'There's opportunity for us to chart a new path': Life without Russ begins in OKC

OKLAHOMA CITY — The hand was raised for the first question on OKC’s first media day without Russell Westbrook.

At the podium on Sept. 30 was Chris Paul, and as the microphone landed in a reporter’s hand and he began to identify himself, Paul interrupted.

“Berry Tramel,” Paul said with a smile. “What’s going on? You didn’t have to say your name. Long time no see.”

Tramel, The Oklahoman columnist and long-standing presumed adversary of Westbrook who was routinely on the other end of the “next question” shtick, replied sharply: “You’re going to get a bad reputation treating me like that.”

It wasn’t an audible gasp from the assembled media, but the narrative of the moment was overflowing as reporters hammered away at their keyboards making note.

If you were looking for a sign that this season was going to be something different for the Oklahoma City Thunder, here it was.

Paul flashed the charm in full during his session, detailing expectations for the season, sharing how excited he was in a fresh start, while also playing up the nostalgia element.

“It’s different being back,” said Paul, who played his first two seasons in Oklahoma City when the then-New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated because of Hurricane Katrina. “I had the opportunity to start my career here in 2005, so [I am] blessed and fortunate to be back.”

Paul shouted out an arena employee he remembered. He plugged Charleston’s, a long-standing OKC restaurant chain he used to eat at “every day pregame,” and he remembered practices at nearby Southern Nazarene University.

As he exited the podium, Steven Adams entered, and Paul gave him a fist bump. Paul and Adams already have a connection building, with Paul frequently expressing how excited he is to play with the Big Kiwi, but there is still an obvious getting-to-know-you period going on.

“You’ve gotta teach me that,” Paul said to Adams as they crossed on the steps, mimicking a squat.

“What, the Haka?” Adams said, referencing the ceremonial dance in Maori culture.

“Yeah, that,” Paul said.

Chapter 2 for the Thunder was officially underway. And for the first time, no original members remain from the team that relocated from Seattle 11 years ago.

One franchise pillar’s absence more noticeable than all the rest.

OKC’S LOCKER ROOM was always a few degrees warmer than the rest of the building — that was the way Westbrook liked it. Newer teammates would sometimes remark how hot it was, but the general response was always the same.

If you’ve got a problem with it, take it up with Russ.

The thermostat has since returned to normal levels, and there have been other tangible differences to these Thunder that are easy to identify: Sam Presti has a beard, Billy Donovan has a new haircut. New assistant coaches, and a lot of new players.

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