If there was any team in the league that could have rested on their laurels this off-season and relied almost entirely on internal development instead of adding new pieces, it was probably the Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, what actually makes the Thunder's off-season interesting is that they've managed to maintain continuity among their core that should expect some internal development while also adding some minor pieces that could end up helping them in some way. And if they don't...well, they didn't exactly lose much to acquire them.
But blending into a young core that is looking to build upon an identity from last season will be no easy task on the court even if this is a fun group to be a part of off the court.
"That's the hard part about training camp because guys that you bring in, they have to pick things up quickly because as coaches and as players we move on to the next thing," said coach Scott Brooks after the team's first practice last week. "When you're always trying to play catch-up it's tough to pick up the new things when you're not real sure what you worked on yesterday. I told the guys after practice, 'Guys that haven't been with the team, get with coaches and go over things that you're a little confused about in this practice because we're moving on. And we can't wait for you. You have to continue to think and play intelligent basketball.'"
Three of the more interesting additions to the Thunder this season are rookie Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook whom they acquired from the Miami Heat, and veteran Morris Peterson who comes to Oklahoma City from the New Orleans Hornets, the former Ford Center tenants.
What they each bring should be obvious: Aldrich figures to add some toughness to the post, while one of Cook or Peterson hope to help a team that was 25th in the league in three point shooting.
What Aldrich has to do to adjust to the NBA
The assumption from most people is that one of rookie Cole Aldrich's major contributions this year will be on the defensive end given his size and toughness.
And he has already shown in practice that he has no fear of playing with the more physical NBA competition after an off-season of working on adding lower body strength.
"Whether you've been in the league my rookie year like I am or been in the league 11 years like Mo Pete has, you just come into training camp knowing you're going to work hard," said Aldrich during media day. "Knowing that you're going to come together as a team. It's not about myself or Kevin or individual people, it's about the whole team coming together and just working hard, getting better."
However, he also acknowledges that learning to play NBA post defense will require an adjustment period, even though that might be considered his strength.
"There's just more room," said Aldrich when asked about the toughest aspect of transitioning to NBA post defense. "With defensive three seconds in the lane you can't have that opposite guy come crash in, but that's also good offensively for us."
The bigger adjustment for Aldrich is likely to be on the offensive end. Byron Mullens mentioned on media day that he has seen Aldrich working on a hook shot, something that he believes every big man can use. In the meantime, he hopes to contribute offensively in other ways.
"My offensive game still has a ways to go and I am going to continue to work on it," said Aldrich. "Whether it's getting the ball getting thrown into me in the post or just going up and fighting for an offensive rebound. Just any ways that you can find ways to score, whether it's the big dunks or the easy little hustle plays that you can make really spark the team."
Watching Aldrich briefly on the court, he is not exactly the type of big man who will beat opponents down the court in a dead sprint, but he is more agile in the post than people might expect and clearly knows how to work in the post defensively. With Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic out during training camp - and in Collison's case, indefinitely during the pre-season - Aldrich will get his share of opportunity to run with multiple combinations of players and will be interesting to see how that affects his development.
No such thing as three-point "specialists" for Scott Brooks
Both Cook and Peterson are in a similar position, neither are coming off their best three point shooting seasons, but long-distance shooting might considered the key contribution that both are expected to make.
After shooting a strong 38.7% in his second season, Cook's shooting fell off a bit last season and he eventually fell out of the Heat's rotation. Similarly, Morris Peterson is in the midst of what might be an expected decline in production after shooting close to a career-high (39.4%) at 30-years-old.
The hope would obviously be that one of them is able to knock down shots and create more lanes for players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to score in the isolation situations that the Thunder relied so heavily on.
However, the question for Brooks right now is whether they will show the things in practice that will help them actually get on the floor to use that three point shooting ability.
"Anytime you can add shooting to your team, it's good as long as their focus is also on defending," said Brooks. "You have to be able to stop your man, you just can't go in there and just want to be a shooter. And I think both guys understand that. Daequan Cook came from Miami - it's a defensive disciplined program. Mo Pete has been an experienced veteran he understands. Anytime you can add a shooter and an extra player that understands his role in the game it helps. There's a lot of things open and they have - like all the other guys - to go out and play hard everyday in practice."
Neither player is known as a strong defender, but it seems clear that their defense - not the possibility of their revived shooting - is what will allow them to crack this rotation.
Of course, it's no coincidence that defense is the emphasis for the new additions - during the early days of camp, both Brooks and players talked more about team defense than anything else.