Playoffs 2019 West First Round: Blazers (3) vs.Thunder (6)

OKC's stars, coach Donovan expect improvement after playoff ouster

The Oklahoma City Thunder face an offseason full of questions after their first-round series loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. On Thursday, coach Billy Donovan and All-Stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook attempted to look ahead as a critical offseason looms.

The Thunder picked up Donovan’s option for 2019-20 in December, thus keeping him under contract for now. However, based on what he said Thursday, Donovan plans to talk further with team officials this summer about his long-term future there.

“For me it’s just kind of like business as usual,” Donovan said, per Barry Trammel of The Oklahoman. “[Thunder GM] Sam (Presti) and I had a chance to visit a little bit on the plane yesterday on the way back, just talking about the next couple days and getting together. So I’m sure he and I will get a chance to sit down as some of this stuff slows down and talk in detail and look forward to that, but for me it’s just, OK, handling our players today and the team today and giving them some things to think about going into the off-season, most importantly where we can get better and where we can improve.”

Individually, Westbrook was solid from a pure statistics standpoint in the series against Portland. He averaged 22.8 points, nine rebounds and 10.6 assists per game in the series and had a triple-double (29 points, 12 rebounds, 14 assists) in the Game 5 ouster. But those number don’t tell the whole story, as Westbrook shot 36 percent overall and had a 46.6 true shooting percentage in the series — marked drops from his regular-season marks of 42.8 and 50.1 percent, respectively.

The Thunder point guard shot 20.8 percent between three and 10 feet and 33.3 percent between 10 and 16 feet. When asked about what he can improve upon for next season, Westbrook did not shy away from the question.

“There’s room for improvement every year … I expect a lot out of myself,” Westbrook said. “When you lose a series, everybody looks at series and says this is why you lost … but ultimately there are different things through the season that happen to you or the team. It’s a combination of things. I will do what I need to do to stay consistent and be better.”

He also said he is putting a lot of pressure on himself to improve for 2019-20.

“There used to be conversations if I was a ball hog, but now I lead the league in assists for the past three years or whatever it is, that’s getting squashed out,” Westbrook said, per Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. “So now the conversation is about shooting. Next year I’m going to become a better shooter. After that it’ll be probably, (expletive), my left foot is bigger than my right one. Who knows.

“But to me that’s why I know when you do so much with the game, got so much impact on the game, I expect a lot out of myself, put a lot of pressure on myself to become a very, very great player because I know that I’m able to do so much throughout a game to impact the game, impact winning. So that’s why, back to your point, I don’t really care what people say, what they think about me, because it doesn’t really matter. I know what I’m able to do and know what I’m able to do at a high level every night, and nobody else can do what I can do on a night in, night out basis, and I truly believe that. If they could, I’m pretty sure they would. But I know for a fact that nobody can.”

As for George, he was solid statistically as well (28.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 43.6 FG pct., 31.9 3pt FG pct), but could face surgery on his right shoulder in the offseason. His status for the series against Portland was initially up in the air before Game 1, but he wound up playing the entire season.

Still, he was slowed by the shoulder injury late in the regular season, missing games on Feb. 28, March 2 and March 3. He also had problems with his left shoulder down the stretch of the season, but they are unrelated.

George declined to comment on the specifics of his injury on Thursday, but did say he was dealing with it long before he was forced to miss that time in late February and early March. His goal, per Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman, is to get his shoulder situation resolved to prevent it from becoming a recurring problem.

“I will address it soon,” he said, per The Oklahoman, “try to get it fixed and get back out there come this next season.

“I’m not sure of the exact timetable on it. Again, we’re still trying to put a plan together on how to address it, and you know, what needs to be done.”

With their five-game series loss to the Blazers, the Thunder are 4-12 in their last three playoff runs. This season’s exit comes after a surprising first-round loss to the Utah Jazz in 2018 and a five-game exit at the hands of the Houston Rockets in 2017. The Thunder were aggressive in the offseason following each exit, adding former All-Star Carmelo Anthony and George to their group in the 2017 offseason and, last summer, picking up reserve guard Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel (among others) while also re-signing the free agent George.

How much roster and salary cap flexibility the Thunder have this summer is much more limited. George is in the midst of his four-year contract, starting center Steven Adams has two more seasons on his deal. Westbrook signed a five-year, $205 million deal in 2017 as well. Noel and reserve Patrick Patterson both have player options this summer and veteran guard Raymond Felton will be an unrestricted free agent.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.