The Thunder gave Kevin Durant's old number to an undrafted rookie

Rookie guard PJ Dozier has linked up with Oklahoma City after catching on with the Dallas Mavericks earlier this summer. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Rookie guard PJ Dozier has linked up with Oklahoma City after catching on with the Dallas Mavericks earlier this summer. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

On the eve of the 2017-18 NBA regular season’s tipoff, the Oklahoma City Thunder arched some eyebrows when they decided to assign newly signed undrafted rookie free agent PJ Dozier the jersey number 35 — a number last worn in OKC by Thunder superstar-turned-Golden State Warriors NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant.

Durant’s business partner, Rich Kleiman, didn’t seem too happy to see anyone (let alone an undrafted free agent) rocking the former’s MVP jersey, in what looked from the outside like a petty continuance of Oklahoma City’s year-long grudge against his associate:

As it turns out, Dozier’s new number had nothing to do with Durant. Dozier wore 35 with the Dallas Mavericks, who brought the 20-year-old out of South Carolina to a training camp deal, and asked to wear it with Oklahoma City to honor his late second cousin, Reggie Lewis.

“It’s meant a lot,” Dozier said of the opportunity to honor Lewis’ legacy, according to Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. “Seeing someone in your family who did what he did to open up those doors, to make it possible that I could have this dream one day, that I could say that I’m playing in the NBA.”

The Boston Celtics selected Lewis out of Northeastern University in the first round of the 1987 NBA draft, one year after the sudden post-draft death of first-round pick Len Bias. Lewis eventually blossomed into an All-Star guard, twice averaging more than 20 points per game and becoming the leading scorer on a Celtics team transitioning out of the era led by future Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. But that wasn’t to be; Lewis tragically died on July 27, 1993, while playing on the campus of Brandeis University.

While we certainly don’t doubt Dozier’s motives being genuine, it does seem a little surprising that the Thunder honored it. On one hand, that number has real meaning for Dozier, and new addition Paul George is rocking the No. 13 that one-time Thunder star James Harden once wore. On the other hand, they also once denied Dion Waiters’ request to wear No. 13 … but then again, it’s fair to say that Durant and Harden left town under decidedly different circumstances.

Anyway, you probably won’t see much of Dozier in Oklahoma City. The Thunder signed him to a two-way contract after the 6-foot-7 guard spent Summer League and the preseason with Dallas. The contract enables Dozier to spend a maximum of 45 days in the NBA and the rest of his season in the developmental G-League.

After following a cathartic MVP campaign by Russell Westbrook with a hectic summer that featured the additions of George and Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder have bigger fish to fry, and seem to have moved on from taking subtle shots at Durant.