Thunder Headed to Summer League Championship Game

ORLANDO – No matter the stage, the Thunder tries to put forth maximum effort, which is why at the Summer League in Orlando, the team heads into Friday’s final day feeling productive.

Not only has the Thunder coaching staff, led by Rex Kalamian, helped integrate new players into the system and started the learning process, but the entire roster was able to start building positive habits. Understanding what it means to be a part of the Thunder organization is an integral part to being a part of the team, so for rookies like Steven Adams and Andre Roberson and even established roster players like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, the week has been a great way to further establish the standards for work ethic for the youngest generation.

“Every day is a chance for us to continue to get better,” Kalamian said.

Becoming unified with the Thunder culture has been a main focus this week, but the 4-0 record and a spot in Friday’s championship game at 11:00 a.m. CT against the Houston Rockets is an added bonus. General Manager Sam Presti has been impressed by the Thunder players’ dedication to team goals this week, but knows that this is just the jumping off point for players in the development system, so the results will only be taken into account insofar as a foundation for the coaching staff to use.

“First and foremost, this is really the starting point for us to see where our guys are and to get a baseline, especially on some of the rookie players and some of the returning guys that we’re fortunate enough to have coming back,” Presti said.

“I’ve been proud of the effort,” Presti said. “Clearly the guys have put in a lot of time in the offseason, not just this week. All of them have contributed to what we’re trying to accomplish overall. Our coaching staff has done a good job as well.”

The week as a whole has seen ups and downs, which the team expected. With a host of young players, there is always bound to be stretches of positive play and areas to correct, but overall Kalamian and the staff have been preaching consistency. For all 40 minutes of each game the energy and effort has been there, with the staff working with the players to follow with increased consistency in execution.

Each of the Thunder’s four wins have come in a different manner, which is good for a young team to experience. Learning to win in various ways builds confidence. Twice the Thunder overcame large deficits to take game-clinching leads in the final minutes, while Wednesday’s victory was one where the team made a big run just after halftime and then kept its opponent at bay for the rest of the half.

Getting and maintaining leads without a letdown is a team-wide skill that must be developed, as is the ability to execute down the stretch with time and score in mind. The Thunder’s two close calls on Monday and Tuesday were perfect teaching tools for Kalamian and the staff to test the young roster on their ability to understand the scenario and perform their duty on each play.

“I love the last two minutes of a tight game,” Kalamian said. “Even if you lose, you get that experience of being able to call a time out, set these guys up in certain positions, holding them accountable and making sure that they follow instruction on what you want to accomplish.”

While each game and Thursday’s practice were beneficial for the players and staff to get more experience, this week is mostly serving as a reference point heading into the rest of the summer. Once Summer League is over, the players will still have a few months to prepare themselves for training camp, using each and every day as an opportunity to improve in a variety of areas. Looking through a long lens at their development as a whole, young players like Adams comprehend that the road to getting better is a long one, but well worth it.

“You can’t rush the process,” Adams said. “We’re just taking it day-by-day. I’m just working hard every day and getting better.”