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News » Thunder mystery: No one will say why Watson benched

Thunder mystery: No one will say why Watson benched

Thunder mystery: No one will say why Watson benched
Earl Watson received word of his benching on Saturday, March 14, just before the Thunder took the court against the Phoenix Suns and one game after delivering his best performance of the season.

Nearly two weeks later, the Thunder point guard still isn't sure how he's bounced from opening night starter to backup to bench warmer.

"Literally walking onto the court to warm up, I found out I wasn't going to play," Waston remembered. "Then I found out I was going to be out for a while. No one said how long."

Tuesday's 107-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers marked the sixth straight game Watson didn't play. Thunder coach Scott Brooks insists the demotion is not personal. Watson seconded that stance, saying there is no rift between player and coach and that no behind-closed-doors altercation or incident of any kind led to the change.

"I wanted to give Chucky (Atkins) a chance to see what he has and see what kind of mix he will bring to our team," said Brooks on Wednesday, staying consistent with his stance since making the change. "We've done some good things with him on the court."

Atkins' performance, however, has raised questions about why Watson hasn't been reinserted. Atkins is averaging 4.1 points on 30.3 percent shooting and has been subpar as a playmaker, averaging just 2.3 assists while playing 18 minutes in those six games.

By comparison, in 47 games as a backup Watson averaged 6.4 points, 5.6 assists, 2.4 rebounds and shot 40.2 percent in 25.3 minutes.

The timing of the decision is even more interesting considering Watson was beginning to play some of his best ball of the season after adjusting to off-season thumb surgery most of the season. He scored a season-high 18 points with seven assists, six rebounds and two steals against Denver on March 11.

"Basketball-wise, you could say we're a young team trying to figure out who we can move forward with as an organization," Watson said. "Business-wise, it could be a different reason, a completely different angle."

That angle could be Watson is no longer in the plans. The Thunder came close to trading him at least once this season in a three-team deal that would have sent him to Charlotte back in January and would have brought Dallas' Jerry Stackhouse to Oklahoma City.

Watson, who is earning $6.2 million this season, would also be the team's highest paid player next year at $6.6 million in the final year of his deal if he is not dealt this summer.

A small piece of the puzzle could be that Watson is set to earn twice as much as Atkins next year and the team is evaluating whether Atkins, 34, can still be a full-time backup. Of Atkins' $3.48 million salary for next season only $760,000 is guaranteed.

When asked if Watson will see the court again this season, Brooks didn't rule out the possibility, saying "everybody has to be ready to play."

"There are going to be opportunities for all guys to be thrown in," Brooks said. "But with Earl, he's been a pro. He's handled it very well. I'm proud of the way he's handled it. He's been terrific. He has to continue to work and be ready. You never know. His name will be called."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: March 28, 2009


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