OKLAHOMA CITY — If Chris Paul was trying to pass a test making it clear to Thunder fans and the NBA at large that he’s happy to be back in Oklahoma City, not only did he pull it off, but appeared to do it without even trying.
That’s was the message at Thunder media day on Monday, where Paul offered an easy charm that should re-ingratiate him to fans that first fell for him as a displaced New Orleans Hornet rookie point guard in 2005.
Paul has three years and $122 million left on the contract he signed prior to last season with the Houston Rockets.
The Thunder took it on as the price to do right by Russell Westbrook, who went looking for a fresh start elsewhere in the wake of Paul George’s trade request to join Kawhi Leonard with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Many wonder if OKC might look to move Paul during the season, should a contending team desire his services despite the gargantuan price tag. Beyond that possibility, what Paul appeared to make clear Monday is his lack of qualms to be back inside the arena in which he began his NBA journey.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s funny, because a lot of people try to tell your truth or your story … all this different type of stuff.”
Speaking for himself, “I’m excited about the opportunity, excited about our team, excited about building,” he said.
Indeed, he sounded downright nostalgic about being back in Oklahoma City, noting that it was here where he earned rookie of the year following the 2005-06 season.
“You’ve got to remember, my first time leaving Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was coming here to Oklahoma and the fans were unreal, unbelievable,” he said. “Me and my brother had a house out in Edmond then. Used to eat at Charleston’s every day pre-game … The people here, the fans here make this city what it is, it’s crazy.
“Our life comes full circle. Now I have two kids. To bring them out here … this weekend to see me, them and my wife, it’s cool to give them perspective, because it changes.”
• Bodies of work: In his preseason press conference, Thunder general manager Sam Presti said Paul was in “incredible shape.”
Toward that cause, Paul has gone full-time with a plant-based diet, even making it a cause, executive producing “Game Changers,” a documentary seeking out the ultimate performance diet.
Additionally, Andre Roberson has joined Paul, adopting his diet.
“It will be interesting to go down that journey with him,” said Roberson, who added that he’s a “full go” for training camp.
Though he reported no dietary changes, Terrance Ferguson, upon entering the interview room, had clearly put new muscle on his frame.
Meanwhile, Abdel Nader has lost, he said, 15 pounds, thanks to a strict adherence to the “alkaline diet,” about which, he added with a laugh, “kind of sucks because you can’t eat anything.”
He also said his personality is suited to going to extremes, such as his new diet, therefore sticking with it shouldn't be a problem.
Meanwhile, Deonte Burton also appeared clearly thinner than last season.
Burton's better eating, he said, began more than a year ago, when he played basketball in South Korea, where junk food wasn’t as readily available and that his body has found its new shape as he’s become progressively healthier.
Center Steven Adams, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Beef Council, appeared to look pretty much the same.
“I’m sticking by meat, mate,” he said.
• Chris knows Shai: Perhaps NBA providence works in mysterious ways.
Paul said he remains in touch with Clippers trainer Jason Powell and that Powell and Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell were raving about Gilgeous-Alexander last season.
Then, at NBA summer league, in Las Vegas, right after Gilgeous-Alexander was sent to OKC as part of the Paul George trade, Paul approached him.
“I was telling him, ‘I’m excited for you, I love to watch you play,” Paul said. “We talked. Who knew a week later we would be teammates?”
• Nader’s time?: Not only has Nader changed his body, but perhaps his effectiveness, too, if a couple of his teammates turn out to be right.
“I think Abdel Nader will surprise a lot of people this year,” offered backup center Nerlens Noel, unprompted. “He had a great summer as well and he’s playing really good basketball, right now.”
Said Deonte Burton, “I’ve seen a lot of shots being made, a lot of shots. At one point, I didn’t think he was [ever] going to miss.”