Five Things to Watch During Thunder Training Camp

One by one, they each stepped in front of the cameras and talked about the excitement and the anticipation of getting back to work as a collective unit for Thunder Training Camp 2011.

Starting with second-year center Cole Aldrich, continuing with veterans Nick Collison, Kevin Durant and Royal Ivey and culminating with General Manager Sam Presti, the message was clear: the Thunder will be ready, and its approach as an organization remains the same regardless of any hurdles a condensed timeline presents.

“There has been a tremendous amount of preparation put in place by our coaching staff and our support staff,” Presti said.

The results of that preparation will begin to unfold at 3 p.m. Friday when Head Coach Scott Brooks and his staff officially open Thunder Training Camp 2011 inside the new INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center.

Over the next nine days, the foundation will be set for the new season. The Thunder will play two preseason games against the Dallas Mavericks – Dec. 18 in Dallas and Dec. 20 in the Chesapeake Energy Arena – before it officially opens its 66-game schedule on Christmas night with a home game against the Orlando Magic.

"We're all excited to get back together and get back to work.,” Aldrich said. “That's what we love doing. This is our job. It's fun to be back as a team and get to work."

THUNDER.NBA.COM presents five story lines to watch throughout Thunder Training Camp 2011, in no particular order:

When we last saw “Perk,” the big man vowed during his exit-day interview to spend his summer working on both his body and his game. “I’m not a guy who takes time off,” he said in June. “I have high goals, high expectations for myself.”

Perkins said he wanted to report to camp at 265 pounds. He had hired a nutritionist and conditioning coach to help him meet his goals. A video of Perkins’ workouts surfaced on YouTube over the summer, underscoring his commitment to himself and his teammates.

“Each guy needs to go into summer, look in the mirror and come back stronger,” he said.

Perkins joined the Thunder on Feb. 24 in a trade-deadline deal with the Boston Celtics. He was coming off a knee surgery suffered in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals and had played in just 12 games before joining the Thunder.

“Not many players would have been on the floor as fast as he was last year,” Presti said. “He pushed himself incredibly hard to be able to contribute. Coming into the season, we know he sets a high standard for himself and we’re excited to see where he is. It wouldn’t surprise me if he comes back in great condition and great shape just because that is the kind of person he is.”

Collison and Presti each zeroed in on the lessons learned during the Thunder’s run to the Western Conference Finals. And both noted that what happened a year ago guarantees nothing today.

“We have to continue to be a team and an organization that grinds out our work every day without expectation or entitlement,” Presti said.

Added Collison: "Personnel wise, we're really set up to be a good team. .. What we need to do now is get better at playing basketball and executing basketball situations. That was exposed, I think, in that series (Western Conference Finals vs. Dallas) against a team that did it better than us and that's why they were able to beat us.”

Collison said it is important to establish that mindset on “Day 1” of camp.

"The disappointment of it, that will always be there to remind us and keep us motivated in each of those kind of monotonous days of practice where you're going through something to stop yourself from just going through the motions and then really think about we have to get better so that if we're in that situation again, we can hopefully win a series like that."

Perkins challenged his teammates to “look in the mirror” and report to Training Camp 2011 stronger than the previous season.

The players gathered three times throughout the summer for voluntary workouts in Lexington, Ky., Austin, Texas, and Oklahoma City. The four-day camps offered all a chance to reconnect as well as see the work their teammates were putting in.

“It was good just to see everybody again and break up the monotony of working out on your own,” Collison said of the camps. “The guys look like they are in good shape and ready to go."

Said Presti: “What we have seen is a confident group of guys who were going into the off-season ready to work and get better. By the looks of the group, I think you can say their look is a testament to their commitment level. … Part of the reason we draft the guys that we have and try to acquire the guys we acquire is because of their professionalism and their craft, and based on the condition of some of the guys, we feel pretty good about that.”

There already is a lot of talk about the Thunder, both in-market and nationally. Presti said it is key for the Thunder to remain humble as an organization and dedicated to the process it has developed over the years.

“We want to continue to evolve as a team that has the quality of the high-performing teams in professional sports,” he said. “Things like great communication, attention to detail, recognizing situations within the year and within the game and making the necessary sacrifices to become an elite team.

“We took major strides in these areas last season and our players and coaches deserve a lot of credit for that.”

Sure, it is only two games, but it’s two games against the defending NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.

Dec. 18 (in Dallas) and Dec. 20 (in Oklahoma City) will be fans’ first look at the Thunder on a basketball court since late May.