Thunder GM Sam Presti Reacts to NBA Return to Play Announcement

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | mailbag@okcthunder.com
In his position as Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Sam Presti is privy to a lot of information. He converses daily with league officials, colleagues in other cities and power brokers throughout the country.

At the point guard spot for the Thunder is Chris Paul, who serves as the President of the National Basketball Players Association. That’s another major pipeline of communication for Presti, and that pair of individuals that has and will continue to figure prominently in the Thunder’s return to action, alongside 21 other NBA teams down at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fl., starting in late July.

“(Chris) has done a fabulous job. I’ve been able to see how hard he’s worked at this,” Presti said. “He’s taken it seriously and thrown himself into really helping lead the players that he’s been tasked to represent. He’s really invested and I really respect that.”

“The union and the league have done a great job of working through this and they deserve a lot of credit for that partnership,” Presti added.

Still, even with Presti’s sprawling roots throughout the league and the prestigious Paul as a partner, there is still a bevy of details that even the Thunder’s GM doesn’t have listed out on the white board in his office. There’s still plenty that needs to be ironed out by the league and NBPA before the teams embark to Florida. For the 40-24 Thunder, which zoomed past most of the Western Conference in the standings after gelling and hitting its stride post-Thanksgiving, it’ll be a chance to generate cohesiveness on the fly again.

“We’re going in with no preconceived notions other than we’re going to have to be adaptable and we’re going to have to be comfortable with the fact that things are not going to be the way we’re used to them being,” said Presti.

“I just have a lot of confidence in the group that they’ll respond in those circumstances because they’ve been adjustable and adaptable throughout the year. We’re going to need to do that again,” Presti continued.

Presti does know that the traveling parties will be screened and personnel will be limited. Any games played prior to the start of the playoffs (the NBA announced each team will play eight regular season seeding games) will somewhat resemble each team’s remaining schedule from the 2019-20 campaign.

Yet with eight teams missing and certain teams with more games played already than others, those schedules won’t be identical to their previous arrangement. For those interested in hypothesizing, the teams remaining on the Thunder’s planned schedule that will be in Orlando include Utah, Washington, Memphis, Denver, Miami, Phoenix, both Los Angeles teams, Brooklyn and Dallas.

“Every game is a building process to sharpen habits, to develop chemistry, to work towards peak level play in meaningful games so that when you get into adverse situations, you’re not re-creating the wheel but you have a base to work off of,” Presti noted.

“We’re going to play eight games and we’re going to use those eight games to become the best basketball team we can in that amount of time,” he continued.

For the Thunder specifically, there are some on-court questions still to be answered. One is about the status of rookie two-way guard Lu Dort. After playing 13 games for the Oklahoma City Blue, the former Arizona State Sun Devil has started 21 games for the Thunder, more than all other two-way players combined this season. There was going to be an option for the Thunder to convert his contract to a full-time roster spot if the season had continued as normal, but the team is still waiting for word on what that will look like now in this new paradigm.

“We just have to see what the options are and have to make our best decision there,” Presti said of Dort. “He’s clearly someone that we want to have with us going forward. That would be my expectation. That would be my hope. That could be something that happens in the short term. That could be something that happens later.” There’s also veteran defensive whiz Andre Roberson, who has missed more than two years of action but has had time to make progress in his rehab. Presti reported that Roberson is doing “really well” in terms of his health, but the team has yet to see him in anything other than a 1-on-0 setting.

“We’re still in a better place than we were on March 11, that’s for sure, but we don’t know exactly where we’ll be once we get down to actually participating in contact and going through team practices and things of that nature,” Presti explained. “We’re certainly hopeful, but we’ve got to cross that next bridge.”

With just those eight seeding games remaining and an 8.5-game edge in the standings on the current 8th-place team in the Western Conference, the Thunder has clinched a playoff berth for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons. Needless to say, this was the most unconventional and unpredictable way it has cracked the postseason in the Thunder’s short history in Oklahoma City.

Regardless of who ends up on the floor for the Thunder in July and August as the team battles for seeding in the playoffs, there will have to be a steadiness that the team can lean on in the first couple of weeks. Whether they get out to a quick 3-0 start or take an 0-3 dip, the Thunder cannot let the first few games upon returning to action dictate their mentality for the rest of the team’s stint in Orlando.

“It’s going to be new-found territory. We can’t get disturbed by the start,” said Presti. “If there are two things that we always fall back on, one it’s fundamentals and two, it’s hard work.

“Working hard with other people side by side builds chemistry within a group,” he continued. “Fundamentals, at the end of the day, they’re the most important thing.”

Before the 2019-20 season began in September, Presti sat in front of reporters in person, in a normal interview setting. On Sunday, it was a digital meeting instead, with local media members’ faces popping up to ask questions that ranged across the vast spectrum of issues that have captured the attention of the entire world since then.

All the way back in the fall, Presti stated simply that he hoped the Thunder would play meaningful basketball in April, when the regular season was winding down and the playoffs beginning. No one played any basketball that month, but the Thunder, thanks to its ability to come together as a unit and play with heart for one another, has put itself into the fifth spot in the Western Conference, with the ability to rise as high as 2nd or fall down to 7th before postseason play begins.

“It’s been a great group of guys and our players and coaches have done a really good job of looking at the season as a whole and not getting too high or too low,” Presti said. “Now we have the opportunity to go down there and see where we can take that.”

Those eight games for seeding and the playoff battles that lay in wait might look drastically different than anything Thunder fans have ever seen before. There will be no fans in the stands and no home court advantage. But one thing will be certain – those games are going to be filled a ton of meaning to the players and coaches, to people all throughout Oklahoma, in the United States of America and all across the globe.
Tags
NEXT UP:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter