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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 1, 2017
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
SAM PRESTI: First, I just want to welcome everyone. Really appreciate and thank everybody for being here this morning. Before I get started, I just want to thank a few people, groups of people.
First and foremost, our season ticket members, our fans, corporate sponsors, everybody that support the team. Obviously this is the conclusion of our ninth season in Oklahoma City of Thunder basketball. We're heading into year ten, and it's not possible to do what we do every single day without the support of our fans and our corporate sponsors and everyone I mentioned earlier. So we're very grateful for that.
Also want to thank everybody in the room, media members. You guys have been great to work with, not just this season but throughout the years. And the amount of coverage you provide us, the discussion that you generate, it's all positive for the organization. It's all positive because it maintains interest in the Thunder, and we're appreciative of that and how hard you guys work at that.
I also want to make sure that I thank our staff. If I could, I would thank literally every single person in the organization, but we have -- I know you guys have more important things you would like to ask me. But we've got a great group of people that we work with. I'm so privileged every single day to work with them from coaches to medical and performance and on down the line. They are great.
In terms of a couple things I wanted to cover before we get to your questions, just wanted to go through first kind of how we debrief the season, pretty similar to what we've done in the past. Talk about the season that was; review the season, a couple thoughts in that respect and then talk about the off-season and things of that nature, opportunities moving forward, and then open it up to any questions that you guys might have.
So with respect to like the debrief of the year, we do the same thing for the most part each season. We try to step away from it initially. We want to see the season in totality. We don't want to get drenched with like recency bias or hindsight bias, or all of the biases that come with conclusion of anything, any event.
So we want to try to be pragmatic. We want to try to be analytical. And the way you dissect the year, and you go through that is to not be looking for, like simplistic narratives, simplistic answers to pretty complex questions. You've got 82 games plus a playoff series in this case to understand the season as a whole and use as a foundation going forward, and what we don't want to do is make -- look for the simplest way to describe really complex things.
So that will be a process that we really starting to through in the coming weeks. With respect to the season in review, I think first and foremost, it went by really fast for me. It was exciting.
Obviously it was historic on a lot of levels. And it was great in the sense that it was about for our organization, it was about taking on a challenge. It was about competing. It was about creating a new path and a new future, and you know, we're really proud of what we accomplished.
With that being said, we still want to be playing basketball right now. And you know, our approach every year is to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season, to get to the post-season, and to be able to impact the post-season hopefully by winning four playoff series within the span of two months.
So we weren't able to advance this year, and we understand that. But we also understand that we accomplished quite a bit with respect to the things that we felt were really important to the season. No. 1, we wanted to stabilize the franchise coming out of last summer, and we wanted to see if we could find a way to create some momentum from the starting point in which we were, and I think we've been able to do that.
We're really pleased with the foundation that we have to work off of. The youth of the team has been well documented. It's the youngest team in the playoffs, the third-youngest team in the league. It's actually the third-youngest team in Thunder history. 2009, 2010 are the only teams that are younger and we've had some young teams here, and we think that really bodes well for us in terms of our opportunity to build forward; and the fact that this group, it had a lot of experiences together. I think Billy referenced that earlier.
We did have a lot of individual experience on the team but what this team didn't have because of all of the change was collective experience. And now this team knows what it's like to be within a couple games of home-court advantage coming down the stretch of a playoff run. It knows what it's like to go through a playoff series where, you know, you're losing the series on the margins. They know what it's like to play with one another and understand each other's tendencies. And I think that's going to bode well for us.
We lost about 50 percent of our minutes played from the team from last season, and with that amount of change, it's going to create some level of uncertainty and a lot of unknowns. I think the continuity for us going into this season will be important, especially for Billy, because his first season with the club was his indoctrination into the NBA and was pretty rushed to get to know everybody.
And obviously last season had its own dynamics, and coming into the season there was a lot of new faces, a lot of new people to get to know, players he didn't know, and then the team changed again at the deadline when we made the move to acquire Doug and Taj.
So this season I think allows him to plan, allows him to know for the most part the group of the team that is coming back and awe limb to strategize and implement things maybe he wasn't able to get to this season. So we're excited about that.
