OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Add Cole Aldrich to the crowded race to become the starting center for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Taken with the No. 11 pick in Thursday night's draft, the 6-foot-11 Aldrich was sent to the Thunder in a trade with the New Orleans Hornets. Oklahoma City gave up a pair of first-round picks and also got veteran forward Morris Peterson in the swap.
Aldrich enters the mix with starter Nenad Krstic and reserve Serge Ibaka, who received increased playing time down the stretch and made a defensive impact in the playoffs. The Thunder also are trying to develop Byron Mullens, who was the No. 24 overall pick in last year's draft.
"I think whatever team it is, if I stay in New Orleans or if I go to Oklahoma City, the need for a big man is great," Aldrich said. "I'm not going to try to go in and do spectacular things, only the things I'm good at.
"I'm good at rebounding and defending and blocking shots and that's how I'm going to make my presence on the court early is doing those things. I'm definitely working hard on my offensive game, too."
Despite lacking a big-name center, Oklahoma City led the NBA in blocked shots and ranked third in the league in rebounding last season.
But Kevin Durant, the youngest player ever to lead the NBA in scoring, considered a "big man" to be one of his team's biggest needs after a 27-win improvement last season.
"I think he's going to be a game-changer for us, and I'm very excited to add him to our team," Durant said of Aldrich while watching the draft in person in New York. "I'm looking forward to next season."
The Thunder came into the draft with three first-round picks after a trade with Miami a day earlier that also brought in former 3-point shootout champion Daequan Cook, and general manager Sam Presti was busy again on draft night — mostly tracking down big men.
Presti also picked up 7-foot-1 center Tibor Pleiss from Germany with the first pick in the second round, following a three-way trade that involved Atlanta and New Jersey, and 6-foot-10 center Magnum Rolle from Louisiana Tech with the 51st overall pick.
The Thunder took Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe with the 18th overall pick, though there were reports that he would be sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a future first-round pick. The team declined comment after sending cash to the Hawks in the Pleiss trade and giving up the 21st and 26th picks to the Hornets.
"I'm happy for the new rookies coming in," said Durant, the No. 2 overall pick in 2007. "This is a great time to be drafted into the NBA. I know what it feels like."
Peterson is no rookie. Headed into his 11th season, he is set to make about $6.6 million in the final year of his four-year contract. He played in only 46 games last season, averaging 7.6 points.
"I'm excited to be playing with a great, young, up-and-coming team," Peterson wrote in a text message to The Associated Press.
AP Basketball Writer Jim O'Connell in New York and AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.