Thunder Bringing “Builder’s Mentality” to 2012-13

In five days, the familiar bouncing of basketballs, squeaking of sneakers, claps of encouragement and shouts of instruction will recommence again at the Integris Health Thunder Development Center.

Monday marks the start of training camp for the Thunder, the first opportunity for the team to practice fully together in anticipation for the start of the new season. In two weeks, the team will get its first crack at a preseason game, in Hidalgo, Tex. against the Houston Rockets, but over the course of the next month the players, coaches and staff will be working hard to be fully prepared for the start of the regular season on November 1st.

On Wednesday, General Manager Sam Presti addressed the media and discussed at length his perceptions of how the organization should continue moving forward in 2012-13.

“I think first and foremost we have to take a real building mentality to what it is that we establish for ourselves as a base this season,” Presti said. “We’re going to have to start from zero. That’s how we’ve done it every year, and that’s served us well.”

For the Thunder, in its fifth season in Oklahoma City, the key is to continue molding itself and setting the foundations for what the organization can look to as its identity, not only this season, but years from now. As a team that was born five years ago, it is imperative for the Thunder to be vigilant in its attempts to constantly improve and create a pervasive mentality. As the years roll on, players must understand what is expected of them and what playing “Thunder basketball” means before they even put on the jersey.

The way to achieve that distinctiveness as an organization is to be consistent with the processes that have been set forth- day by day, month by month and season by season.

“We have to think big, but we have to build small and maintain the consistency with how we have approached things in the past,” Presti said. “I also think what is important is that we continue to embrace our identity, continue to be consistent with who we are, not try to get outside ourselves and be something that isn’t repeatable for us and isn’t consistent with us. That’s going to be an important thing for us going into the season and I think in seasons beyond that, to embrace who we are and what we’re about.”

Within that framework of those internal standards is the push to develop all parts of the organization through the introduction of new ideas, innovative strategies and creativity. When combined with the hard work and consistent daily efforts on and off the basketball floor by the players and coaches, the Thunder has the opportunity to create a successful core that will set the bar for future Thunder teams. The key, however, is to operate in the moment and for each player, each coach and each staffer to focus completely on what they can do to grow that day.

“We have to continue to study ourselves and find marginal areas where we can get improvements,” Presti said. “I think some of those will be communication, concentration and then establishing a standard of performance that we can call on and measure ourselves by regardless of who we’re playing, where we’re playing or when we’re playing. That standard of performance has to tie us together and keep us consistent.”

During training camp and throughout the season, Thunder veterans like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison, the three players on the roster to first wear the Thunder jersey, can help the team improve its cohesiveness on both ends of the floor. Whether its communication on the defensive end, better ball movement and court awareness on the offensive end or pushing one another in practice, the example set by team leaders will go far in determining how the team plays as a unit.

In addition, it will be important for every Thunder player and coach to use their time during training camp to assess strengths and weaknesses- in order to both address the shortcomings and capitalize on the positive areas during the season.

“Part of continuing to improve is understanding your own performance and being good self-evaluators,” Presti said. “I think that’s another thing you find in high performing teams and we have to continue to do that and having that standard will be important.”

Looking to the season, it is clear the Thunder has a multi-talented, well-balanced roster that is capable of being successful. Over the past four years the team has steadily improved, and the win-loss column has indicated that development. Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the Thunder’s maturation moving forward, however, will be its ability to set aside what has happened in the past and focus solely on what it can control- its daily effort.

“We can’t take anything for granted,” Presti said. “We’re not entitled to anything, we’ve never taken that approach. I think we’d be doing a disservice to ourselves, and probably being inconsistent if we were to take any kind of approach other than coming in and just doing our jobs, understanding what works for us and putting in an honest day’s work and going home.”