Excitement in Air as Media Day Signals Start to 2013-14 Season

All seemed serene out front, but turning the corner from the building's lobby to the basketball court, Thunder players were met with with bright lights, bustling staffers, photographers, cameramen and reporters standing by for content. That swarm of activity signals an annual date on the NBA calendar - Media Day.

On Friday, the Thunder hosted the annual season-beginning event once again at the Thunder Events Center, where the team used to practice years ago when it first moved to Oklahoma City. With photograph stations, interview rooms and a live stream on THUNDER.NBA.COM, the hive was abuzz throughout the afternoon.

The year-round work, off-season conditioning and skill development players partake in each summer is often done behind the scenes. When Media Day rolls around, however, it is an opportunity for all to get a first look at the team.

The reuniting of teammates and the promise of the start of training camp on Saturday created a jubilant mood.

“We’re excited with what we have,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re excited about the core of players who are coming back. We had a great summer. … They all come back a little bit better.”

The quartet of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka has set the standards for work ethic for the Thunder since Day One in Oklahoma City, but Reggie Jackson and other young members of the team have merged with veteran presences like Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher to reinforce that aspect of the culture. As a result, players have dedicated themselves to continually improving throughout the summer to bring the best possible version of themselves to training camp this year.

“I like the progress,” Durant said. “Everybody came back and made their games better. I’m excited for the season. I’m excited for the opportunities that new guys are going to get. I’m excited for the opportunity I’m going to get as a leader to step into a different phase as a leader.”

Westbrook, who has been rehabbing the knee injury he sustained in the 2013 Playoffs, said he is positive about his progress and will be able to take part in certain on-court activities when practice begins on Saturday. Regardless of when his full participation begins, Westbrook comes into the year ready to be one of the team’s key leaders both vocally and with the way he plays. With the understanding that he and Durant, perennial All-Stars, are charged with setting the tone, Westbrook knows that decision-making and unity of thought will be paramount to the team’s success on both offense and defense this year.

“I’m confident,” Westbrook said. “I want to come back as a smarter team. Being a smarter team will help us out in the long run.”

On both ends of the floor, players' roles will be slightly different than last season and each player will be asked to do specific tasks to help the team win each night. In addition to core members of the team, role players like Hasheem Thabeet, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Ryan Gomes and young guys like Daniel Orton, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and the newly signed Diante Garrett and Rodney McGruder will all need to be ready to find their niche as training camp moves along. The pieces of the puzzle are on the board for the coaches to work with, and over the course of the year it will be up to the staff to put them together in the best possible positions to succeed.

“We’re all kind of trying to build our own relationships with each and figure out what works for us,” Jackson said.

Over the next month during training camp and preseason, the Thunder players will push themselves and one another to elevate their skill levels in addition to integrating new players into the system. Team leaders explained that while individual talent is important, it is essential that the team communicates to play stout defense and executes to find easy opportunities on offense.

With a week-long trip to Turkey and England coming up next Wednesday and a full slate of practices and preseason games, the Thunder will have plenty of opportunities to continue developing. With a strong, dedicated nucleus in place that knows how to play with one another and has a plethora of shared experiences, the team is both thrilled and poised to start the new season.

“Tomorrow we’ll start building toward something hopefully that will be great,” Collison explained. “I think with us, the huge advantage that we have is the continuity we have with most of our guys. We can jump right in and get back to work and try to get better with the things we need to do to be a better team.”