OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson have each played in the NBA long enough to appreciate the importance of playing for a team with legitimate title aspirations.
Both believe they found that in Oklahoma City, a point they made clear Tuesday as they were formally introduced by the Thunder.
“The best feeling ever is having a parade,” said Felton, a 12-year veteran from North Carolina. “I’ve never experienced that. I experienced (a title) at the college level but never here in the NBA. I definitely want to do that before I retire from this game.”
Oklahoma City is attempting to regain its status as a championship title contender after making a first-round playoff exit in its first season without Kevin Durant, who left for Golden State and helped the Warriors win their second title in three years.
The Thunder acquired forward Paul George from the Indiana Pacers in a blockbuster deal that provides an All-Star teammate for reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook. Felton and Patterson bring a combined 19 seasons of NBA experience.
“These guys are veteran guys,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “They’ve played in a lot of games, and a lot of big games. I think them having a great, clear understanding of what goes into winning (and) the sacrifices … I think that’s very, very important.”
The well-traveled Felton, who is 33, had 6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as a backup point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers last season. Patterson, a 28-year-old forward, averaged 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 65 games with Toronto.
Oklahoma City needs a big year as it attempts to persuade George to stay beyond this upcoming season. George’s reported interest in eventually playing for the Los Angeles Lakers led Indiana to trade him in the first place.
George was greeted at an airport by a cheering crowd Tuesday on the eve of his formal introductory news conference. Many fans are still stinging from Durant’s departure.
George told Sports Illustrated that Durant has told him Oklahoma City is a “first-class organization in every way.” George acknowledged that joining a hometown team would be a “dream come true” but added that his reported desire to play in Los Angeles has “definitely been overstated.”
“For me, it’s all about winning,” George told SI. “I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
Patterson said the ability to play for a potential winner helped drive his decision to sign with Oklahoma City. His familiarity with Donovan also helped.
Donovan used to coach at Marshall, which is located in Patterson’s hometown of Huntington, West Virginia.
“(It was) the opportunity to win, the opportunity to compete for a championship and be with a team that’s just as hungry as I am,” Patterson said. “To play alongside with All-Stars and superstars, to be reunited with Coach Donovan again and just being in an overall environment that I can be happy, be myself and flourish and have the utmost fun. That’s what it all came down to.”
The acquisitions of Patterson and Felton provide Oklahoma City with depth and experience heading into a critical season. Oklahoma City relied heavily on youth last season and lost one of its most experienced players when 32-year-old forward Taj Gibson signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves .
“Sometimes having youth is a good thing, but sometimes it can hurt in big games,” Felton said. “It can hurt in big situations. Experience, I think, helps a whole lot. But I think the main thing me and Patrick are going to bring to this team is just all-out competitors, guys who just want to win.”
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