Presti Not Satisfied, But Optimistic About Running It Back

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Take enough cracks at competing with the other 29 teams in the NBA, and there are bound to be wonderful surprises, expected results and some disappointments too.

Over the 10-year period the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City, there hasn’t been much for General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti to complain about in his end of season remarks. Long postseason runs, teams that have out-performed expectations and seasons derailed by a major injury have characterized the first decade of basketball in Oklahoma City. This past year was the first time Presti has felt that the team had truly missed an opportunity because of its own doing.

There were three stages to the Thunder’s 2017-18 season, beginning with the initial feeling out period as the squad tried to incorporate high-profile players like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony into the team’s offensive and defensive systems, all while Russell Westbrook, Alex Abrines and veteran newcomer Patrick Patterson all missed significant training camp time. The result was an 8-12 start.

But then in December and January, the Thunder really hit its stride on both ends of the floor. The defense, which kept Head Coach Billy Donovan’s team in games over the first month, was dynamic and disruptive with George and Andre Roberson flanking the wing. The offense revved up as Westbrook got into a groove as a playmaker, and George and Anthony knocked down open shots. Role players stepped up and contributed, and the Thunder ripped off some winning streaks and put itself into contention for home court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs.

The third stage however was the unexpected one, and ultimately the focus for the Thunder this offseason. Due to a season-ending injury, the team lost Roberson, a master craftsman and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The recovery from that took way too long, and didn’t happen completely. The result was an inconsistency of play that meant fits and starts over the final three months of the season, including a first round postseason exit against the Utah Jazz.

“The amount of time it took for us to adapt, we kind of shifted from kind of the regular approach of pursuing progress, trying to build habits and getting better, to really becoming a little more outcome oriented, trying to find a way to win the next game,” Presti said on Wednesday. “I feel like that ultimately caught up with us down the stretch and ultimately in the playoffs. We have to own that.”

“With 48 wins, a team that was one of three or four teams to be in the top 10 in offense and defense, the seventh best net rating in the league, the ninth best record, and we're disappointed, and we should be,” Presti added, acknowledging the distance of the goalposts that have been built from years of high-level basketball in Oklahoma City. “We expected more out of the team.”

With that said, the Thunder believes in their process, and the players that were assembled. With a few adjustments and a solution to the pesky consistency problem, there’s an iteration of this Thunder team that is still playing deep into May and possibly June. Presti confirmed that Donovan will be at the helm again next season, and assuming positive outcomes this summer in free agency with players like George, Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton, the Thunder is excited to have the chance to “run this back.”

“One of the things that I'm most excited about and excited for (Donovan) about going forward is the fact that if fortunate enough, he'll be able to work with the same core of a team,” Presti said. “(The team) has a baseline that we've established, but has some controllable areas we need to improve.”

There are of course some big “ifs” in making all of that happen. George, Grant, Felton, Corey Brewer and Josh Huestis will have the opportunity to test the free agent market. Anthony has a player option for next season, and has been honest about needing to evaluate his future as a player. Just like many years over the past decade, one of the most interesting off-seasons will be happening right here in Oklahoma City, regardless of the outcome. The Thunder is confronting it all head on.

“We've packed a lot into 10 years. I think you learn to carry these things a little bit,” Presti said.

Carry the load and carry on is exactly what the Thunder will do this offseason. Presti mentioned that Westbrook will of course look to improve his all-around game again this summer, with an emphasis on his three-point shooting. Having a healthy squad at the start of training camp in September would go a long way to establishing a strong rhythm to start the year, and that especially includes Roberson, who showed his value to the group.

The incremental improvements made by each player – from Steven Adams to Terrance Ferguson – will be felt as well when this group re-assembles in the fall. All the while, Presti and the rest of his staff will be diligently at work, as always, to find competitive advantages and to examine every option on the board. That’s the Thunder way.

“We're going to do what we always do here in Oklahoma City.” Presti said, as a conclusion. “We're going to take where we are and we're going to compete. We're going to keep coming. We're going to keep our eye on the ball and figure out the ways we can get better. We're going to keep standing up and finding ways that we can take this group and get it to another level. That's collective. That's everybody. From myself to every single person that's in the building.”


Watch: Presti Opening Remarks

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