Presti Looking Forward to Opportunities in Off-season

Making the initial and intermediate steps towards becoming a high-performing team is extremely difficult. The final stride to accomplishing the ultimate goal, however, is by far the longest and most challenging.

Despite coming up six games short of winning an NBA title, the Thunder looks back at its 2013-14 campaign with both pride and perspective on all of its accomplishments. Despite the adversity of losing Russell Westbrook for 36 games and Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha for a combined 41 games during the regular season, the Thunder managed the second best regular season record in the NBA, its fourth consecutive Northwest Division title and reached the Western Conference Finals for the third time in the past four seasons.

While Kevin Durant won the Most Valuable Player award and Serge Ibaka was named to the All-Defensive team, the Thunder as a unit continued to progress as a unit in terms of valuing every possession, focusing on the details and finding new ways to win on the margins. The leadership, mental toughness and togetherness the group showed throughout the season was remarkable in the eyes of General Manager Sam Presti.

“We’ll never take for granted, in Oklahoma City, the opportunity to raise a banner in Chesapeake Arena, as we did with for our fourth division title,” Presti said. “We won’t take for granted 59 wins. Those are things we respect, we cherish and most importantly, understand will be hard to replicate.”

Behind Head Coach Scott Brooks, team leaders Durant, Russell Westbrook and veterans like Nick Collison, Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have helped the Thunder foster a winning environment that relies on the versatile strengths and skill sets within the locker room. The key moving forward will be to maximize the talents of the individuals in the group setting in order to make the best possible product when five men touch the floor against NBA competition.

Heading into next season, the Thunder wants to commit more fully to the defensive end of the floor, where it won 44-of-48 games when holding opponents to 102-or-fewer points per 100 possessions. In addition, the team will look to continue evolving on the offensive end to create an even more effective attack.

With nine players on the roster under 25 years old and the core nucleus of the team still entering the prime of their careers, there is plenty of reason to believe the outlook of the Thunder organization is bright for the future. Internal development has always been the key to the organization’s success under Presti and with the standards in place inside the walls of the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center, the opportunity to continue that consistent improvement is highly prevalent. The daily work this off-season of players like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are critical to the growth of the team as a whole heading into next year.

“Looking at the age of our team and the returning nature of the team coming back for next season is reason to continue to be optimistic about our ability to sustain a high performance organization and a high performance team,” Presti said.

The Thunder has three players in Thabo Sefolosha, Caron Butler and Derek Fisher hitting free agency, but also has two first round draft picks at numbers 21 and 29 in the upcoming draft. Presti and his staff will evaluate every opportunity to improve the team without compressing what is already in place. Having the room to grow is essential to the development of young players, which is often manifested in playing time, particularly in meaningful minutes against high level opponents.

No matter what the Thunder does in free agency or in any draft selections that it makes, the organization feels great about the assets at its disposal and the options it has to improve the team without subtracting from the extremely high level of play exhibited over the past four seasons. With versatility on the roster and a number of players who can fill in at multiple positions, Presti has freedom to improve the team in ways that are specific to the team’s overall vision. Having financial flexibility in addition to a multi-talented, diverse and hardworking group inside the practice facility puts the Thunder in a strong position heading into the off-season.

“We’re in a very manageable salary cap situation financially and most importantly, strategically, both coming into this summer and looking out for the future” Presti explained. “We always want to be in a position where we have flexibility to retain core players and make adjustments and additions. We feel like we’re positioned well to be able to sustain the performance of the team.”

“Managing, today, in our league is not just about budgeting, it’s about strategic planning,” Presti said. “We’re going to do everything we can to add to the team without subtracting. I think that’s an important concept.”

For the Thunder as an organization, the 2014 off-season will be about finding ways to push itself even further along the path of development and improvement, franchise-wide. Not only will players and coaches evaluate strengths and weaknesses through an objective lens, but the every staff member will take an honest look at where they currently stand and where they want to be. In order to come back and perform at an even higher level in 2014-15, the Thunder will have to be razor sharp this off-season in maximizing opportunities for individual and collective growth both on and off the court.

“We’re going to need to demonstrate tremendous discipline, tremendous humility, tremendous focus and a lot of independent thinking in relation to how we’re going to be able to continue to extend the type of run that we’ve had,” Presti explained.

“We have a heck of a base, but to be a high performing team year-after-year-after-year, self-evaluation and understanding your strengths and where they can go to is really important,” Presti said.