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Sports

June 9, 2013

Thunder’s Lamb in quandary

OKLAHOMA CITY — Jeremy Lamb will be in somewhat of a peculiar position this summer.

The teammate he’s known the longest and the one with whom he transitioned from Houston to Oklahoma City, guard Kevin Martin, will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

If Martin gets away, Lamb would lose a friend and mentor. But he also would figure to be in line for a much larger role next season.

On the flip side, if the Thunder unexpectedly brings Martin back, Lamb likely will be stuck on the bench for another year.

Without stating a preference in Martin’s situation, Lamb made his aspiration clear.

He wants to play.

And if his opportunity comes at the expense of retaining the team’s sixth man, so be it. A rookie season that Lamb described as a “learning year” seemingly taught him early on how coldblooded the business of basketball can be.

“I don’t think it’s odd because the NBA is very competitive,” Lamb said. “I don’t think I’ll pay that close attention to it. My dad always tells me work hard and everything will work out. So I’m going to just work hard and focus on my game. Focus on getting better and I think everything will take care of itself.”

Lamb’s first NBA season was a whirlwind.

He was traded five days before the start of the season as part of the blockbuster James Harden deal. He went from a lottery team to a championship contender. With the change of address, Lamb also went from a likely rotation player in Houston to a D-League All-Star with the Thunder.

Lamb appeared in only 23 games with the Thunder, totaling 147 minutes. Much of that time came when contests were all but over. Only four of Lamb’s appearances were in games decided by single digits.

Two of those were the final two games of the season.

“Outsiders, they see a guy not playing and they think he can’t play,” said Thunder forward Nick Collison. “That’s not necessarily the case when you come onto a team that’s kind of got a rotation set. . People just have to have more patience.”

Nobody needed patience more than Lamb.

He was assigned to the Tulsa 66ers nine times this season. The sharpshooting guard out of Connecticut made that many 3-pointers in a Thunder uniform.

But he made the most of his D-League stints, averaging 21 points, 5.3 rebounds and three assists while playing 32.8 minutes per game in 21 contests, all starts.

“I embraced it,” Lamb said of his trips to Tulsa. “It made me better.”

Lamb could now be in line to be one of the Thunder’s next big contributors.

Financial constraints could keep the Thunder from even offering Martin a contract extension. Any deal exceeding $3 million would put the Thunder into the treacherous tax threshold. Martin made roughly $12.5 million this season and is still a hot commodity, even if he’s not worth quite as much these days.

If the Thunder seeks perimeter shooting to replace Martin, the team probably won’t look any further than Lamb. He made 34.8 percent of his 3-pointers at UConn and made at least one 3 in 16 of his 21 regular-season appearances with the 66ers.

“He’s got a lot of ability,” Collison said. “I think he’s going to get better, obviously, in the future. He’ll get better when he gets the opportunity to play. I think he can definitely help us in the future.”

Lamb wants to dedicate his summer to putting himself in the best position possible to be a contributor next year.

He’ll spend most of his summer in Oklahoma City, working out with the coaching staff. He’ll play in next month’s Orlando Pro Summer League alongside the Thunder’s other young players.

He wants to become a better playmaker and defender.

“Just do all you can to make yourself better because it’s only going to help me as well as the team in the long run,” Lamb said.

Hard to say exactly when Lamb’s time will come, though.

Could be next year. Could be another year.

“They just told me be patient,” Lamb said, “and my time will come.”

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