Pressing Ahead into the Offseason

In their first few years in the league, each Thunder player is outfitted with an offseason training regimen until they get to the point where they take those types of career decisions in their own hands. This summer, that schedule will include workouts in Oklahoma City in May and June, then Summer League in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas in July before some unscripted time in August before players begin returning to market in September to ramp up to training camp in October.

Those five months between now and the preseason will zoom by quickly, and the Thunder, led by General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti, wants to make sure that it is making the most of every day in the interim. Coming off a 24-58 campaign as the youngest team in the NBA, the Thunder knows there is a ton of work to do, and miles of runway ahead for both individual players and the group to grow, starting with this offseason. There’s no set date at which these Thunder players will fully bloom or reach their next level. In fact, that progress is often non-linear. So instead of looking too far ahead at potential outcomes, the Thunder is absorbed with daily processes.

“We have confidence that we're going to be successful,” Presti said. “But the only way we're going to be successful is if we show humility in the face of what it is we're trying to accomplish, we keep our head down and focus on not what we're going to do but how we need to do it.”

“You can't have one eye on the clock and one eye on the destination,” Presti added. “We need to have two eyes on the path for us to be successful.  We'll let other people watch the clock.”

To help players develop their skills in a way that is directionally oriented with the entire organization, Presti and the Thunder staff provide clarity about what each person can do to succeed within the team concept, and what the long-term vision looks like for the organization. Last Tuesday, both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey praised Presti and the front office for that openness.

“We're not breaking out a PowerPoint presentation for everybody,” said Presti. “What we're really talking about is the principles that we want to work by and getting a shared understanding and shared buy-in: What do we want out of this? How do we how do we make that work? Because once you start to have success it's really hard to start to claim those things.”

While the Thunder and its players will be working diligently to get better on the court this offseason, it’s up to Presti and the basketball operations staff to make decisions about how to help the team in terms of personnel decisions. The second NBA Draft of this next cycle of the Thunder organization will come in late June, and the team holds two lottery selections as well as the 30th and 34th picks. Free agency will follow, as will deadlines for potential contract extensions for Lu Dort and Darius Bazley.

There is a ton to both contemplate and execute upon, and Presti’s nose is to the grindstone on it all, including the potential for changes to the NBA and Players’ Association collective bargaining agreement in the summer of 2023. As a result, the Thunder is not looking for fast food solutions on the cheap. To get the type of NBA meal the Thunder wants and Oklahoma City’s fans yearn for, the strategy is more like baking, requiring precision, patience and restraint.  

“Trying to fix things quickly takes a very long time,” Presti quipped, but with sincerity. “So we're going to try to avoid making it longer by trying to make it shorter.”

“A lot of times you think things take longer than they should, but when they happen, they happen faster than you thought they could,” Presti added.

While repetitive playoff berths can be microwaved into existence in some NBA markets, the Thunder recognizes that being in one of the league’s smallest cities, it has operate a different way if it wants to achieve sustainable success. To be big picture competitive in the NBA means not a single appearance in the playoffs, but an arrival in the postseason with the likely promise of more cracks at deep runs to follow.

As with the first extended stretch of high-level contention, the Thunder fan base was fully invested, along for the ride no matter which direction the path twisted. The same must be the case with this generation of Thunder players, the ones currently on the roster and those who will be added this offseason.

Not all of them will be a part of the next great Thunder team, but all will have contributed to the journey, and that’s why the organization will appreciate every step of it. That unwritten future, the one whose first chapters are being drafted now, can bring glory to Oklahoma City, and that story is the most precious thing any Thunder fan could cherish.