Preseason Q&A With Sam Presti

By Paris Lawson | Digital & Broadcast Reporter | okcthunder.com

Following one of the most unique seasons in NBA history where the league and the organization navigated a pandemic and a condensed season, the Thunder is set to tip off Year 14 of basketball in Oklahoma City. The organization now looks ahead to the upcoming season with much to look forward to including a hungry, young roster who will play in front of fans for the first time inside of the newly minted Paycom Center.

With media day set to take place on Monday and training camp to begin Tuesday, Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti addressed the media in the lead up to preseason.


Presti’s Opening Statement:
“I always am extremely grateful for the fact that this will be now our 14th year in Oklahoma City playing basketball in our community and in our state. Since 2008, it's been an incredible, incredible journey, something that we've all been benefited from and extremely grateful for, so having another year is super special.”

“We have a group of players that are hungry and are excited to play and a group of returning guys that are also really excited about getting the season started. I would still say, as I said earlier, we are playing in a pandemic. I'd expect some disruptions just based on the fact that we're not testing our players, and there's just going to be some things that we have to navigate, but we're equipped to do that at this point. We have enough experience to figure out how to operate in this environment, and I'm confident we'll be able to do that.”

“We just want to make sure that there are no wasted days, that everything we're doing can be built upon for the future. I would say that we don't want to miss any moments, because we have some catalysts among us. We have some people in my opinion, that are going to be honored long term for their efforts.”

On the team’s COVID vaccine status…
“All of our guys are vaccinated.”

“I think it's great that all the guys are vaccinated, obviously. The disruptions, in my opinion, are going to come by way of the fact that NBA isn't testing players or staff members. Now, organizationally, we're going to be surveillance testing our staff. We're not going to be doing it every day, but we are going to be testing staff, basketball staff so we try to avoid some outbreaks.”

“One of the phrases that was used early in this pandemic by Adam Silver was let the data drive the decision. That's what we're doing. We're still adopting that and think that it's probably the best thing for the team and everyone's extended families as well.”

On Aleksej Pokuševski’s progress over the summer…
“We had a specific plan for him. We wanted to make sure that he was focused on just physical training in order to maximize that physical training.”

“The journey for him is going to be continuous, just like every other player on our team. It doesn't matter how old they are. But I think he maximized the time he had in the summer, and now we'll see where that leaves us when he starts training camp. I think he has a unique set of skills and talent, but he's going to have to fight. He's going to have to compete. He's far from having established himself as a player in the NBA, but the steps he took this summer, I think, are going to give him the best opportunity to realize his talent.”

On Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s contract extension and health entering the season…
“He's in a great spot. I watched him workout this morning. We've got a full gym of guys that are here training and working. One of the reasons why I think he's in the position he is and looks the way he does right now is we took a really conservative approach last season, as everybody knows, to make sure he wasn't dealing with this on and off, especially if he was going to play on the national team, and right now he's good to go. He has no limitations at all.”

“As far as the extension, it's wonderful. I think it's great. I think it's great for him. He's certainly one of the bright rising stars in the NBA, but the thing about him and the thing that I really appreciate and I think is a great thing for our organization is his mindset and his mentality is really mature. He understands the process of improvement. He understands how to stay present. He knows things don't happen overnight.”

On the addition of Derrick Favors…
“With Derrick, one of the things he brings for us is he's got a great defensive stability. He's got a great physicality to him. He's a pro. I'm excited to see how he fits in with the team. Again, we have to see how the season unfolds, and we've done that every year, but the last two years, I think that was really important for us to let that happen and not make any kind of predetermined judgments. But I think he can help the team, absolutely.”

On the value of Summer League and training camp this season…
“Summer League, I think, is helpful because it's the one opportunity that you see some competition in over the summer, but the first six days of practice will be equally as valuable. The value of the summer league, in my opinion, is the camaraderie that gets built, the relationships that can begin to get formed, the lead-up and the practice out there.”

“For a young group of guys that's trying to declare themselves -- and ultimately, they're really fighting and clawing and scratching to be a part of the next, to build the identity of the team going forward. The principles of the team, the values of the team, those things are unwavering. They don't change from the day we showed up to this second, we have a certain level of principles and values that we stand by and stand on.

“The identity of the team is constantly evolving, and I think a lot of the guys we have now see an opportunity to be catalysts to the next break through, and that starts in summer league with relationship building, leadership opportunities, dealing with adversities, dealing with successes. It's something I really love being around to watch it because those moments are the ones that everybody celebrates.”

On rookie Josh Giddey’s health and progress…
“He's doing good. The goal at Summer League, you'd love to see him play. We're going to learn as much in six days of practice as we would in the summer league, but just being around the guys, getting in a routine, building relationships, getting a sense for how things are done. The one advantage I think Josh has, if we're looking at a silver lining, is he played in a men's league the whole year. The competition he was playing against is equal or probably better than the summer league, quite frankly.”

On building long-term sustainability in Oklahoma City…
“That's one thing about our city and our community. I don't think Oklahomans expect things to be given to them. I don't think they expect things to be handed to them. I never really heard Oklahomans talk about taking the easy way or shortcutting things or not putting in a hard day's work or not earning what you get. And they're definitely not about acting like they're doing one thing and doing another.” “The most competitive thing to do, in my opinion, is to really try to do something great and build it from the ground up.”

On the organizational standards for young players…
“There's not pressure from us because, once you're in the door here, no matter how you arrived, everybody gets treated the same way and we have the same standards for all of our young players relative to how to assimilate into the team. You've got to have professional habits, what it means to be a Thunder player, the core attributes that we're looking for off the floor all come first, and we want them to get really good at those things. Then we start layering on obviously fundamental basketball things with that, but it's a real process for a young player.”

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