Thunder Gears up for Trip with Scrimmage


Like a true professional, Kendrick Perkins knows the NBA backwards and forwards. It’s been his life since he was drafted straight out of high school. 11 years into his career, his drive, determination and focus hasn’t wavered.

Perkins learned a long time ago how important the minute details are to building and sustaining success in this league. Concentration, communication and hard work are all byproducts of each man’s inner will to be the best that they possibly can be. Since arriving in Oklahoma City, Perkins has helped set and then elevate the standards for performance on the court and in the film room. In 2013-14, he wants the team to continue ascending.

“Just to never get satisfied,” Perkins said of his goals for this Thunder squad. “When you tend to set your goals pretty high you start reaching smaller goals.”

The Thunder may have finished in the top three last season in major offensive and defensive categories, but that doesn’t mean Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team is anywhere close to being satisfied. Thinking in terms of process as opposed to outcome has been at the heart of the Thunder’s belief system over the past five years in Oklahoma City, meaning it’s more about how the team plays as opposed to where it ranks.

As Perkins continues to assist this team with his veteran expertise, more and more of the Thunder core will fully understand and live by those values. The continuity that exists inside the walls of the practice facility- thanks to 12 returning players- helps younger players understand their roles and be challenged to uphold the standards the team’s nucleus has already put in place.

“It feels good we have been playing together for four years now, we have played and won a lot of games together, but we have also lost a few together,” Perkins said. “That’s why championship teams are built the way their built. We have certain guys that can do certain things well and we have other guys that can’t but you cover up for those guys mistakes and that’s what makes a team.”

Thanks to leaders like Perkins, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the young guys have great role models to emulate as they find those areas where they excel and where they need help.

Digging further to run up the sand pit, pushing that extra bit to finish out a sprint and breathing deep to get in one more rep in the weight room – that’s the price the Thunder pays during the offseason and in training camp for when it plays in live, full-court situations. Whether it’s during the 82-game regular season or even a five-on-five scrimmage like the one the Thunder had today, getting the opportunity to get after one another in a game setting is a welcome treat.

Thunder players have been working hard through four days and six practice sessions since the 2013 Training Camp began, and on Tuesday, just 24 hours before it departs to Europe for a week long preseason trip, the team got after one another in its first real practice scrimmage.

“It was a really good one,” All-Star forward Kevin Durant said. “We competed. We got up and down. We tried to put in some things that we did all week and put it into game situations, so it was good.”

“I love the shape that everybody is in,” Durant continued. “We’re coming out and playing hard. It’s just the first few days of practice so we just have to try to build on each day and I think we did a really great job of trying to take steps forward.”

While individual and team-wide drills are essential tools and a part of the Thunder’s core “curriculum” during the opening days of training camp, scrimmages of different varieties provide a chance for the coaching staff to evaluate. Not only does Head Coach Scott Brooks need to determine the state of every player’s game heading into the season, but also how players mesh with one another and which combinations work best. Three-on-three, four-on-four and full five-on-five sessions are all great ways for the coaching staff to look at the entire roster.

“We have to figure out who plays better with guys and who needs some help,” Brooks said. “I thought our guys did a good job with the scrimmage and competed.”

Unfortunately, the Thunder was a man shy for its scrimmage on Tuesday, with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook undergoing arthroscopic surgery to fix a loose stitch from the April surgery that successfully repaired a torn meniscus in his right knee. Described by General Manager Sam Presti as an “outlier”, the loose stitch was causing swelling but didn’t impact Westbrook’s now healed meniscus. The sixth-year guard has been and will continue to rehab the injury with his team once the Thunder returns from Europe next week.

Undaunted, the Thunder knows it can rely on a core of players who have been with the team for years, featuring strong veteran presences and young players who are working hard to improve. With the experience of playing without Westbrook in the Playoffs last season, the Thunder knows it has what it needs in the locker room to continue to be successful during the four-to-six weeks of the regular season that Westbrook will miss.

“We’re down a man right now, but we’re not down,” Brooks said. “This team is built on toughness. This team is very resilient. We have players with high character that understand the situation that we’re in… We have a good team. We’re going to continue to move forward as an organization and as a group of basketball players. We’re excited about what we have.”

“We’ve been through about everything,” Durant said. “There’s nothing new for us. We hang our hats on being resilient. That’s what we have to do now. We just have to have guys step up and help the team out and everyone is will to do so.”