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Friday, July 12, 2013
OKC's hit summer replacement show

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti insists the Thunder's approach this week was no different from any other NBA team that aimed to develop young prospects at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

That's not completely the case.

What separated the Thunder was their level of urgency and opportunity with superstar Kevin Durant in need of help and Russell Westbrook recovering from knee surgery. While most teams were breaking in draft picks or searching for talent to invite to training camp in a few months, Oklahoma City's priority here was to groom a few key players for primary rotation roles on a title contender.

So it should have come as no surprise that the Thunder cruised through the week with a 5-0 record that culminated with Friday's victory over the Houston Rockets in the championship round of the 10-team league tournament.

The Thunder's summer roster included five current or former first-round picks. They were led on and off the court by Reggie Jackson, who started for OKC in the playoffs last season after Westbrook suffered a knee injury. Meanwhile, second-year guard Jeremy Lamb and rookie lottery pick Steven Adams approached the week determined to prove they just might be ready to contribute next season.

Now, coach Scott Brooks could have a few more promising options to consider as the Thunder look to rebound from a second-round playoff loss last season and return to title contention after losing in the Finals to Miami in 2012.

"We'll just see what happens with the lineups coach throws out there, but we'll be ready to go," said Jackson, who set an Orlando summer record with 35 points to beat Detroit on Tuesday. "But everybody came out here with mindset to give ourselves a chance to take the next step going into training camp. We came out with one goal: to win each game. And we all just want to keep working from here."

A combination of roster moves and a desire to operate beneath the league's luxury-tax threshold has created a few holes in OKC's lineup that the organization aims to fill with relatively inexpensive prospects who can develop quickly.

Jackson is expected to fill the dynamic combo guard role that James Harden had with the Thunder before he was traded to Houston before the start of last season. OKC acquired Kevin Martin from the Rockets as part of that deal, but he departed in free agency to sign with Minnesota.

Lamb also went from Houston to OKC in the Harden trade last year, but split time between the Thunder's roster and the NBA Development League. Lamb faces the possibility of helping to carry the reserve scoring load Martin vacated. A productive week in Orlando did plenty to boost those prospects for Lamb, who finished second in the summer league in scoring and averaged 18.8 points in four games.

Lamb said he "definitely" sees the opportunity to step into the Thunder's rotation next season if he's able to build on his summer league performance. He shot just 39.1 percent from the field but averaged four rebounds, three assists and nailed a game-winning shot to beat Orlando on Monday.

"I'm not happy or satisfied, so I'm going to just keep working and try to put myself in position to be able to play," said Lamb, who was the No. 12 pick in the 2012 draft. "Everybody approached it to show off their skills, to put themselves in position to make a rotation. We all thought about this the same way."

That thought process has been consistent with OKC's approach to summer league since Durant arrived as the second overall pick in 2007 to anchor the franchise. Over the past six years, Durant, Westbrook, Harden and forward Serge Ibaka have parlayed their development in Orlando's summer league into dominance during the regular season.

Presti said the Thunder's production during the season correlates to the schooling they get in the summer. That's why Jackson didn't hesitate when, a few weeks removed from starting in the second round of the playoffs against Memphis, he was told to show up for summer league.

"It's the OKC way," Jackson said. "That's just how we are."

There's a method to the madness.

"They've embraced the development process, starting with Durant, Westbrook and our past guys," Presti said. "That's been a big part of the foundation of our program. I'm very happy with the week. Our coaches and players have done a great job. What we said in the past is that this is now the starting point for the rest of the season with the players."

Jackson has proved to be a ready-made rotation player. He played in 45 games as a rookie two years ago and then 70 games last season when he averaged 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 14.2 minutes. Those numbers for Jackson rose to averages of nearly 14 points, five rebounds and four assists in the playoffs last season.

Lamb still has work ahead to progress to that level and earn the trust of the coaching staff. But this week was a start.

"With Jeremy, we don't want to skip steps," said Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamain, who ran the team in summer league while Brooks and Presti evaluated progress. "We want to take [Lamb] from where we got him to the next step, to the next level, and the level after that. Some of that has to do with his defense, some has to do with his ball handling, some had to do with his decision-making and a lot with his physical ability. We're working with our guys all summer long, because this is the time to get better."

With Jackson playing just two games this week, Lamb had the freedom to be aggressive offensively on the perimeter. That was the case as well down low for Adams, the 7-foot center from Pittsburgh taken with the No. 12 pick last month. Adams averaged 9.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and shot 60 percent from the field in four games. He adds depth to a frontcourt that's slated to return veterans in Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison next season.

"For us, we've always focused on player development as a building block that is sustainable and also adaptable," Presti said. "And it will continue to be as we move forward."

Consider it yet another summer when the Orlando-to-OKC pipeline has proved to be productive for the Thunder.