OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Chris Paul is happy to be back where his professional career began.
Paul started his career in Oklahoma City with the Hornets when they relocated after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He was rookie of the year during the 2005-06 season, the first of two years he spent in Oklahoma City.
Now he’s 34, a nine-time All-Star who came back to where it all started by way of a trade that sent Thunder cornerstone Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets in exchange.
Paul still has fond memories of the community that welcomed him to the NBA.
“The people here, the fans here, make this city what it is,” he said. “It’s crazy. Our life comes full circle. Now I have two kids. To bring them out here — they came out here this weekend to see me, them and my wife — it’s cool to give them perspective because it changes.”
Paul, who averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists last season, said he holds no resentment toward the Rockets for trading him. He still feels he has plenty left to offer, and he looks forward to working with coach Billy Donovan and being a major piece of the rebuilt Thunder.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s funny because a lot of people try to tell your truth, try to tell your story, say what you want and a lot of different kind of stuff. I’m excited about the opportunity, excited about our team and excited about Billy.”
Here are some things to watch as the Thunder head into training camp:
Centre Steven Adams had played his entire NBA career in Oklahoma City with Westbrook. He said it’s a bit strange not having him around.
“Still going to be there, but you’re thinking, I don’t get to see them as often, you know. So obviously it’s a bit tough, mate, but you know, you deal with it. Still above ground,” Adams said.
Paul has a chance to mentor guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder.
Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 10.8 points and 3.3 assists as a rookie last season. He joined the Thunder in the deal that sent All-Star forward Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers. Schroder is the top returning scorer after averaging 15.5 points last season.
Donovan said all three could play together at times.
“I think that’s what it comes down to,” Donovan said. “Multiple ball handlers down on the floor. You want to be able to incorporate all those guys so that they’re flowing and playing together.”
Gilgeous-Alexander knows media expectations are low this season after the Thunder traded Westbrook and George. He’s not focussed on that.
“Personally, I try not to worry about everything that the league or the media says in terms of things like tanking and things like that, expectations for us,” he said. “I think if we focus on ourselves, try to get better every day, and play to the best of our ability, it’ll take us where it takes us. Whether it be the playoffs, not the playoffs, finals run, never know.”
Adams’ numbers could jump this season. The seven-foot centre averaged 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds last season while shooting nearly 60 per cent from the field. He heard his name in trade talks this summer, but he’s focussed on what he can do this season.
“It still affects you in some way. You know, because you’re human, and you care,” he said. “If you care about something — obviously I care about the organisation here. But again, we’re here because we’re trying to support the organisation itself, and the organisation needs to do well, right? So you have to keep that in mind. You’re just here to help.”
Forward Andre Roberson, one of the league’s best perimeter defensive players, is expected to play in the pre-season after missing the past one and a half seasons with a left knee injury. He said he learned a lot during his time away.