City fighting to stay in the league.
But the Thunder has taken a liking to both. Depending on what you believe, Oklahoma City's brain trust has had their eyes on them since their college days and showed major interest in drafting both. Now that they're here, the Thunder believes it can rehabilitate the two big men, and while attempting to do so no one will publicly express any concern with something that's clearly a question mark.
“We have (guys with) not a lot of experience in Daniel and Thabeet. But Thabeet has played major, major college basketball at a high level,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He hasn't had a lot of playing time in the last three years, but what he's done in training camp has given myself and the team confidence in what he can bring to the team … We don't know about (as a) starter. He's never been there and we haven't even looked at it that way.”
Orton has spent the first three games at the end of the bench in a sport coat, the 14th man on the outside looking in at a league-mandated maximum of 13 players who are allowed to dress for each game.
But Brooks also is banking on Serge Ibaka sliding over one spot in select situations. Nick Collison has manned the center spot, too, and frequently does in small-ball lineups such as the one Brooks trotted out for nearly 4 1/2 minutes early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 104-95 loss to the Hawks.
During that stretch, Brooks employed Eric Maynor, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant and Collison and later replaced Maynor with Russell Westbrook. Those small ball minutes ended up being a plus-1 for the Thunder in the plus-minus category. Not bad on this ragged night of ball.
At some point, that might need to be the solution. For now, Brooks continues to throw out Thabeet, perhaps attempting to build his confidence early so he might be able to depend on him if need be late.
“We just feel that we have someone that can be a really good player for us,” Brooks said of Thabeet. “What he has done in the preseason; he's an exceptional worker. He covers a lot of distance with his size and length. And he's a pretty good athlete. But I like what he does. He's only going to get (more) confident. How we play I think can help him. He's a guy that can improve as we improve as the season goes on.”