I say looking ahead, as I said, talk about that a little bit. We've got the same approach. We've got two different ways you can get better. You can get better internally. We can get better externally. Obviously externally we have less control over. Internally you have some level of control over.
Over the last ten years, I don't know that we're at the top of the league in terms of transactions made, but we've got to be somewhere toward the very top. You know, since the end of last season, we've made two transactions to bring in guys like Victor, Domas, Jeremy, Taj, Doug, and so we're really proud about the fact that we've been able to slowly start to transition the ballclub from the starting point we were in.
And we'll continue to be opportunistic and look for those opportunities externally. But the reason we have been able to make decisions and to make deals in that respect is because, one, we haven't said yes to the first thing that came across our desk and been impulsive. Two, we've been positioned in a way that allows us to be decisive and have flexibility to have things other people might be interested in. And we've had a clear idea as to what we're looking for, so that when those things do present themselves, we can strike and we can try to make the team better.
Internally I do think there's a few things we have to look to. Obviously the age of the team, as we talked about, is a great foundation for us in terms of player development. I do think we have to be intentional with the development of the group going forward.
Throughout the roster, I think there's an opportunity for a lot of guys to improve and get better. I think one is pushing our group to continue to evolve and take on new responsibilities and new roles. That's something that I'm excited about and I think there's opportunity for each one of the guys to do that.
I also think there's some things on the margins that can help make us a better basketball team going forward. One, you know, we don't have the margin for error that we've had in the past. I think that's pretty safe to say. And therefore, like we can't be 25th in the league in turning the ball over. We need to make marginal games in that respect. We put teams on the free throw line this past season about 24th-most in the league and we give up a significant amount of driving lanes to get to the rim.
And so if we make marginal gains in those areas, I think that would really help put us in a better position to maximize the group. Obviously there will be some external opportunities there for us to improve the group. We'll continue to look at all those and be opportunistic and decisive there, and there's obviously the player improvement that I feel pretty confident in with respect to the age, the overall age of the team, and our ability to put those guys in positions to continue to be successful career-wise.
With respect to the rebounding -- excuse me. With respect to the fouling, obviously we played more small this season than we've played in the past, 13th -most in the league. As we move towards that, flexibility to play different ways, what usually happens is you end up giving up rebounding. I mean, that's traditional across the league.
So your advantages go to be more 50/50 in smaller lineups and you also tend to foul more. We saw that in the post-season. If we improve in those areas, I think it gives us more flexibility through our entire roster.
So in closing, I would say that, you know, we feel really good about the momentum that's been created. We feel really good about the fact that we have navigated to get to this point in time, and we've got a young, aspiring growing team to work with that as able to get valuable playoff experience; that's unusual for a group that young. We have obviously an MVP-calibre player in Russell that had an exciting and historical season going forward.
We're trying to do something here that I don't think there's a ton of examples of in the NBA, which is go from seven or eight years of contention and avoid dropping out of the post-season for an extended period of time. And what we're trying to do is stay competitive and find ourselves back up into that group of teams that a lot of teams never have the opportunity to be a part of.
I think it's a great opportunity. I think it's a great challenge for everybody, and we're really looking forward to doing it. And I'm excited. I wish the season, honestly I wish the season started tomorrow. But unfortunately we've got to wait for the teams that are still playing to finish up. But we're excited about where we're at and what the future holds going into year ten in Oklahoma City.
With that, I'll answer any questions you might have.
Q. How soon do you plan to sit down and talk with Russ about the five-year Super Max and his extension?
SAM PRESTI: Sure. The rules are that you can't have that conversation until July 1, and you know, when that time comes, we'll sit down, we'll have conversations with him about what that opportunity presents. And you know, we're obviously hopeful that he remains really excited about being a part of this organization for the remainder of his career.
Q. You touched on player development. Amongst your more established guys this past season, who stood out to you in terms of the strides that they made and if there's more strides to be taken to by some of your guys?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I think a couple things. One, Oladipo, I'll start with him. He had his most efficient year as a player. Billy referenced that in his media the other day.
