OKLAHOMA CITY — Ronnie Brewer had a courtside seat to watch his former team play his new squad Sunday evening.
The former Bulls swingman, who was traded from the Knicks to the Thunder at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, was inactive for Oklahoma City’s 102-72 thrashing of the Bulls, but seeing his former teammates again — for the fourth time this season, as he faced them twice in New York and once in Chicago already — still brought back fond memories.
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“When I was in Chicago, it was a close-knit group. We thought we were so close to winning the championship,” he said before the contest, in his introductory press conference in Oklahoma City. “We became kind of like a brotherhood and I feel like that’s kind of what every NBA team is supposed to be like, and if you look at the teams that have success, that’s kind of how they are. So, I keep in touch with those guys a lot and I check on them, and they’re kind of like family and they do the same for me.
“When I was catching the flight back, I got to glance at the schedule a little bit and I knew I wasn’t going to get back for the Minnesota game, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get finished with my physicals in time to get ready for Chicago, so I thought that would be a little interesting to go against one of my former teams,” continued Brewer, who hosted former understudy Jimmy Butler in his hometown of Fayetteville, Ark., just over a three-hour drive from his new residence, during All-Star weekend. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get them all done yet. It’s still going to be exciting to be in the building to watch a good, exciting game.”
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Brewer was a starter for the Knicks early in the season, but struggled and eventually fell out of the rotation when Chicago-area native Iman Shumpert, a second-year guard, returned to the lineup following his recovery from a torn ACL suffered the same day Bulls superstar Derrick Rose had his own devastating injury.
“It happens,” said Brewer, one of the most affable players in the league. “It comes with the territory. Iman Shumpert’s coming back from a knee injury; they were trying to work him back. But it was a little tough because I felt like I started the season out really well and I was contributing. But you’ve got to be a true professional. You’ve got to support your team, support your teammates and that’s what I tried to do.”
Brewer knows that he isn’t guaranteed a prominent role in the Thunder’s rotation — superstar Kevin Durant plays the bulk of the minutes at small forward, another former Bulls player, Thabo Sefolosha, is the team’s defensive stopper and starting shooting guard, and Kevin Martin, who also plays shooting guard, has taken over James Harden’s role as sixth man — but as always, he’s willing to contribute however he can.
“They have great defensive players already, very athletic guys,” he explained. “Whenever I can get in, I don’t to want to have there be a drop in energy and lack of production, so I’m just going to go out there and play as hard as I can on both ends of the floor, hopefully make positive things happen out there.
“I’m going to play as hard as I possibly can, night in and night out. Whatever Coach and the players ask of me and expect of me, I’m going to try to fulfill that to the best of my abilities. If they tell me to dive for every loose ball, I’m going to try to do that to the best of my abilities.”
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks indicated that while he’s happy with the acquisition, it could be tough to find minutes for Brewer.
“He gives us another body that can play and has played big games, and he’s played a lot of playoff games. He has great experience and he’s a multiple defender. We like the guys that can guard two or three positions and we have a couple of guys that can guard four positions. He can guard definitely two or three positions. Minutes, I don’t know. That’s the tough part about coaching. You’ve got to find minutes for a lot of guys that are deserving, but you can’t find them for all,” he said. “I wasn’t really paying close attention to [the Knicks’] rotation and how they play. I just know he’s a good player. When you have a good team, it’s hard to play everybody.”
Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook chimed in: “[Brewer] adds some depth defensively. He’s a big body, he’s an older guy, so he’s been around the league.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him play.”
After playing for Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan, Brewer certainly has a pedigree that reeks of professionalism and both his experience and quiet leadership could benefit a young Thunder team.
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“When I was with Thibs, he would always talk about Miami, but in all reality, there’s so many other teams that you play against night in and night out, so you’ve got to treat every person that you come across as the best, premier player in this league. So, I’m going to approach whoever is in front of me as if they’re the best player in this league. So, the same intensity I’m going to give to LeBron, I’m going to give it to Luol Deng or Rip Hamilton, or whoever our next opponent is,” he said. “Carry yourself as a professional, to prepare yourself to come in and work day in and day out, and don’t take anything for granted because it can be taken away from you real soon. I try to prepare myself, study film, study what guys do really well and I try to take it away defensively. You’ve got to put the time in to try to be a better player and that’s what I try to do offensively, as well.
“You have to be very precise and in detail. If it’s you being a sidestep away from the nail or not being able to ice a guy down, it’s all about paying attention to detail and as player, you might not really think it’s that serious. You make a turnover or allow a guy to get an offensive rebound, but every point counts, every mishap counts in the playoffs and down the stretch,” he continued. “That’s basically what those two coaches preached about preparing yourself like you’re playing in a championship game and you have to take every possession like it’s your last.”
Brooks concurred: “It’s good. They’re both outstanding coaches. Coach Sloan is going to down as one of the greatest coaches ever to coach in the league and he demands that players play a certain way with a lot of effort and together, and anytime you see their players, they always have that same professionalism and toughness, and respect for their team, their teammates and Brewer is the same way. In just talking to him today, you know that he has that serious approach about the game and about what he brings to the team.”
It also helps that Brewer’s so close to home.
“Every time we traveled — no matter what team I was on, to OKC — I always had a lot of support, whether it was people locally here or people making the trip from Arkansas. It’s not that far, so I always appreciate the support,” he said. “To me, it’s just going to make me play with more of a sense of a pride, more of a sense of urgency because I’m way more close to home, so I don’t want to let anybody down on this team or the fans back home either.”