When you go to Kentucky as a freshman, you know your time is limited.
John Calipari's teams are a revolving door replacing talented youngsters with talented youngsters on a constantly repeating basis. If you do not make the most of your one year, that replacement is coming right behind you.
Even though he played behind DeMarcus Cousins in his lone year at Kentucky, Daniel Orton likely saw Anthony Davis coming up behind him and then Nerlens Noel after him. Orton was going to be the odd man out -- even though he spent much of his freshman year recovering from a torn ACL he suffered his junior year in high school.
Calipari, being Calipari, is a great salesman and knows how to push his players to NBA representatives once they have made the decision to go pro. His brutal honesty about the league is one of the reasons top recruits flock to his program.
Orton though remains the curious case.
The Magic took Orton with the 29th pick in the 2010 Draft. It was a curious pick, but one that came with low expectations and low pressure. The team had Marcin Gortat, and you could figure Orton would be his eventual replacement when the Magic would need to cash in on him as an asset.
It never worked out.
"The level of comfort [changes]," Orton said at Summer League in July, his third trip to Summer League. "Coming out that first year, I was nervous as all get out, and it was tough being a first round draft pick. You want to prove that you belong and do really well. I think I put too much pressure on myself and didn't just play and have fun."
Continuing knee issues prevented Orton from fulfilling that roll and fulfilling that promise. He languished on the end of the bench before the Magic opted to let him go. For a first round pick, the guaranteed two years were up and he needed a new home.
That new home turned out to be Oklahoma City. The Thunder picked up the young center and shuttled him back and forth between Oklahoma City and the team's D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla.
He appeared in 13 games for the Thunder but also played 29 games for the 66ers averaging 12.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He carried that strong play over to Summer League, where he averaged 12.0 points per game and 5.0 rebounds per game, blocking 1.7 shots per game. He was active and athletic, finally looking like the player he was in high school and could have been in Kentucky.
Of course, it was tinged with the regret of his concussion suffered in the third game of the week. It always seems to be with Orton.
But he said he is playing without the pressure anymore and that his knee feels fine. The Thunder helped him prepare and, even though he is bouncing back and forth between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, he feels good about his future with the organization.
"Moreso than doing that [bouncing between the NBA and the D-League], I think confidence helped," Orton said. "Getting more playing time in actual game situations helped more than anything. I feel like it did help me learn my role and learn best what I can do."
Orton will still be fighting for his NBA life with the Thunder during training camp. It is getting to the point, now entering his fourth year in the NBA, that he has to make the most of his opportunities and show he belongs in the NBA.
Just like at Kentucky, there is always someone ready to come in and replace those coming out of the league.
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