The thing that's impressive to me about what Victor did is the fact that he did it with less usage, so he kept his production at a certain level, an expected level, but he did it without using the ball quite as much. He had his best year shooting the basketball.
You know, quite frankly, this is year four; he's improved every single year he's been in the league, and I would expect him to continue to do that. He only played about two percent of his minutes this season with the ball in his hands as a lead guard. I think there's probably more opportunity for us to look at that going forward. But I think he really showed a level of efficiency as a two-way player that's really hard to find.
Adams, again, he had career-bests in just about every single category this season. And both of these guys, these are new roles, clearly, and for fourth-year players, they are significant roles. There's no question about that. But Adam has had his best year across the board. I think he's fifth in the league in field-goal percentage.
A lot of the stuff Steven does as a pick-and-roll defender is really hard to quantify. I think, again, he played the majority of his minutes with Russ, and I think, you know, looking at him as part of a defensive kind of anchor for not only the starting group, but also for bench units, as well, would give us marginal improvement there, as well.
You know, he's been fantastic for us in terms of just blue-collar work ethic and doing a lot of the team defensive stuff that's necessary for a team to win.
Kanter, again, as an established player, you know, his offensive ability continues to impress us. He averaged about 33 points per one hundred possessions, and there's only a few people in the league that can do that, especially in the amount of time that he's playing on a given night.
You know, the one thing with him that I think is really, really something we can unlock, is he's got the best hands on the team, and he's a good shooter from the free throw line. He's a really good high post shooter. This is a guy in the future that we'll be looking at that's a three-point shooter. He shoots ball incredibly well from the mid-range, and I think that's an opportunity to unlock his game.
There's guys shooting the three in the league now that are significantly deficient offensive players. I think having a guy like Enes, that has the hands that he has and the instincts that he has offensively; go from getting us over a point a game on the block every possession to being somebody that can make shots from the perimeter is part of his evolution.
Again, this is a guy that's 25 or 26 years old. Adams is going to turn 24 and Oladipo has just turned 25. All those guys have gotten better every single season they have been in the league. I really don't have a concern that they will continue to, but there's no question, Victor, Steven, those guys have to get better for us to continue to get where we want to go, and I think they are going to work to get to that point. But I also think there's reason to believe that they will get better because they have every single season in the league.
Q. Where do you see Steven's game going? Do you see him being more of the focal point on offense, his rebound numbers? What do you think he can get him to and what do you want him to get better at?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I think Steven's effectiveness, so much of it is in the things he already does. I think we know, like if we didn't see his ability to compete and play in these huge games -- I think he's been in two Western Conference Finals as a four-year player, and he's impacted those series significantly, and the series he has played in. Rolling hard to the rim, being a great pick-and-roll defender, being a great paint defender; as I said before, he's shooting the fifth-highest percentage in the league. And I think having -- when we're able to get Doug and Alex on the floor with him, it really makes him even more of a threat at the rim.
You know, we started to see that a little bit more and more in the Houston series. I'm excited about what he brings to the table, but like everybody else on the team, like he's got a lot of room to improve, and we expect him to. We expect him to. But a lot of the ways he impacts the game, he's demonstrated that he can do it. We need to see that continually happening on a consistent basis, which I think he's capable of doing.
Q. Going back to Russell and the extension possibilities, I wanted to get your general thoughts on the designated player extension, and if it's beneficial to the league, if it's a little too late in terms of your particular situation with the Thunder?
SAM PRESTI: Listen, I understand where you're going with the question and I respect it. I mean, I think it is a good thing for the league, right. I think it's important for franchises, especially outside of a handful, to be able to have the opportunity to keep their best players. That's probably healthy.
I think that's probably -- if you're serious about having like a competitive balance and serious about lauding sustainability and things of that nature, like then the rules need to kind of align with that. Unfortunately the last CBA, they didn't, and this CBA, they did. You know, I think it's positive that those things are in place for a lot of cities.
