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Presti 'anticipates' Donovan will return as Thunder coach

Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti made it clear today: he is planning on Billy Donovan returning as coach.

Presti said at today’s news conference that he “anticipates” Donovan returning for his fifth season. Donovan, who has gone 199-120 in four seasons as OKC’s coach, had the option for his fifth season picked up in November.

“I wouldn’t expect anything to change,” Presti said. “There’s nobody that works harder than him.”

Despite the winning record during the season, Donovan is 4-12 in the playoffs over the last three seasons. Since Kevin Durant left the team via free agency in 2016, the Thunder has lost three straight playoff series — the most recent coming a week ago at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Presti told reporters he hasn’t had a chance to sit down and talk with Donovan, but that Donovan’s perspective on the season and team is important..

One of the other key topics addressed at Presti’s news conference was that of star guard Russell Westbrook. The All-Star averaged a triple-double for the third straight season and nearly averaged one in the playoffs. But Portland bounced the Thunder in five games, and Westbrook’s poor shooting played a significant role in another first-round exit. He shot 36 percent from the floor during the series and made just 11 of 31 field goals in the deciding Game 5 loss.

He got into a verbal altercation with fans in Utah, led the league with 16 technical fouls and was suspended a game for them, engaged in trash talking with Portland’s Damian Lillard during the playoffs and responded during postgame news conferences with, “Next question.”

Regarding Westbrook’s issues and off-the-court demeanor, Presti was nothing but supportive of his star.

“Russell Westbrook has been here 11 years. The reason there’s so many people in the room and people watching is Russell Westbrook has helped up achieve as certain level,” Presti said. “With all that being said, he’s not perfect, none of us are. I’m not going to let 11 years of his contributions and performance be completely overshadowed by a couple of pretty tough months.

“As a leader of the team and face of the franchise, we’ll have those conversations. Would we prefer he handled a few things differently? Yeah, we’ve talked about that. He made an adjustment to that particular approach and I think that’s a sign of growth.”

Change may be afoot for the Thunder after another disappointing playoff performance, but Presti is not in a rush to make knee-jerk transactions as a result of that.

“We’re not looking to be quick. We’re looking to be rigorous,” Presti said. “We’re looking to be the same problem-solving group we have been over the years … pretty methodical. We just don’t have the liberty to be momentary problem solvers.

“Our greatest path to improvement is going to be the improvement of our core group.”

Guard Paul George was solid statistically this season (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. He declined to comment on the specifics of his injury in last Thursday’s exit interviews, but wants to get it resolved before 2019-20 tips off.

Presti said the team will work with George to get the injury handled this offseason.

“Everybody knows he was battling a couple of different things throughout the year,” Presti said. “We work with the agent, the player, a specialist. Everybody felt comfortable with him playing, but we knew that at the end of the season he’d have to be looked at.”

OKC’s playoff exit comes after a surprising first-round, six-game series 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 limited. George is in the midst of his four-year contract while Schroder and starting center Steven Adams each have two more seasons left on their deals. Westbrook signed a five-year, $205 million deal in 2017 as well. Noel and reserve Patrick Patterson both have player options this summer, while veterans Raymond Felton and Markieff Morris will be unrestricted free agents.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.