It was almost like a contest. Patrick Patterson discussed his love of fishing, mudding and simply getting to cruise the open road in his truck. Raymond Felton guessed, or perhaps bragged, that no one has ever heard of his hometown of Latta, S.C. To these two new Thunder veterans, Oklahoma City will be a booming metropolis corpared to where they were raised. It also might just be the closest thing to feeling the comfort home that they’ve had so far in their NBA careers.
On Tuesday morning at the Aloft Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City, Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and Head Coach Billy Donovan introduced Patterson and Felton to the local media, unveiling their #54 and #2 jerseys with the word “Thunder” splashed across the front. According to Presti, these two additions, both no-nonsense veterans, help round out a talent-laden team. They’ll provide and grit, along with qualities like shooting, ball security and tenacious defending that are required in the modern NBA.
“Raymond (Felton) and Patrick Patterson are two players that we’ve long admired in the NBA,” Presti said. “They exhibit the qualities of players we’ve traditionally tried to target and bring into the organization. Both highly professional, serious players. Guys that had reputations as great teammates, great competitors, and I believe players that understand what goes into winning and high-performing teams.”
Patterson will be heading into his seventh NBA season, and he’s the prototypical three-and-D power forward. He’s perfectly suited for the way the game is headed, with space and versatility vaulted on the pedestal as things every team tries to acquire.
Patterson also has a history with Donovan, who recruited him while coaching at the University of Florida. The forward ultimately chose Kentucky, closer to his hometown of Huntington, W.Va. He couldn’t bear to tell Donovan he was turning down the Gators. Now he’ll get a chance to play for him in Oklahoma City, and have the opportunity to return to some of his “country” ways. He’s thrilled about what’s in store for him and his teammates on the court too.
“Seeing the names, the coaching, the organization and city behind us. We don’t know how good we can truly be,” Patterson explained. “You look at the names, you see the roster and see the potential. You know how good each individual is, but collectively you’re not sure. The not knowing part excites me because you have so many guys who can do so many things exceptionally well.”
To Felton, Huntington would be a metropolis compared to Latta. There were no chain grocery stores. No Wal-Mart. His high school class graduated 66 students, and its campus was separated from the town’s middle school by only a connecting sidewalk. The last he remembers, Latta had just two stoplights.
According to Felton, his hometown helped him become who he is. As a player, he’s a steady point guard with a calming influence on younger players. He has a masterful career assist-to-turnover ratio and he plays with pace and tempo. Just like so many Oklahomans, though, the undersized, feisty Felton had to earn everything he’s ever gotten. He’s ready to do that again here with the Thunder.
“It’s family oriented. Everybody is just so welcoming, and everybody’s just honest,” Felton said of the Thunder organization. “I’ve played for a lot of organizations and I’ve played for several teams, and just the honesty that I see in everybody’s eyes, just talking to people. When I’m talking to you, I like looking in your face, looking in your eyes, so I can look and tell if somebody’s BS-ing me or not. But with this organization, I feel like everybody’s genuine. It’s all about one thing. It’s about winning and taking care of each other. So that’s welcoming. That’s a good feeling to have.”
Donovan was of the same accord as Presti when asked about the two newcomers. He’ll have his hands on the buttons every game, with these two blue-collar players ready and able to contribute when called upon. Balancing out superstars like Russell Westbrook and Paul George is no easy task. It takes experience and mettle to be the grease that allows the teams gears to turn. Both of these Thunder players have the mentality and the gumption for both.
“I’ve been great admirers watching both guys play,” Donovan opined. “I think they’re going to be just tremendous to our culture, to the way we want to play, to our identity. I think they’re going to bring great value.”