Q. If Russell doesn't sign a contract extension this summer, how much of a red flag is the same thing could happen to you next summer as it happened to you last summer and you lose a world-class player without anything in return? And what do you do, how do you factor in your devotion to Russ, but having to do what you need to do for the franchise?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, I understand the question. I think No. 1 thing is, last season, people were asking us the same question. And the thing I said at that point in time was, well, let's first have the first conversation, and let's not, you know, use the Magic 8 Ball or the crystal ball -- I used to use the Magic 8 Ball when I was growing up. And I see a lot of heads in here nodding. I'm not the only person that had one of those. I still use it for the draft, too. (Laughter).
But you know, let's not think so far ahead. Let's just see where the information takes us. You know, I understand the question. I think the biggest thing is, we had that conversation with Russell last year, and you know, he was really clear and it worked itself out.
So before we get all the way down the road on what if, what if this happens, what if that happens; again, that's one of those things where we're talking about a very complex question, a very complex situation with a lot of moving parts, and looking for like a simple answer to that.
For us, like that's never been the way that we've approached it. I don't think we can. I think we have to look at things, like without a deterministic like mind-set of, you know, this happened because of. I think there's always -- when things are close, when things are nuanced, it's never because of one thing.
So let's just have the conversation, see where it goes. I think everybody knows how we feel about him. He's a transcendent player. I think he's a futuristic player. I think he's a tremendous competitor, and we're fortunate to have him.
You know, we'll have a conversation and hopefully it goes our way.
Q. You guys have gone into luxury tax before historically, but it's been on teams that are going into championship-ending seasons. This year with Andr√É¬© as a free agent and Taj, they are scenarios that could drive you into that part of the tax and into the luxury tax. Is that something you guys are willing to do coming off a 47-win year, and regardless or whether you are or aren't, how do you go about evaluating how to get there?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I mean, fair question. I'm glad that you did mention that; it's not as if we've never been in the luxury tax. We have been in the tax before. You pointed that out. You know, majority of teams in the league can't be in the tax year after year after year after year after year. There are a few that can.
I'd point to the fact that the fact that we haven't been in the tax consistently hasn't necessarily been debilitating to our ability to have a high level of success. We've had the second-best record in the NBA now over a nine-year period of time -- or eight-year period of time, excuse me, and not every single year have we been in the tax.
How do we get to that decision? How do we get to that point? We get to the end of the season, do our debrief like we've talked about. I'll sit down with the people I have to sit down with and get a better handle on where we are on a fiscal -- from a fiscal standpoint, a fiscal landscape. Get some directive in return to like in response to kind of where we are and where we need to be, and then we go to work.
But I won't have those answers, you know, until we get later in the summer as to kind of what we're working with, but again, I think it's more about, one, showing that -- and demonstrating that we have been in that situation.
It's not realistic for majority of the teams to live in the tax every single year, except for a few. We've shown that we'll be able to do that when necessary. But for us, it's about creating a path forward, and how do we do that. Not just one season or two seasons, but making sure that we can continue to build high-performance teams in Oklahoma City. And I don't think necessarily having the most resources in the world every single year has necessarily shown that that's how you build the best teams.
Q. What about Andr√É¬©, just, what he brought you guys this season, and then his importance to you going forward.
SAM PRESTI: I thought Dr√É¬©, you know, had a great year. You know, he's just come so far as a contributor for our team, and he exhibits a lot of the things that were great about the season in my opinion.
Just his competitiveness on a nightly basis; the more and more he's learning the league, I think he's becoming better and we're excited about -- we're excited about the fact that he's part of the team.
Obviously he's a free agent. He's a restricted free agent. Had conversations with him in the fall. Those were productive and collaborative. But you can't always find solutions all the time. So he'll go into restricted free agency. Every indication we've had from Dr√É¬© and from his people, his agent, is that he loves playing here.
And I've always said this to everybody before: When the player shows an interest in being here, it really exponentially helps your opportunity to getting a contract done, if you would like to.
So we're trying to be collaborative with them. We need them to be fair with us. We have to be fair with them and try to find a common ground. Like I said before, once it goes to an offer sheet or something like that, it really becomes -- it decreases the chances, you know what I'm saying. But my approach will be with them at the appropriate time to sit down and have a real honest dialogue about what we need to do to figure this out.
