2012-13 Exit Interviews - Day One
Every season, 29 teams finish the year wishing they could have played one more game or advanced one round further.
On Thursday morning, Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks and his team surely hoped that they were preparing for a Game Six against the Memphis Grizzlies. Unfortunately after a tough 88-84 loss on Wednesday night in Game Five, they was instead visiting with members of the media for exit interviews. Brooks and nine players met with the media on Thursday, with another six players set to make answer questions on Friday with General Manager Sam Presti to follow on Saturday.
Serge Ibaka - 4:30 p.m.
The concept that Sefolosha explained became relevant again during Serge Ibaka’s comments to the media as he explained his desire to improve as an individual over the summer. The tales of Ibaka’s work ethic are true – he consistently is one of the first to arrive and last to leave the practice floor. His attitude will not waver this off-season as he tries to become an even more well-rounded, dynamic player. With the injury to Westbrook, Ibaka emerged as one of the primary scoring options for the Thunder, and it showed him even more starkly how valuable he is to the squad.
“This summer I’ll be focused on working on my game and being ready for next season,” Ibaka said. “Now I know how important I am to this team.”
Specifically, Ibaka recognized that his ability to be a scoring threat beyond just catch-and-finish or catch-and-shoot situations can make the Thunder that much more potent on the offensive end. In fact, during stretches where Westbrook and Durant aren’t on the floor, Ibaka hopes next season to be able to create scoring chances for himself in order to lessen the burden on others. His main focus, of course, will be on the defensive end, hoping to improve upon a season when he made First-Team All-Defense.
“I want to be able to create my own shot too,” Ibaka said. “But I’ll never forget about defense. I’ll keep improving my defense, because that’s my number one option.”
Ibaka’s individual development will be critical to the success of the organization moving forward and despite the fact that he’s only 23 years old, the Congolese forward has shown he can stay strong and take on that pressure and responsibility. He’s been an integral part of the process that has allowed the Thunder to incrementally improve its record each season it has been in Oklahoma City, something which he hopes to help the team accomplish again next year.
“Every year we’re getting better,” Ibaka said. “We don’t’ stay the same way as last year. Every year we make a big step.”
Ronnie Brewer - 4:00 p.m.
Ronnie Brewer was able to get a unique view into the Thunder as an organization considering he joined the team during the middle of the season but spent most of his time as someone who pushed his teammates in practice. The depth and versatility he provided off the bench was a luxury for the Thunder to have during the last half of the season and during the Playoff run.
From his vantage point, the Thunder played great basketball and is hard pressed to find areas to improve, but Brewer knows that every player will be in the gym this summer trying to get better. That’s where his focus will lie as well.
“I’ll continue to work on my shot, play with more confidence, continue to maintain being in shape and getting stronger,” Brewer said. “Work on my athleticism, because that’s one of my strong suits defensively. Come back better the next year.”
The veteran swingman did see time on the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena over the final months of the year, and he said that having that experience was one of the most rewarding of his career. Thunder fans have built a reputation for being loud and unconditionally supportive, and that’s exactly how Brewer felt about the people in Oklahoma City and all over the country who cheer on the Thunder.
“There are good teams in the NBA who don’t have sell out games,” Brewer said. “They don’t have fans who cheer as hard as they do for us here. I think that’s one of the best experiences I’ve had. No matter who it is in the game, what they’re doing, everybody is cheering for them and means well for them. That was a great feeling, that even though I came in halfway through the season, everybody that I came across through the city and in the arena, they wished me well and wanted me to succeed and wanted the team to succeed.”
Thabo Sefolosha- 3:15 p.m.
The Swiss defensive specialist has been one of the steadiest players for the Thunder all season. He simply does his job on the defensive end, stays within his role on the offensive end and tries to impact the game wherever he can. It was a tough end to the season, but even as one of the Thunder’s oldest players, the 29-year old is still young like the rest of the team is.
The squad understands it will have much of its core again with the team next season, and that this year’s difficult end doesn’t define how good of a season it can have next year. Most of all, Sefolosha was proud of the heart and determination his team showed to never let itself be counted out of any game this season.
“We have a lot of young guys and a young team,” Sefolosha said. “We’re going to use that as motivation, and it’s a learning process. As much as it hurts right now, I think we’ll see some positives of it.”
“The way we fought throughout everything that happened, it showed a lot of character of the team,” Sefolosha said. “We’ve built that for a long time with the team.”
