Attaining success in the NBA is one thing, sustaining it is quite another.
On Sunday General Manager Sam Presti and the Thunder announced the acquisition of guards Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second round draft pick from the Houston Rockets via trade, giving the Thunder a bevy of options and flexibility in its diligent and continual pursuit of sustained success in Oklahoma City. As the beginning of the regular season looms on Thursday in a matchup on the road against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder made a decisive move with both short and long term objectives in mind.
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“We started to focus on what was in the best interest of the program,” Presti said. “And focus on capitalizing on an opportunity to help us both in the short term and also to continue to strengthen the future of the Thunder organization and building this program in a sustainable fashion.”
“The challenges of sustaining success are a lot more stringent that those of achieving success,” Presti continued. “We’re not immune to that. What we will do, is continue to operate as a team on the core principles and values that we’ve established since 2008 and make our decisions based on those, with the franchise first in mind. We’re confident in that process.”
The pair of guards that the Thunder adds to the lineup provide both new challenges and opportunities for the coaching staff and basketball operations staff. The hard work that the organization puts in on all levels gives the Thunder a variety of ways to help players of all ages and types an opportunity to improve individually and collectively. Presti looks at an already impressive group of players assembled in the Thunder locker room- including Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka who were training late into Saturday night- who are committed to developing and putting in the work towards winning each and every day.
“I think about adding Kevin and Jeremy to this group, and it’s exciting to me,” Presti said. “I think those guys add to what it is that we had in place and what we had in place is a very competitive group of people… I thought about the fact that we’re adding two quality players coming in to a group of guys that are really invested in what it is that we’re trying to do here and take a lot of pride in playing for the Thunder.”
While changes to the roster are difficult and present challenges, they are an inevitable part of the life of every NBA team. As a result of the inherent aspects of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there will be certain tough decisions that every NBA team must face, but Presti is confident that his well-tested coaching staff and basketball operations staff will rise to the occasion and help develop new players.
In addition, Presti believes that team leaders like Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison, who have laid the foundation and set the work ethic bar for this franchise over the years, will help make new players’ transitions smooth ones.
“We have made changes in the past,” Presti said. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our players and how they welcome new people, how they integrate people. That’s a credit to guys like Durant, Westbrook and Collison, the people that have helped establish the standards as to which we work by on a day to day basis.”
After discussing the over-arching reasons behind the trade and describing the thought process throughout the past few days as the trade developed, Presti spoke openly about the two players the Thunder has acquired. The 6-foot-7 Martin is entering his ninth season in the NBA, and has been one of the most effective scorers in the league during his years with the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets. For his career, Martin has averaged 18.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, and is one of only two active NBA players, along with Dwight Howard, to average at least 18.0 career points per game on 13 or fewer field goal attempts per game.
“(Martin) is one of the most efficient offensive players in the NBA over the last several years,” Presti said. “He’s a guy that draws fouls at an incredibly high rate. He is a guy that has a great feel for the game, understands how to score and knows the league. Our coaching staff has some history with him and knows him intimately…They were confident and excited about having him.”
Head Coach Scott Brooks and assistant coach Rex Kalamian are both very aware of Martin’s style from their shared time in Sacramento, and Presti also had insight to Lamb’s game from a familiar face. Former Thunder player Kevin Ollie was an assistant coach on the University of Connecticut coaching staff over the last two seasons while Lamb was there. The 6-foot-5 guard was a key member of Connecticut’s national title team as a freshman and was selected with the 12th overall pick in the NBA Draft this summer.
“One of the things that really intrigues us with (Lamb) is that he has great length, he is a very smooth athlete that is getting a lot done,” Presti said. “He’s giving you maximal effort, but he’s very graceful. I think the other thing about him that is really intriguing is his skill level at that size. He can do a myriad of things with the ball and he’s a very, very gifted offensive player as a passer and a scorer and a playmaker. He’ll be a work in progress, we’ve gone down this path before.”
The Thunder roster may look differently heading into the regular season that it did yesterday, but the level of performance demanded from the players does not change. As an organization the Thunder has always been most concerned with how the team is operating and playing, not necessarily by what outsiders say or specific accomplishments. The process-over-outcome approach has been successful in the past, and that’s the type of organization the Thunder is and wants to be. As a result of the manner by which the Thunder approaches its daily business, Presti and the organization believe the Thunder is a contender, and should feel that way each season.
“I think that every team coming into the season should feel that way,” Presti said. “We’re no different. With the group that we have, they’ve been through a lot together. They’ve won a lot of games together. For us, of course, we’re always going to feel like we have a chance to do good things. However, I would also add that it’s never been our approach to do a lot of talking about what it is we’re going to do or who we are. I think we’re at the point as a franchise, where we have to do what we say.”