Q. This was obviously the first year with this team really focused around Russell. What have the analytics told you about how he operates best, the kind of players that you would like to build around him and make him operate best? And second part of that, you were talking about continuity in your open statement. Is that a reflection of seeing some things that make you believe the current roster was able to do that, or do you feel like there needs to be a facelift, overall, I don't know, as it relates to that?
SAM PRESTI: Well, there's a lot in there --
SAM PRESTI: No, that's all right. No, that's all right. My job is to answer those the best I can. So I'm going to -- you might have to remind me on a couple of them.
But continuity-wise, that's just kind of like a -- kind of a truth in sports, you know what I mean. Any time that you change an entire team, there's going to be a certain amount of chemistry that has to be built, a certain amount of rhythm that has to be built. For us, we also had these different ploughs (ph) during the season, like a lot of teams. With the injuries, we lost about 30 games between Enes and Victor, 20 and ten I think, both the two of those guys. We had the trade. So those things kind of created even more lack of continuity.
And continuity has been a really big factor in our success over time and it also has been a big factor in a team like Memphis. You can't push pause on a team. You can't freeze a team in its history and say -- after about three years, four years, most teams may have two players remaining in today's NBA. We've been able to kind of avoid that and I think that's been a big part of our success.
So I do think that bodes well for us. Not just from a playing standpoint, but also for a preparation standpoint for Billy.
The analytics, the question you asked me about that. There's a lot more than just the numbers. Obviously we know, Russell creates an inordinate amount of shots in the paint. I mean, that's -- he has assists on a ton of drop-and dunk, drop and lay-in plays. He also creates a ton of shots at the rim. He doesn't make all of those. A lot of times, he get fouled or he gets fouled and they don't call it.
So you've got to take -- how do you take advantage of that, as well. But there's more to the numbers. It's more than the number. I think there's also what's happening on the floor around him, who is on the floor around him, what those players do. I thought we played Alex and Doug in the playoffs about 35 minutes over that period of time, and I thought that had some positive net effects.
During the regular season, you know, because of all of the change in the in-and-out and things like that, we only got about 70 minutes of those guys on the floor together. So again, it's not a great sample size, and looking at that, looking at how do we create opportunities where Russell is at his best, and where does he maximize players on the floor around him who can capitalize on that. That's what I'm saying.
Like it would be easy for us to get to the end of the Houston series, and say, this is the reason we lost, and we need to make all of these changes.
The reality is, is if you told me we were going to out-shoot them and not turn the ball over as much as them, I'd probably say we have a good chance in winning the series. We fouled them 30 times -- or excuse me, they shot 30 more free throws than we did, and so those are the things that really hurt us.
Now, was the free throw line the only thing? No. They out-rebounded us but that's going to happen when you're smaller. It becomes a 50/50 proposition when you go small. We'll learn from the post-season, but we also can't ignore the fact that we've got 82 games, and several different lineups to look at. And then the other piece of that is forecasting growth and expectancy of continued improvement.
Now, will we go out and look at every opportunity? Yes, we will. We will look at every opportunity, because, you know, that's what we've done over the course of time. But unless somebody is willing to give us exactly what we want, for limited return or for return that we feel comfortable with, we have no alternative other than to continue to be head down, sleeves up, working to get better with this group of players.
As I said earlier, I'm really pleased with the fact that from where we were to now, you know, we've been able to add -- we have four players under the age of 25 shooting 36 percent or better. There's not another team in the league that has that type of shooting at that age.
I think that shooting will get better. I think we'll put Sabonis in that group eventually. I think that as I said before, what can we do with Kanter, how can we unlock maybe different aspects of his game. Again, I'm rather excited about kind of what we can do with the group, and I think we should be. At the same time, we'll be looking, as we always have over the last nine or ten years.
Q. What do you feel you got out of the deal that brought Taj and Doug here?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I mean, obviously we felt like we gave up a really good prospect in Payne. We think he'll be a good player.
