By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Semaj Christon, who’s been impressive since being acquired by the Thunder in a draft night deal with Miami in 2014, has made OKC’s 15-man roster at the expense of veteran Ronnie Price and his $5 million contract.
That was the biggest surprise on cutdown day, when NBA teams have to set their season opening rosters.
Price was cut along with 3-year Thunder veteran Mitch McGary and training camp signees Chris Wright and Kaleb Tarczewski.
Wright and Tarczewski will likely be signed by the Thunder’s D-League team the OKC Blue if they’re not acquired by another NBA team and McGary is likely destined for an overseas deal. If he signs with another NBA team McGary will have to serve his 15-game suspension.
The moves with McGary, Wright and Tarczewski had been expected but Price being waived in favor of Christon was a bit of a surprise though Cameron Payne’s injury helped pave the way for the move.
Payne is expected to miss at least the first month of the season and perhaps longer. Price, who was signed to a 2-year, $5 million guaranteed contract in August, was supposed to be the third team guard and a veteran presence in the lockerroom.
Payne’s injury made Price the backup and though publicaly Donovan expressed confidence in Price he struggled in the preseason averaging just 1.3 points on a horrific 16.7 percent shooting. Price also had to miss a couple games with concussion symptoms.
Christon then made the most of an increased opportunity to play by averaging 6.3 points on 47.8 percent shooting in five preseason games while also averaging 2.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 17.6 minutes.
He also had a great summer league and has performed at a high level during a couple of stints with the Blue.
Donovan didn’t get a chance to see him with the Blue but he was impressed with how much Christon had improved his game from the summer of 2015 to this past summer and on into camp.
“I had really recognized a pretty significant growth in his game, like I’d seen some pretty significant strides,” Donovan told reporters. “And I think when your eyes are off somebody for a time and they kinda get brought back to them, you can really see the growth somebody’s made.”
And that was obviously the case with Christon, not only to Donovan and to Thunder GM Sam Presti but to other teams around the NBA.
Had Christon been waived Presti would have been crossing his fingers that no other NBA team would have snagged him off waivers but that was becoming increasingly doubtful.
“I think he grew (in preseason games) a lot more than a lot of us maybe anticipated or expected which is a real positive remark toward the effort he’s put in trying to make improvements,” Donovan pointed out.
For the soft-spoken Christon it is a dream come true and a happy ending to what had been a sleepless night before cutdown day.
“I can finally sleep now, I couldn’t sleep for a couple days,” Christon said. “I don’t think I ever even went to sleep last night, I just sat there talking to myself.”
And he kept remembering what teammates and friends had been telling him for the last couple of years.
“They always told me just to trust the process and when I got the call I was happy I did trust the process. It took me a longer route but I’m happy I’m here.”
The Thunder roster is set now at 15 players, the team will practice Tuesday before flying to Philadelphia for the season opener against the 76ers Wednesday night.