Presti Reviews the 2016-17 Campaign, Looks Ahead to Summer
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
Standing where other franchises had tripped and fallen before, in the face of once-in-a-generation adversity, the Thunder organization stood tall.
The truth is that after July 4th of 2016, the Thunder had a decision to make. Would the goalposts move, the expectations change and passion slide like it did in other similar situations over the course of NBA history? Or would the Thunder bunker down, attack its work and forge ahead to write the next chapter of professional basketball in Oklahoma City?
After a remarkable, historic 2016-17 season, it’s clear that Chairman Clayton I. Bennett, General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti and the entirety of the Thunder staff, coaches and players simply did what they’ve been trained to do all their lives: embrace the mission.
Presti Opening Statement
“It was about taking on a challenge. It was about competing. It was about creating a new path and a new future, and you know, we're really proud of what we accomplished,” Presti recapped on Monday as he met with the media for his end of season press conference.
From the moment the team was drastically changed in July, the Thunder got to work. Russell Westbrook re-signed, putting his flag in the ground as the on-court and locker room leader the team needed on a nightly basis. The coaching staff, led by Billy Donovan, assembled the pieces, worked with new players on the fly and did a great deal of learning in real time. The result was 47 wins, a trip to the Western Conference playoffs and, oh by the way, perhaps one of the greatest individual seasons by a player in NBA history.
“We wanted to stabilize the franchise coming out of last summer, and we wanted to see if we could find a way to create some momentum from the starting point in which we were, and I think we've been able to do that,” Presti explained.
For many franchises, the loss of a superstar and two other veteran two-way players would have left the organization drifting—for years. In just one season, the Thunder not only managed to make the postseason, but also to craft a vision towards the future with a young, emerging roster that will benefit from their experiences this past year.
At the end of seasons, those external goalposts and expectations often don’t mirror reality, or even resemble what they did in the months prior to a team’s final game. That’s why for the Thunder, the next few months will be spent analyzing the team the same way it has done in the previous nine summers in Oklahoma City.
From the NBA Draft in June to Summer League to free agency, the trade market and beyond, there will be plenty of decisions to be made. In order to have any type of clarity to make those choices, the Thunder must both take the wide angle view and narrow in on the specifics in a reasoned way in order to come up with answers.
“We try to step away from it initially. We want to see the season in totality. We don't want to get drenched with like recency bias or hindsight bias, or all of the biases that come with conclusion of anything, any event,” Presti began.
“We want to try to be pragmatic. We want to try to be analytical. And the way you dissect the year and go through that is to not be looking for simplistic narratives, simplistic answers to pretty complex questions,” Presti expounded.
Throughout the years in Oklahoma City, the Thunder has been one of the most active teams in the league in terms of transactions. Presti noted on Monday that the team will “continue to be opportunistic”. The reason the Thunder has been able to make quality acquisitions is because it has positioned itself in a way that allows decisiveness and flexibility and has not been impulsive. The clarity that comes from diligent work behind the scenes is vital. It creates an environment such that if the right opportunities arise, the team can strike.
“We've been operating I think with a pretty aggressive mind-set. I don't think that really changes,” Presti said. “But I think being urgent is less important than being accurate. There's not a lot of reward for enthusiasm and recklessness.”
The Thunder has a history as an organization of being willing to judiciously spend into the luxury tax while finding ways to upgrade and improve the roster through free agency and trades. This offseason though, the most significant upgrades to the team will likely come from within.
It first starts with player improvement. Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter are all 25-years-old or younger, and have made strides in each of their seasons in the league. There is an expectation that all three will get better, have the ability to take on different roles and enhance their games again this offseason. The same goes for youngsters like Doug McDermott, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines, Domas Sabonis and Semaj Christon.
“Internally there's a few things we have to look to,” Presti said. “Obviously the age of the team is a great foundation for us in terms of player development. We have to be intentional with the development of the group going forward.”
But it is also true for a veteran like Westbrook, who always seems to come back each fall with increased abilities in a variety of categories. That type of growth will be required of Donovan and the coaches as well. Presti highlighted a few on court areas, like finding ways to defend better without fouling, limiting turnovers and preventing straight line drives to the rim.
It will just be Donovan’s third year in the league, and after a season of roster upheaval and seemingly constant change, there will be a chance for Westbrook and his teammates to all get on the same page, with an extra year of collective, not just individual, experience. And if all those marginal improvements Presti mentioned come to fruition, it could make a big difference. Not just in the final scores of games or in the standings, but in the future forged by the Thunder as it charges ahead into its 10th year as a successful, stable, sustainable franchise.