For us, I really felt they had taken on the challenge of the season, and there is a heart and soul to the team that I really respect. I really respect this team. I thought they put their best foot forward, and they competed year-in and year-out. I'm not asking anybody to feel sorry for where we were starting from, but I respect competitors. I respect guys that putt their egos to the side and compete and I want to give this team every opportunity to maximize itself.
I thought that obviously Doug gave us another young shooter on a controllable contract who fits the profile of the type of guys that have success here.
Gibson gave us experience and a ruggedness to the team and just a blue-collar -- he's one of those guys that you see for years and you go, I would like that guy to wear a Thunder jersey at some point here, and he embodies a lot of those things.
Listen, after the deadline, we're a Top-10 offense and defense. Our net rating really improved. We ran into a pretty difficult matchup for us in the first round, and at the end of the day, I don't think we ended up losing the series in a fashion in which maybe some people would have predicted.
You know, they really took it to us in the first half -- excuse me, in the second half of game one. But after that, you know, it was pretty nip-and-tuck and as I said before, you just can't foul three-point shooters. Giving up nine or 12 free throws a game on three fouls or four fouls is really hard to overcome in the playoffs.
But I really like what that did for us. Obviously the net rating improved. We were Top-10 offense, Top-10 defense with those guys, and as I said before, I think Doug has versatility to play a little four for us. I think him and Alex really create and make things easier for Russell. Obviously the easy thing to say is, yeah, well but there's going to be some struggles. It takes five guys to play defense. The best teams are able to keep their shooting on the floor because they have got great rim protection and they have got a good system.
I think that throughout that, I thought Billy did an incredible job of integrating those players and building on the system during the season, which is really, really hard to do. And then we got to the playoffs and he was still experimenting and doing things to try to put us in a position to succeed.
So throughout the season, I think one of the things that was probably unheralded was the job Billy did. He did an excellent job. I think that's one of the reasons that we really wanted him to be the coach here, because he's creative and he studies; he works incredibly hard, and it's never easy when you have a team change like that.
But he had us playing really well in that post-season, and you know, we're disappointed we're not playing, but we're optimistic about the fact that the team will improve going forward.
Q. This is going to be a pretty deep draft. You're talking about how young you are as a team. At 21, do you see value there or could you potentially lose --
SAM PRESTI: In terms of the draft, for us, like it's not so much -- I don't know if it's like value or it's opportunity, right. I think we've always looked at the draft as an opportunity.
Last year we didn't have a pick. When we got into the draft, and we were coming off a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals. We'll always look to get better. Whether we're on pace to win 23 games and we pick ourselves up off the Matt and go get Thabo, or it's adding Victor and Domas, Ersan who turned into Jeremy, after coming off a season like the one that we had.
The 21st pick just represents opportunity to me. I think there will be a good player there, and if there's someone there that fits what we're looking for, we'll take him. Otherwise, we can move it. We still have trade exception remaining from the Chicago trade, so about 5 million of a trade exception after we've put Jeremy and Doug into that, and so we can package that. We can look at -- our job is to be creative but not impulsive.
Q. You said you wanted to impact the playoffs -- what parts have to be in place?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I mean, again, I can't really -- I can't tell into the future like who we're playing, how good those other teams are. I think the Western Conference, when it's over, we'll see how everybody else responds and reacts to each scenario that they are facing. We're not the only team that's going to end up not winning the title. There will be one team that wins it and 29 others that will reflect back on the season.
I think the team can get better in a lot of areas. As I said before, some of them internal, some of them external. I can't sit here; I know it would make it much easier for everybody to sit here and just basically read off a list of paper and say, here is the first call we're going to make; here is the second call we're going to make. I can't do that, as much as I'd like to; that would defeat the purpose.
But I think the position in which we're working off of, I think, one we'll see internal improvement if we're intentional about it. I'm confident in that.
Two, I think we'll have the ability to have conversations and be in conversations about the opportunity to add things to the team, whether, you know, on the fringes or toward the core of it.
But short of somebody calling us up and offering us exactly a player we would like to have and add, we're going to have to find other ways to get better and that's generally the way the majority of the NBA operates.
