Thunder Media Availability - June 1, 2016

Once again, the Thunder showed it has one of the best rosters in the league and can compete with the best of the best. The season ended just short of a second NBA Finals appearance for Oklahoma City, but coaches and players were encouraged by the progress made by the group throughout the year. On Wednesday, the Thunder sat down one-by-one with the media to discuss the 2015-16 season and their goals for this offseason. Below are the highlights from Head Coach Billy Donovan, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Russell Westbrook

Every Thunder season is unique and this year the Thunder had to go through highs and lows that were completely different than any years past. The experience of losing players due to injury was nothing compared to the tenuous waters the team faced in February and early March, when the team lost assistant coach Monty Williams after the passing of his wife Ingrid and assistant coach Mo Cheeks due to hip surgery.

Days later, Thunder part-owner Aubrey McClendon passed away in a car accident and shortly thereafter Dion Waiters’ brother passed away tragically in Philadelphia. For some teams, the weight of all of that would have been too much, especially when the outcome of games weren’t going their way. Instead, the Thunder rallied together and overcame the obstacles to win 11 postseason games.

“We kind of made a decision that we was going to stick with the plan and stick with the changes and try to find a way to get better throughout the season,” Westbrook said. “Even after the All-Star break we started off [4-8], something like that, and we made another decision to be able to stick with the plan, and I think all the guys did a great job of just sticking with the process and never flinching on what we had planned for ourselves.”

Westbrook had a fantastic season personally, registering the most triple-doubles in a season since Magic Johnson in the early 1980s while also earning a First Team All-NBA selection for the first time in his career. While setting a career-high in assists was a big reason for Westbrook’s success, he actually acknowledged his biggest accomplishment came in the intangible department.

“Just communicating with my team, finding ways to lead the guys,” Westbrook said. “For me I think that's the most important part of just being able to find ways to lead, and at the same time still improve on my game and what I'm doing, and I think I did a better job of that throughout the season.”

As one of the pillars of the Thunder organization, much falls on Westbrook’s plate. So when the Thunder fell in the Western Conference Finals, he contemplated on what the next steps are for the team as they strive to advance even further next year. To Westbrook, it comes down to having a completely focused mindset and a strict attention to detail on every single possession. That mental toughness on each play is crucial for the 2016-17 Thunder.

“To make the next step, we have to constantly do that throughout the whole season, not just late in the Playoffs,” Westbrook said. “I thought we turned the page when it got to this time of year, but I think if we constantly keep that from start to finish, it makes it easier for us in certain situations.”

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Kevin Durant

At this same juncture in the 2014-15 season, Kevin Durant wasn’t even able to walk into the interview room at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center to meet with the media. As he reflected on the past 14 months, Durant realized that it was an accomplishment in itself to recover from his foot injury and put together an incredible individual season that included starting in the All-Star Game and being selected to the All-NBA second team.

“Around this time last year I was on the scooter in a cast. A lot has changed in a year,” Durant said. “I’m grateful that I was able to stay with it and keep my head focused to move past that phase and make it to this point. That was an accomplishment for me in itself. It means a lot that I had the support here and people here to help me get through that time.”

Durant has developed his leadership skills each and every year, and there was no finer example of that than in the postseason as he helped this young, growing roster reach the Western Conference Finals. There was no quit in this Thunder team even in the bleakest moments, and for that Durant deserves a lot of credit.

“We did a great job of getting better each and every day,” Durant said. “Me as a leader, I was proud to be a part of a group that fought for each other every night, sacrificed and were great teammates throughout the season.”

It’s well-known that Durant has a free agency decision to make this upcoming offseason. While he says he hasn’t even begun to spend time thinking about that whole process, he did take a moment on Wednesday to reflect on what he has helped build with the Thunder. As one of the pillars of the organization since 2008, Durant’s fingerprints have been all over the growth of the Thunder as one of the elite teams in professional sports.

“The brand of Oklahoma City is so world-known now,” Durant said. “That shows how much the organization has put the players first and put basketball first but also put the community and whole atmosphere, we grouped it into our organization and made it one.”

“The most important thing for me is the type of people I’m going to be around every single day and if I’m enjoying playing basketball. That’s the thing I really want to center everything around. I love my teammates here and I love playing basketball here.”

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Head Coach Billy Donovan

The peaks and valleys of an NBA season are a challenge to deal with, but first-year Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan did a masterful job of building the team day-by-day, and encouraging it to peak at the right time. Through all the adversity the team faced on and off the court this year, Donovan helped keep the ship on a straight path, and believes the team took a huge stride forward as the season went on.

“I really enjoyed the evolution of our team from the start of training camp and how we evolved and got better,” Donovan said. “We came together as a team and got better as the year went on. To see so many guys play so well late, certainly gives me great hope and optimism going forward.”

“In order to evolve into the best you can be, you have to endure,” Donovan said. “Sometimes the endurance of going through painful losses and struggles and those kind of things, that endurance allows you to evolve into getting over the hump or the next step. You have to endure this to take another step.”

After guiding the team to 55 wins in the regular season and the third seed in the Western Conference, the Thunder dispatched of the Dallas Mavericks in five games before shocking much of the NBA world by defeating the 67-win San Antonio Spurs in six games in Round 2. Then, the Thunder took on the record-setting 73-win Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, winning three games before ultimately falling in seven games to the defending champions.

Over the course of the season, those two teams combined to lose just 24 games, and just three at home. During the Playoffs, the Thunder beat those teams seven times, including twice in San Antonio and once at Golden State.

“We had the chance to play 13 straight games against two teams that set historical marks in the history of the NBA,” Donovan said. “When you play that level of competition, you can’t help but get better and improve. I always felt like the harder it was for our team because they are resilient, because they’re competitive and they work hard, when you play against that level it forces you to raise your level.”

One of the reasons for the team’s success this year was Donovan’s penchant for understanding his personnel and using his creativity to generate circumstances that highlight his players’ strengths and cover up weaknesses. Against the Spurs, the Thunder played big for long stretches, then went small to great effect against the Warriors. Interesting wrinkles like Andre Roberson at the center position on offense and the use of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter together were both unexpected and impactful moves that Donovan made.

“I feel like as a coach, you try to put your personnel in the best situations and take advantage of how teams are guarding them and what may be available,” Donovan said. “From game to game that’s going to change, but that’s the part of it, you get an opportunity to grow and a chance to think about the game on a different level.”

Heading into the offseason, Donovan and his meticulous approach will help the Thunder be fully prepared for the 2016-17 campaign. The biggest key for Donovan is to ensure that the habits built over the course of the year are sustained, and improved upon, heading into next season.

“The way these guys were open minded all year long to want to get better, to try to improve and really work all year was really good,” Donovan said. “We have an opportunity to utilize what happen here this season and transfer it into next year, but we have to utilize it in the correct fashion in order for us to grow and develop.”