Daequan Cook Becoming A Factor In OKC
On December 9, 2011, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Daequan Cook wrote the following message on Twitter:
It’s official tweeps. Re-Signed a 2yr ext. with the Thunder tonight. So back in business I am. Feels good to still be in the “Thunder Family.”
With that statement, all speculation regarding Cook’s future with the Thunder ended. The parties entered into a two-year deal that pays him $6.5 million.
“It feels good. It feels very good,” Cook told HOOPSWORLD. “Off last season, when I said I’d love to be here, the team really took it in (to consideration).
“Just me staying around here, working out, me showing how much I really want to be here,” he continued. “We got a deal done that we both agreed on.”
Oklahoma City had extended a $3.1 qualifying offer to Cook at the end of June making him a restricted free agent. The ensuing lockout meant both parties underwent a long waiting period; during that time, Cook elected to stay in town rather than return to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio or sign overseas. To the casual observer it appeared Cook stayed in town by design in an effort to make his desires known to Thunder general manager and executive vice president Sam Presti.
“No, it wasn’t by design,” Cook told us. “I was just here. There wasn’t a lot to do other than work out here. I just felt good here working out, so I just felt like it would be best to stay here…stay around and do that instead of trying to find some new guys back home to work out with.”
While Cook says he didn’t necessarily stay in town on purpose, i.e. to demonstrate how serious he was to re-sign, Presti’s press release seemed to suggest it did play a part:
We are excited that we were able to reach an agreement that will keep Daequan a part of our core group moving forward. Daequan’s commitment to his own development and willingness to accept a role within our team, makes him a valuable member of our organization. At twenty-four years old, we believe Daequan’s best basketball is ahead of him. His desire to remain a part of the Thunder organization and the Oklahoma City community is what ultimately allowed us to reach this agreement.
Cook was selected 21st in the 2007 NBA draft. He spent the first three years of his career with the Miami HEAT until he landed in Oklahoma City in June of 2010 via a trade (Thunder’s 32nd 2010 draft pick for Cook and an 18th 2010 pick).
The Thunder was in serious need of a three-point specialist, ranking 25th in both total three-pointers made and efficiency in the 2009-10 season. Further, they were dead last in three-pointers and 28th in efficiency in 2008-09. Cook, the three-point shootout winner in the 2009 All-Star games, was just the ticket.
During his first year with the Thunder, Cook, now 24, appeared in just 43 games; in fact, he didn’t play in 34 straight games early on in the season. He said it was a challenge to stay focused mentally until he got a chance to prove himself in Oklahoma City.
“It was very tough,” shared Cook. “Not playing and just watching, knowing I could help, but I wouldn’t let it affect my work habits and the things I was doing to get myself better. At the end of the day, I was still doing it for my team and not just myself, knowing that there would come a time; whether it was two minutes or a minute, I’d get my chance to show Coach (Scott Brooks) all this work I’ve been putting in.”
Cook said it didn’t take long to fit in with his new teammates following the trade. Soon he understood what it would take to get minutes.
“I kind of fit in with the team, even in practice. It was just about me having that mentality of me doing what I needed to do to put myself in the position of getting back out there on the floor, which was coming in early, getting up shots, going to prepare myself, doing the things that I’ve always had to do before a game and before practice. (I) put myself in a good position.”
Cook averaged 1.5 threes a game, second only to Kevin Durant, at .422 percentage (league-ranked 11th) in 13.9 minutes in the 2010-11 season. He described the most important thing he learned after one year with his new team.
“You’ve always got to stay ready, that was the biggest thing going into last year for me. Not playing as many games, but knowing I was going to get an opportunity…was I ready for the opportunity? That’s just important. And that’s just the maturity you’ve got to have going into a situation like I was in last season. So it’s just about being ready and staying ready and just knowing when you’ve the opportunity, just taking advantage of it.”
He explained the mind-set that developed during his tenure in Miami which carried over to OKC; maturity was key in getting through the time logged on the bench.
“It comes with a lot of maturity. There was a time in Miami where maybe I wasn’t playing, just going through the motions – not really understanding – but once I realized this is what I love to do, there’s no days off for me. It was always important for me to always have that in the back of my mind that I just need to always keep working, keep working regardless of the situation, just keep working.
“That was just important; my time came and I took advantage of it.”
And he keeps taking advantage. In the four games so far this season, Cook has averaged 2.0 three-pointers made at an impressive .500 percentage.
In this shortened and crammed 66-game season, it stands to reason the bench will play significant minutes. Cook was asked if he thought Brooks would extend the bench to rest his starters.
“It just depends on how the guys feel,” answered Cook. “I’m not going to sit here and say ‘I know who he’s going to play and how he’s going to play him’, but it’s just dependent on how the guys feel, how people’s bodies are and how guys on the bench are producing, not just in practice but also in the games, which is very important knowing we’ve got 66 games in a certain amount of days.”
The Thunder’s second unit center Nazr Mohammed recently cautioned his teammates to save their energy by maximizing sleep and limiting both workouts and off-court activities.
“That’s important right now knowing the amount of games we’ve got to play and the amount of time you’ve got to do it,” Cook said. “Our goal is to win it all. He’s right, listening to him (from someone) that’s been in it, that’s won it, that knows what it takes. We really take that into consideration.
“We listen to guys like him that really knows what he’s talking about, even though he talks a lot,” Cook deadpanned.
Chemistry is a valued commodity in Oklahoma City. In just one year with the Thunder, Cook has already become part of the close-knit group. Four of the guards – Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor, James Harden and Cook – have regular pre-practice shooting contests.
Cook shared the current overall standings between the four so far.
“I’m going to be honest. I think it’s me over the top. We just started new again, and I think I broke the record for the most wins in a day. Like 6-0 for all four of us. We were just like ‘wow’ – that was the first time any of us ever won every game we played. Just to start off like that is a great start for me knowing it’s a very short season for us.”
The players don’t subject their rookies to hard-core hazing, but Cook said Reggie Jackson, the Thunder’s 24th pick in the 2011 draft, has been assigned specific tasks in these shooting contests. Jackson doesn’t get to participate yet.
“We really don’t use Reggie unless we need him to pass the ball. (You get) too many people involved, and then everybody wants to be a part of us, so no, we just use Reggie to pass us the ball or get some water for us.”
Cook is now part of the rotation; he’s carved out a meaningful role that figures to grow.