Last summer Sefolosha worked on his game in addition to helping in the community. This year he plans on doing the same – splitting his time between workouts, running his camp and going to South Africa to help out with Basketball Without Borders. All of the community work is important, but for Thunder players basketball is still fresh on their minds. Each player wants to come back better and improved, because it helps the team’s overall success if every player’s individual skill level is higher.
“More of the same that we’ve been doing,” Sefolosha said. “I think everybody improves their game over the summer and it improves the team.”
Kendrick Perkins- 2:40 p.m.
Like Collison, Perkins is a veteran who understands the dividing line between winning and losing is extremely slim. As a result, he was proud of the way the Thunder hung tough in every single game this season, rarely losing by double figures and even when it lost in the Playoffs, it made sure the Memphis Grizzlies knew they were in a fight. Every single game was a two-point contest at some point with less than two minutes remaining, which was a remarkable sign of the Thunder’s maturity to Perkins, despite the result.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth,” Perkins said. “I thought we fought until the end. I thought every game we had a chance to win. We went out swinging.”
As the anchor of the Thunder’s defense, Perkins gets to see the entire floor in front of him and can communicate with all of his teammates to be in the best position possible. Many of the players lean on Perkins for confidence and advice because of his loyalty and supportiveness. Throughout the season though, Perkins has also been inspired by his teamamtes, particularly Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.
“(Russell) gives everybody swagger,” Perkins said. “From Coach Brooks to KD to myself, we feed off of Russ. He may say he feeds off of me, but I feed off of Russ.”
“(Serge) went through a couple things, some adversity, but he bounced back,” Perkins said. “I thought Serge really grew up. There were a couple times he could have hung his head, but he kept pushing.”
As for himself, Perkins is glad to go into a summer healthy and ready to attack his development. He wants to be a better rebounder come next season but most of all wants to refine the areas of the game where he helps the team most – setting screens, defensive positioning and making sure all five men are being responsible for their duties on each possession. For players like Perkins, it is important for them to play within their role, understand their identity within the team and find a way to maximize the production in the areas where they excel.
“Just be who you are,” Perkins said. “At the end of the day I do what I do and take pride in what I do.”
Nick Collison- 2:20 p.m.
Nick Collison has spent every single one of his NBA years with the same organization, which is a rarity in the modern landscape of professional basketball. So how did he feel after the Thunder completed a 60-win season and a first place spot in the Western Conference? In a word, great. While the lingering taste of losing in the second round is unsavory, Collison and his teammates have chosen to look at the positives.
“We had a really impressive regular season,” Collison said. “I think we did a really good job. I thought our consistency was really good. We grew this season and I think we’ll be in a better spot heading into next season than we were heading into this one.”
Coming in to the year, consistency and winning on the margins – in the details of the game, was something that Thunder leaders like Collison wanted to see the team improve upon. By avoiding losing streaks and long stretches of unfocused play, which can be extremely difficult during the 82-game grind that is the regular season, the Thunder did that. With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant at the helm, the Thunder’s offense operated at an extremely high level – as did its defense. Most of all, according to Collison, the Thunder improved at being able to sustain focus for extended periods.
“I think we had some growth in that area,” Collison said. “Offensively we did a better job of spacing and playing off of Kevin and Russell and getting into spots. The key is our habits.”
As one of the team’s leaders by example, Collison and his teammates have helped define the internal standards for performance and work ethic over the years. Since the team arrived in Oklahoma City, it has taken a full bodied approach to improvement but it starts with the energy and effort throughout the season in practices, shootarounds and film sessions. The Thunder has learned not to take any moment for granted, and will use every opportunity to try to develop.
“You always have to have that mindset of what are we doing today, what are we doing this season,” Collison said. “I think we competed to the best of our ability… Every year is an opportunity and you don’t know how many you’re going to get.”
Kevin Martin- 2:00 p.m.
It was a new role and new opportunity, and Kevin Martin took it all in stride. After spending his career in Sacramento and Houston, Martin had a chance to come to a contender and play a pivotal role on a 60-win club. Prior to this year he was typically the first or second option offensively, but this season Martin sacrificed for the good of the club to be an alternate option alongside Serge Ibaka behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Martin knew that joining the Thunder organization would be a wonderful experience, but it even exceeded expectations.
“From the outside looking in, I knew it was a great place,” Martin said. “But actually when I got here, it turned out to be a special place with how the fans are with the players, how the teammates were with one another, how the coaches went about their business on the court with the players, making sure we had everything in front of us to be successful.”
