By Randy Renner
A new era begins for Thunder basketball tomorrow night, a new starting center by choice, a new shooting guard mostly by choice and a new small forward by necessity.
Second year man Steven Adams beat out veteran Kendrick Perkins for the starting center spot and second year man Andre Roberson gets the nod at shooting guard, though injuries to Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb might have played a small role in that decision. Perry Jones will start at small forward with Kevin Durant on the shelf recovering from foot surgery.
Jackson and Lamb are not flying with the team to Portland because of the injuries they suffered in Monday's practice. Jackson sprained his right ankle and Lamb hurt his back. Jackson was seen after practice doing some light shooting on the court, Lamb was not on the floor when media members were allowed in.
Adams had been the talk of training camp and the early preseason when he scored 15, 19 and 22 points in his first three games. His point production slid off dramatically as the preseason continued but his overall play remained solid.
"Both Steven and Perk are a big part of what we do," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters. "I've never looked at Perk's stats as a barometer of if he's played well or not. He's been a winner for a long time in this league. He's done everything I've ever asked."
But Perkins was hampered this training camp because of a strained quad. He didn't get back on the floor till the last week and by then Adams had shown he had vastly improved his game.
Just yesterday Perkins said starting or coming off the bench, "really don't matter," being there at the finish was more important to him. That and having an opportunity to show he had improved his game too.
Brooks said today he will have that chance.
"We're gonna need both of 'em to play well," Brooks said.
In fact Brooks is going to need all the guys he has available to not only play well but maybe play the best basketball of their lives. Perry Jones we're lookin' at you and you too Andre Roberson.
Those two guys are being given starting jobs. Roberson was the odds on favorite to win the open spot at shooting guard but Jones is there because of Durant's injury.
Jones has shown flashes 15 points here, 20 points there, double digit rebounds a couple of times. He's disappeared too and that can't happen anymore, not with the injury situation that Thunder has for the first six weeks or so of the season.
Just nine players will make the road trip to Portland and Los Angeles, one of those nine, forward Lance Thomas, won his contract in training camp.
So it's a brave new world for the Thunder, three new starters and a thin bench with guys still learning about each other. It's not the best way to start a season especially when you have to play two road back-to-backs in the opening week.
"Nothing changes," Brooks promised, "whether you have your entire team or you don't have it you still have to compete."
He seemed confident what's left of the team that many had penciled in as an NBA Finals favorite would be able to do that. Competing and winning? That's probably asking too much at least for now.