Energy, Intrigue within the Thunder as Training Camp Approaches

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | mailbag@okcthunder.com

There’s a mystery in Oklahoma City this season. No gameplans, player combinations or strategies have been taken off the table thus far, and fans and Thunder staffers alike are awaiting as evidence comes in game by game to see what the 2019-20 squad has to offer.  

As Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti surveys the team and organization heading into next week and the start of training camp, there’s a remarkable openness when it comes to defining the group.

Sure, there’s a 14-year veteran in Chris Paul, a rookie in Darius Bazley, a stalwart in the frontcourt with Steven Adams, a modern sharpshooter in Danilo Gallinari and an emerging all-around star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But how all those pieces, along with their other teammates who will be crucial to the mix actually fit together, isn’t predetermined this season. No ceilings on players’ roles, no boxes hemming them in. That type of start to a season breeds intrigue and excitement.  

“The energy that our team, players, both new and returning, have shown coming into the off-season has been really remarkable,” said Presti. “(The) coaching staff is really prepared, excited about what's ahead, and just the building in general has a great energy about itself, and I really think that's a great thing and something that we've always relied on. But it's really refreshing and good to see.”

“We've got a really interesting mix of not just new players and returning players but also veteran players and young players,” Presti added. “I'm excited and I think everybody is excited to watch and see how the team comes together through the year. I think this team has a significant amount of discovery within it in terms of just learning about the new players that we have and how they fit with the existing group.” 

Over the course of an hour, Presti addressed many topics related to the team as a whole, included in abridged format here, Q&A-style:

On expectations:

“It's our belief that if you have really strong internal standards then expectations can be set externally, but they're usually a result of the work that's done internally to those standards, things like commitment to playing hard, playing together, a real appreciation for the fundamental aspects of the game, supporting one another, sticking by one another during the good times and the bad times, picking people up when they're down, and not letting people get their heads in the clouds when things are going well and not too dark when things aren't.”

On the goals for the season:

“What we want to do is be playing meaningful basketball at the end of the year. We want to try to do everything we can to put ourselves in position to optimize the group that we have, and there's just no shortcuts to that. It comes back to the commitment to the process that's in place and being willing to be patient with that as we go through, especially with this much change as we've experienced.”

“We're still a hundred percent focused on building the most sustainable path for an elite team in Oklahoma City, realizing that that's something that eventually we're going to embark on, but we're not at that point yet, and we think that this season is one that we should really dive into and experience, and I think it will be great for our fans, as well, to have some of the guys and get to know some of the new players.”

On how he personally feels after a summer full of large-scale change:

“I feel really optimistic. I feel really confident about the long-term future of the franchise because I believe we're going to be committed to a certain set of principles and guidelines that are going to give us the best chance of building an extremely sustainable team in Oklahoma City. I feel resilient. Our organization has been through a lot over 12 years. We’ve never necessarily looked at things for what they are, but we've always looked at them for what they can be, and that's served us well, and that we'll continue to take that mentality into every single thing we do.”

“I feel humbled about the fact that we have a really big task in front of us after 11 years in Oklahoma City. We have the second-best record in the NBA, we have the second-best net rating over that same period of time, and we've had a lot of success. I'm humbled about the fact that now we have to look at how we're going to continue to chart a path that's going to be able to meet those long-term standards, and that can be energizing, but it also makes you realize, it's hard to do that in the NBA.”

On the addition of Chris Paul:

“For our fans to go from one season with Russell Westbrook to the next season with Chris Paul as another Hall of Fame player to play in Chesapeake Energy arena in a 12-year period of time is remarkable, and we're extremely excited about it. There will probably be a period of discovery for us to figure that out and for Billy and the group to figure out those style-of-play questions, but I think Chris Paul is going to have a really, really good year. He's in incredible shape.”

“He's just a brilliant basketball thinker, and he sees the game extremely well. So I think that will bode well. But to have Russ into Chris Paul for our fans I think that's something we're really happy with.”

On Andre Roberson’s status:

“He has worked so hard and has put so much time in, and he figures to be an important part to optimizing the team that we have. We also know that he was a big loss for us last year. He'll be on the floor for training camp. We'll obviously manage him closely because he hasn't played a lot of competitive basketball in a while, and we have to be really supportive as he goes through that return-to-play process. But we're hopeful that he'll be seeing some preseason action as he gets closer.”

On Danilo Gallinari:

“His skill level is really elite. He's got great size. He just knows how to score the basketball. He's got a lot of experience. He's played in a lot of situations, and he's been a really fun guy to get to know. He's got a great sense of humor, and he's a baller.”

“I went over to see him play when he was in Milan as a young player, like 20 years old or something like that, maybe younger, and at the time I was courting my future wife. I was like, I've got to come home with something from Milan because it’ll really impress this girl. So I got like these books on Italy that I lugged home with me. They're thick. Somehow, some way, they have made it -- they're in our living room still. I don't know that we've ever opened them, but they look really cool. So I was walking out the door to meet Gallinari for dinner, and I noticed them, and I'm like, wow, what a long strange trip this has been.” 

On Darius Bazley:

“He's got really good tools. He can really handle the ball for his size. He's got some unique nature as a player.”

On how he evaluates players during the year:

“If you evaluate daily, you're inevitably going to end up being frustrated. You have to let the process play out. You have to evaluate periodically. But if you're constantly checking the temperature, that takes away the ability for people to stretch themselves and try new things, and everyone is just trying to play within a box because they're being like evaluated for more or less playing time every single time, you're not going to get the best version of them.”

“We have to understand that there's going to be times where Shai might have a bad stretch of time. But like that bad stretch of time could be the catalyst for a stretch of time that's really good that's twice that amount of time. We've always tried to take that vantage point on our players and player development.”

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Media Day for the Thunder is on Monday Sept. 30, which will include a livestream on the Thunder Mobile App and okcthunder.com. Training Camp begins on Tuesday. 

WATCH: Presti Recap

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