Martin’s productivity and efficiency on the court helped the team be successful, especially during the times that Durant and Westbrook were off the court. Leading the second unit, Martin was able to still display his knack for scoring and ability to create chances for himself. The way he worked fluidly with Durant and Westbrook was remarkably smooth, and he came away equally impressed by the maturity that the young duo showed. Despite being just 24 years old, Durant and Westbrook showed Martin quite a bit of what they’re made of in terms of leadership.
“The way they approach the game,” Martin said. “Most people don’t start to realize how to approach the game and the importance of having a great NBA career until you’re 28 or 29.”
“They were here at 8 am,” Martin continued. “You don’t see that too often. There’s no one else doing that in the league. For them to do at such a young age and teaching themselves and learning together, it’s something that everyone around here is going to enjoy for years to come.”
Derek Fisher - 1:45 p.m.
For the second consecutive year, Derek Fisher joined the Thunder mid-season and during both years he made a major impact on the team’s success. By knocking down shots, being in the right position and playing with strength and intelligence, Fisher helped the Thunder win on the margins and learn how to think the game while still being totally in the moment. This season was a successful follow up to a year in which the team went to the NBA Finals, which is a difficult feat to accomplish because sustaining success is much more difficult than achieving it.
“The toughest part about this business once you become successful is replicating that and doing it over and over again,” Fisher said. “To come back and be better than everybody else 60 out of 82 times isn’t easy. That’s a huge step. It shows a level of respect for every time you step on the floor.”
Not only has Fisher helped the team as a whole on the court and in the film room, he also made an impact with other players in the locker room. In particular, Fisher was instrumental in the progress that Reggie Jackson made over the course of the season and especially during the Playoff run after Westbrook was injured. For Jackson to start the season with the Tulsa 66ers, emerge into the backup point guard role and then into a starter, it took a lot of courage, mental strength and a bit of counsel from Fisher.
“It says a lot about who Reggie is and what he’s going to be able to do as he continues to learn and grow and understand how to continue to get better,” Fisher said. “To think about the guy who hadn’t played much at all essentially in a rookie season, to be able to do the things that he’s able to do on the court is a testament to his work ethic.”
As a team the Thunder made plenty of strides throughout the season, including being consistent and communicating at a higher level. As Fisher mentioned, the most challenging aspect for a highly performing organization is finding ways to get better when they’re already one of the best teams in the league. Moving forward, Fisher thinks the team can continue to improve on the margins and in the fine details of the game.
“Continuing to understand the smallest details that make the difference between winning and losing and how important those things are,” Fisher said. “That’ll be where those small margins of increase can happen or this team. The difference between winning and losing is not as big as people think. I think we can take that from this season and understand how important those things are.”
Russell Westbrook - 12:15 p.m.
Thunder nation was beyond upset when it learned Russell Westbrook would have to sit out the rest of the postseason after sustaining an injury to his meniscus in Game 2 of the first round. It wasn't just that fans were worried about missing one of the best, most dynamic players in the NBA, it was that they understood Westbrook's love and passion for the game, and that no one plays it with more energy and intensity.
Reflecting on Thursday, Westbrook was just as charming as he was pensive. For a man who has never missed a regular-season game in his NBA career, Westbrook has been able to see the game from a different angle this postseason and will carry the attitude of never taking the moment for granted into next season.
"Playing this game is a privilege," Westbrook said. "If you have the opportunity to play, you have to play to the best of your ability. … I think as a team and teammates you have to find a way where (adversity) can help you moving into the next season."
In truth, the injury Westbrook sustained was just a small part of his story from the 2012-13 season. He averaged 23.2 points and 7.4 assists while also registering a career-high 5.2 rebounds per contest, but all of those numbers pale in comparison to the heart, determination and never-say-die mentality Westbrook brought to every game. The Thunder was never out of a game with Westbrook at the helm and it was in part because of his leadership that the team has grown so rapidly.
"We had a great year- 60 wins is an amazing season," Westbrook said. "That's a great year for a team. That's getting better each and every year shows that myself, Kevin (Durant), Serge (Ibaka) and Nick (Collison), guys who have been here since Day One have come together and built this organization and gotten better."
Westbrook described that he and Durant have built a special bond on the court and that their ability to sense the needs of the other in game situations is something that has developed over the years. Fellow All-Stars like Westbrook and Durant's ability to take over the game for stretches is important, but it has also been essential to success that they find ways to get teammates involved – a feature that as improved each season.
