Peterson's Impact Often Goes Unseen

There were several times during Cole Aldrich’s stint with the Tulsa 66ers when his phone rang and Mo Peterson’s number popped up on the caller ID.

“Just reaching out and checking on him,” Peterson said. “Cole, that’s my guy. He hasn’t had a chance to play a whole lot this year and I just wanted to check on him and see how he’s doing there.”

And there have been several times this season when Peterson has shared his pearls of wisdom with point guard Russell Westbrook, recalling stories from his time as a teammate with Chris Paul when he was a New Orleans Hornet.

“He tells me all the time how Chris Paul used to take over certain practices,” Westbrook said, “and he puts that in my ear to keep me focused and lets me know how I need to get to the next level.”

The way Peterson has reached out to players like Aldrich and Westbrook exemplify the kind of teammate he has become for the Thunder. In his 11th NBA season, he has spent a majority of the season on the inactive list, dressed in a suit somewhere on the Thunder bench.

But Peterson doesn’t just fill a roster spot. He’s a veteran presence, the elder statesman, on a young team. He’s there to set an example and to give advice when necessary. He doesn’t mope, doesn’t make a scene and isn’t bad for locker room chemistry. He’s been exactly the opposite.

The Thunder has a player like Peterson on its roster every season. Guys like Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, Malik Rose and Kevin Ollie. Each one of them was brought to Oklahoma City to provide stability and depth to the roster but also to serve as mentors and leaders.

“I think Morris understands that he contributes to our team in a lot of ways,” Thunder Executive Vice President/General Manager Sam Presti said. “He understands that his contributions come both on and off the floor and that he takes his profession seriously and understands that part of being a pro is staying prepared and staying engaged with your team on and off the floor.”

Explained Peterson: “I come to practice every day and I try to push guys. I’ve been in the same position as those guys, playing game and you’ve got to come back to practice the next day and go hard and I just try to help them keep that mindset that you’ve got to get better every day.”

Peterson approaches every day as if it’s his number will be called.

On game days he arrives to the arena at around 4:30 to get some cardio in, get shots up and go over the scouting report. During games, he follows the action closely and if he sees something that will help a teammate – a defensive assignment, positioning on the offensive end – he’ll pull a player aside to point it out.

Practice days are when Peterson goes hard.

“That’s my game day,” he said. “Some guys who don’t get a chance to play as much, this is a time for us to get better and show what we can do and that’s what I try to remind the guys. I know a lot of guys are looking at me and saying he’s been around and played and they want to see how you react to it and I just always want to stay positive. You always want to stay positive and understand that this is the best league in the world right here and just to be a part of it is special.”

Head Coach Scott Brooks appreciates Peterson’s professionalism.

“Mo Pete has been incredible,” Brooks said. “He works his tail off in practice. He talks to the guys. He doesn’t take days off. He’s always working on the court or in the weight room. He’s been terrific. He hasn’t played much, but he cares about what he does.”

Peterson came to the Thunder after three seasons in New Orleans, where he spent time both as a starter and reserve. He came into the league with the Toronto Raptors after a heralded career at Michigan State University. He appeared in all 82 games during four of his six seasons with the Raptors and in the 2005-06 season he made a franchise-record 177 three-pointers. So he came here with a respected resume.

“I think any time you have a player like Morris who has experience he’s also going to have the wisdom – pulling a guy to the side, maybe have a conversation on the bench with a player about what’s taking place, and just other things he does to prepare himself,” Presti said. “I think those are all ways he contributes. He has a lot of years in the league and each one of them he was a professional and accountable for his performances. That’s good to have in our program.”

Added Westbrook: “He’s just a good person. He’s been in the league a while, he knows how to handle his business and he keeps his business separate from his outside life and it really shows what type of guy he is.”

In turn, Peterson said he’s had a unique experience with the Thunder because of the number of talented young players on roster.

“But these guys, the one thing that’s stood out is how they understand,” Peterson said. “I’ve been on teams where some of the young guys really didn’t understand what it is, what it takes to get better and what it takes every day. But these guys, this is a unique team because these guys at such a young age really get it. So I really don’t have to say a whole lot sometimes. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything because these guys get it.”

An example Peterson had was happening right before him on the Thunder practice floor. Practice had concluded nearly 45 minutes ago and no one had left. Everyone sat together on the far end of the floor talking and joking. A while later, just about every player was trying to help forward Serge Ibaka prepare for the Dunk Contest.

Peterson said the bond that the Thunder players share isn’t common on all NBA teams.

“That doesn’t happen everywhere,” he said. “I’ve been on teams where guys go home after practice and mind their own business. But these guys, we all call each other after practice. It’s a unique team.”

And that’s why Peterson said he has made the most of his unique experience here. He can see a bit of himself in the rest of his Thunder teammates.

“I’ve been blessed to play this game for this long and I remember when I had my chance to play when I was first coming into the NBA and these guys are getting their opportunity,” Peterson said. “So if there’s any way I can help them get better, I’ve got to put aside all of my personal stuff in order to help this team. It’s all about sacrifice. Everybody on this team has to sacrifice something.”

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