We'll make every single phone call to every single team, and the players that everyone I think probably thinks about and fantasizes about. You know, if we can make those players be here, they would probably be here by now. Otherwise, we're going to have to like kind of do our job and keep getting better and go from there.
Q. What are your thoughts on bringing back Nick Collison, and how does a potential roster expansion with the new CBA play into bringing guys like Nick back?
SAM PRESTI: Obviously everybody knows how we feel about Nick. We had a really positive conversation. He wants to play again. This would be the first time he's been a free agent. We've been able to extend him twice now.
You know, look, if there's a way to make that happen on our end of things, we're going to look to try to make that happen. That's just how we feel about him.
In regards to the two-way contracts you're referring to, right, that's what you're talking about? Those contracts, they are more like swing contracts. So they are not permanent NBA contracts. Those are guys that are going to be able to spend a certain amount of time at the NBA level and be compensated for those days of service at the NBA level.
And so a player like Nick wouldn't necessarily qualify for that. He could technically qualify but not pragmatically qualify for that. I like it. I like having the 17. One thing I really wish we could do is dress all of the players that are under contract so there wasn't -- I think you should be able to play everybody inactive or active. I think it would make it much easier on the coach to be honest with you, that's one less thing that they have to stress about. I think the reasoning or rationale for why we did that in the past was probably bypassed at this point.
Q. It is a pretty big roster, talking about the importance of being able to play multiple ways. Do you have a roster that can play small more often? Can you operate like that with these guys going forward?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, well, as I said before, we played small more this year more than any other team we've had in Oklahoma City. When you look at that, I think the one thing you're really saying but you're not saying, is we don't have Kevin Durant.
So like, yeah, that's a fact. We don't have that player. And we have a team that can play multiple ways, and we found a way to win 47 games, we had success against the Memphises, the Spurs.
You know, again, like I think you're going to have to play multiple ways. I think with the changes that we've undergone, for us in the last less than a year, adding Victor, Jeremy, Domas, Alex, I'm leaving out a couple guys, Taj, all those guys lend themselves to playing a pretty versatile style of play; Doug. We're not going to be able to put that all together in one season.
I do think, as I said before, the pieces that we have, we have to figure out how to best put them on the floor to be successful. I understand that talking about like Enes and Steven, and those guys are a big part of our success. Obviously we're not playing a Western Conference Finals without those players. At the same time, we're not playing Houston to three or four-point margins without Jeremy Grant, without Doug McDermott being able to play four. So we like the balance.
For sure we can get better, there's no question about it. One of the ways to do that is, a, continuity, and b, like how can we continue to put Kanter in positions to stretch the floor. Because if that happens, he becomes -- he's already an elite offensive player. He becomes a real, real bear to guard, because he's able to play so many difference places. And again, what can we do with him. We changed the coverage pick-and-roll-wise in the post-season, and obviously -- encouraging in getting those guys to continue to embrace more opportunity.
I think sometimes with Russell, his excellence and his greatness, sometimes we look at it as if it's something that he has to do, not something he can do. He's that good. Like he can do these things. Do we need to reduce the reliance on him? Absolutely. Is that going to take a little time for us to continue to grow and evolve in that way? Sure. But I think that's something they can that can definitely be done.
But he is a dominant player and we're so fortunate to have him. He impacts the game in more ways than I -- I just don't think there's many players that can impact the game like that. We need to continue to try to make the game easier for sure, and that's going to take a lot of effort from a lot of people, and certainly I'll be looking for ways to do that myself.
Q. Without the cap space, to impact the free agent market -- unless you do a lot of jerry-rigging. How much maneuverability do you have in the various levels of free agent?
SAM PRESTI: Again, I think in this cap environment, it's going to be more a matter of, if you want to play in a max-type situation, you're going to have to move several pieces around in order to do something like that, with no promises obviously of anything. And then the system is set up to make you have to make choices and figure that out.
So you know, we're not in a position where we're going to be a cap space team, per se. But we'll look at every opportunity that we can, but it's not a matter of us necessarily extending offers to people. It's basically people extending interest to us, you know what I'm saying, and then we can work from there.