As the years have gone by Westbrook has improved different aspects of his game, something he will continue to do this summer. After rehabbing his knee injury and getting through that difficult time mentally and physically, Westbrook says he wants to continue working on aspects of his game that have been important in the past. In addition, the 24-year old wants to come back as a better student of the game, locker room presence and leader.
"I want to improve more in the post for sure," Westbrook said. "Overall, just becoming a better leader, more vocal, I think is going to be key for myself and this team. Just come back better mentally."
Kevin Durant - 11:45 a.m.
It was a tough end to the season, but the Thunder's leadership has never been stronger.
Kevin Durant spoke firmly and with sincerity about the 2012-13 season, one in which he became just the sixth member of the elusive 50-40-90 club by posting at 51 percent shooting percentage from the field, a 42 percent shooting mark from the 3-point line and shooting 91 percent from the foul line while averaging the second most points out of any player to accomplish that feat.
Unfortunately the season was cut short, but the four-time All-Star reflected on the year and how it fits into the team's growth and maturation moving forward.
"Everything is a process and you have to go through some tough times to get to where you want to get to," Durant said. "We just have to take it a day at a time. In the summertime, just get better as individuals. … It is fun knowing that we get an opportunity to work on our game this summer."
At just 24 years old, Durant and his fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook stood tall as the team's leaders, working tirelessly to give the Thunder its best possible chance to win and put teammates in positions to succeed. The Thunder improved its record for the fourth straight season, a remarkable accomplishment considering its winning percentage has been over .600 all four years. It was thanks to the vocal, emotional and tactical leadership of Durant that the team could face adversity head on and be better because of it.
"I like how we all grew up," Durant said. "We had our best season this year winning 60 games. … Everybody came together. Russell grew up as a leader, I grew up as a leader, Serge grew up into his role. We had some ups and down throughout the year just like any other team, but we fought through that... I loved the way we stayed positive no matter what. We leaned on each other."
Over the years Durant has always found ways to improve during the summertime. Last summer he was playing in London in the Olympics, but this year he'll have more of an opportunity to work in the gym with the Thunder's staff. Getting in the lab, so to speak, is something Durant has done year after year, managing to find new ways to score, get himself open and become a more complete player. Despite having one of the most efficient seasons in NBA history, Durant thinks he can be even better next year.
"Be more efficient," Durant said. "The only way I can go is up. Just keep finding ways to get better on my offensive game – different shots, different moves, different spots on the floor where I can be better."
Every season, 29 teams finish the year wishing they could have played one more game or advanced one round further.
On Thursday morning, Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks and his team surely hoped that they were preparing for a Game 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies, but after a tough 88-84 loss on Wednesday night in Game 5, they were visiting with members of the media for exit interviews.
Below is a running account of everyone who spoke to the media. Be sure to check out the Thunder's Youtube page for videos from each player's availability:
Head Coach Scott Brooks - 10:30 a.m.
Brooks was warm and open, thanking all in attendance for joining after a quick turnaround from Wednesday night's late game. In reflecting on his 60-win team that owned the Western Conference's best record in 2012-13, Brooks was pleased in the progress his squad made on both ends of the floor.
"We wanted to get better in passing the ball, and I think our assist level has improved," Brooks said. "We wanted to improve our half-court offense, and I think we did that. … Not a lot of teams are two-way teams and we were one of them."
"It's very important to find ways to score but the thing that we talk about a staff and a team is tour first part of scoring is to get a defensive stop," Brooks continued. "That helps us. Every team scores at a higher percentage when the other team doesn't score. A lot of guys have improved. A lot of guys had good years."
The Thunder as an organization has always been conscious of developing its players and putting them in the best position to grow and succeed. That attitude is the same for coaches. Leaders like Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins praised Brooks' continued improvement in certain areas as a coach this season – from drawing up in-bounds plays to finding ways to get open looks for the Thunder's offensive weapons. Just like every man on the roster, Brooks aims to come back in 2013-14 with an even better arsenal of tactics to employ.
"I want to get better every day, just like our group of guys I'm able to coach every day," Brooks said. "I'm hard on myself and I understand that I have to be. I have to keep getting better and pushing the envelope myself and with our team."
While the Thunder has now emerged as a contender and a team that is discussed as one of the premier teams in the NBA, it also has room to grow and develop. With young players like Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones all under the age of 25, the Thunder is well equipped to compete both now and in the future. With a full summer with the Thunder staff at its disposal, Brooks hopes that each player comes back more well-rounded and dynamic.
"We have a bright future," Brooks said. "We have a good team that is going to get better."