Revamped OKC uses Spain trip to try to get players to bond
MADRID (AP) The Oklahoma City Thunder couldn't have picked a better occasion for a trip to Europe.
Needing to bring together a new group of players, the revamped Thunder play two preseason games in Spain this week, hoping the overseas trip will help create some chemistry in a squad filled with new faces and without Kevin Durant.
In Spain, practice and game results won't matter as much as team meals, sightseeing tours or watching a soccer match played by Cristiano Ronaldo.
''This week is about how we utilize the trip to spend more time with each other, to connect, and to bond with one another,'' coach Billy Donovan said Sunday. ''When you are in training camp and you are home in Oklahoma City, guys are going home to their wives and family. But now as we've all left to come over here to Spain, it's an opportunity for all of us to be together, so hopefully we can maximize this time together.''
The Thunder will play against nine-time Euroleague champion and 33-time Spanish League champion Real Madrid on Monday, and against 18-time Spanish League champion and two-time Euroleague champion FC Barcelona Lassa on Wednesday.
''It's important,'' guard Russell Westbrook said. ''It gives us an opportunity to obviously be together, but not just that, an opportunity to learn about each other in different ways.''
Russell and most of his teammates watched Ronaldo and European champion Real Madrid draw Eibar 1-1 in a Spanish league game at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Sunday, in one of the group outings planned for the players this week.
''Chemistry is a big factor in sports, so with a trip like this it really does bring the team together,'' said forward Kyle Singler, who played professionally in Spain early in his career. ''We are doing things. Those shared experiences go a long way. We are in another country together, that alone is pretty cool.''
Singler said the new group has ''gelled well together'' but it will take time for the team to fully develop.
''I think it's going to take time to build that chemistry, but once we've figured it out, we will be fine,'' Singler said. ''We are not the team that we are going to be at the end of the year, so we have to keep that in mind, and make sure that we take the entire season to learn what we need to get better at. We are going to be a playoff-contending team. That's our goal.''
Singler is one of five Thunder members who played in Spain at some point, along with Ersan Ilyasova, Alex Abrines, Domantas Sabonis and Joffrey Lauvergne.
''It's good to be outside Oklahoma,'' Lauvergne said. ''You are going to play against a different kind of basketball than what we are used to playing in the NBA. It's something good.''
Last season, the Thunder made their fourth Western Conference finals appearance in six years.
Oklahoma City played a pair of European preseason games in 2013, against the Philadelphia 76ers in England and against Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey.
Also part of the NBA Global Games 2016, the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans will play preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing on Oct. 9 and Oct. 12, respectively.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni