Oklahoma City Thunder busy at draft, trade up to bring Cole Aldrich into crowded mix at center

By Jeff Latzke, AP
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Busy Thunder add Kansas’ Aldrich to mix at center

OKLAHOMA CITY — Add Cole Aldrich to the crowded race to become the starting center for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Taken with the No. 11 pick in Thursday night’s draft, the 6-foot-11 Aldrich was sent to the busy Thunder in a trade with the New Orleans Hornets. Oklahoma City gave up a pair of first-round picks (Nos. 21 and 26) but also got veteran forward Morris Peterson in the swap.

Aldrich enters the mix with starter Nenad Krstic and reserve Serge Ibaka, who received increased playing time down the stretch and made a defensive impact in the playoffs. The Thunder also are trying to develop Byron Mullens, who was the No. 24 overall pick in last year’s draft.

“I think whatever team it is, if I stay in New Orleans or if I go to Oklahoma City, the need for a big man is great,” Aldrich said. “I’m not going to try to go in and do spectacular things, only the things I’m good at.

“I’m good at rebounding and defending and blocking shots and that’s how I’m going to make my presence on the court early is doing those things. I’m definitely working hard on my offensive game, too.”

Oklahoma City led the NBA in blocked shots and ranked third in the league in rebounding last season, despite lacking a big-name center. Kevin Durant, the youngest player ever to lead the NBA in scoring, considered a “big man” to be one of his team’s biggest needs after a 27-win improvement last season.

“I think he’s going to be a game-changer for us, and I’m very excited to add him to our team,” Durant said of Aldrich while watching the draft in person in New York. “I’m looking forward to next season.”

After their marked improvement, the Thunder put a scare into the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs before losing in six games. The Lakers’ most noticeable advantage was up front, with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and the final game was decided on a putback by Gasol in the final second.

“I think the league always tells you a little bit about your team,” general manager Sam Presti said. “But we have been pretty consistent with how we want to build a team, the things that we think are core attributes to playing winning basketball. … We’re looking at ourselves first. We’re looking at how this basketball team can get better.”

The first priority, though, certainly seemed to be adding size — even if Presti wasn’t allowed by NBA rules to talk about the Aldrich acquisition until July 8.

“We felt like being able to add some physicality in the draft and some other areas would help us. It’s certainly not going to complete the puzzle for us or make us a perfect entity,” Presti said. “It’s not going to happen with a silver bullet. We’re going to have to keep chipping away each step of the way.”

The Thunder came into the draft with three first-round picks after a trade with Miami a day earlier that also brought in former 3-point shootout champion Daequan Cook, and Presti was busy again on a draft night that might as well have been called “trade night.”

Every move Oklahoma City made involved a trade — five of them, plus the one that happened about 24 hours earlier.

“The objective is not to make trades,” Presti said. “Each one we make, there is a purpose behind it. We’re not going to be right all the time, but we’re also not just doing things to do them.”

Presti took Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe with the 18th overall pick, then sent him to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a future first-round pick.

He then picked up 7-foot-1 center Tibor Pleiss from Germany with the first pick in the second round, following a three-way trade that involved Atlanta and New Jersey. The Thunder sent cash to the Hawks for their part in the swap.

Next, Oklahoma City brought back Latavious Williams, who spent last season playing for the franchise’s NBA Developmental League affiliate in Tulsa in a deal with Miami. The Heat got a conditional 2011 second-round pick for that.

Florida State power forward Ryan Reid came over with cash from Indiana in exchange for Magnum Rolle of Louisiana Tech. Reid was the 57th pick, six spots after Rolle.

“I’m happy for the new rookies coming in,” said Durant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2007. “This is a great time to be drafted into the NBA. I know what it feels like.”

Peterson is no rookie. Headed into his 11th season, he is set to make about $6.6 million in the final year of his four-year contract. He played in only 46 games last season, averaging 7.6 points.

“I’m excited to be playing with a great, young, up-and-coming team,” Peterson wrote in a text message to The Associated Press.

AP Basketball Writer Jim O’Connell in New York and AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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