Q. How much of a priority is improving the backup point guard position?
SAM PRESTI: Well, again, a lot of people have mentioned that to me in the grocery store and other places (laughter). That's the great thing about working in Oklahoma City. But I think that, yeah, so it's become a little bit of a story in regards to the backup point guard position.
I'm actually pretty happy that that's the thing that people are focused on. We have a Hall of Fame player playing that position as the starter. He plays about 36 minutes a night, 34, 36 minutes a night in the regular season. You know, filling that spot is something that, you know, we're going to look to continue to look at.
Semaj did an excellent job for us throughout the season. Again, I don't want to place so much weight on five games in the post-season that were decided by the free throw line and the rebounding margin. We found a way to get ourselves to 47 wins throughout the regular season, a lot of it with him there, and our coaching staff has a lot of confidence in him.
You know, we added Norris to have some more veteran experience to make sure that there was someone there in the event we got into a bind. And then Victor is another guy we feel like has the opportunity to maybe handle some of that. All of those things can be hashed out as we go through this analysis over the season and we'll look at that and other things.
Q. A lot of the improvements talk about possibilities for next year, whoever comes up with them, have to be implemented by the coaching staff. What is your role in that process since you're not there on the sideline during the game, and have you had those conversations?
SAM PRESTI: Well, just listening to the coaches. And I think one of the things that's really been helpful for me this season is just watching Billy, learning about the things that he's looking for, how he makes decisions, what he feels is important to you getting the most out of the team, and being as supportive as I can throughout that process.
You know, McDermott, Gibson, obviously those were guys that we talked a lot about. We knew that there would be a potential change to the continuity again if we did that. We talked all that through. But I think the upside of having the shooting of McDermott, the upside of having the experience, versatility of Gibson, made it worth enduring a little more of a disruption to continuity.
As I said before, Top-10 offense and defense after that put us in position to be capable of advancing in the first round. And then, again, looking at every opportunity for external improvement, and talking to the coaching staff about the different options that we have and how they might use the different things that potentially could be at play.
And also, you know, one of the things I really like about Billy is he really -- like he has a real love and a closeness to the guys that he has and a belief in those guys. You can't just pull things out of there. He values chemistry. He values cohesion, and he worked really, really hard this year in my opinion to create that, and the chemistry on the team is great and I think it showed throughout the season.
So trying to be as much of a resource as I can, but I have total confidence in those guys, because Billy is one of the most conscientious people I've ever been around, and he'll turn over every rock, and I'll do the same thing on my end.
I'm just happy that we're working from a foundation, as I said before, like to navigate and get us to where we are right now, where we have some momentum and we have a foundation to work off of, you know, with the trajectory of the team pointing upward, you know, that wasn't a given. Now we've gotten to this point. We've got to, as I said before, we're excited about taking the next step in what this edition of the Thunder could ultimately look like.
The last, the past, we're not competing with our past. But those years took a long time to get us to that point where not only we were a very good team, but we could be a very good team year after year. If we can get there faster, for sure, we'd love to do that. That would be the simplest thing to do. If not, we've got to figure out a way to do that incrementally so that we are in position to continue to take advantage of opportunities when they come about. But we can't sit still and just wait. We have to do the work.
Q. Is there any urgency in that process? For as young as you are, Russell will be 29 in November. Is there urgency in that process?
SAM PRESTI: I would say over the last six or seven especially years, we've had a title team and been playing deep into the playoffs. So we've been operating I think with a pretty aggressive mind-set. I don't think that really changes.
But I think being urgent is less important than being accurate. And so there's not a lot of reward for like enthusiasm and recklessness. The worst thing I think in my opinion would be for us to have gone through this season, done a lot of things to show how hard we're trying, and then be sitting here with an older team with bad, declining deals with the same outcome, as opposed to sitting here with the youngest team in the post-season, where we feel that there is upward trajectory; that we've shown that we're not an elite team in the Western Conference but we played Houston pretty tough and it was a tough matchup for us. We performed pretty well against the better teams in the league I think, other than golden state. We feel good about that.
The alternative would be do something rash and bold for the sake of that and find ourselves with momentum going the opposite direction. I think for us, this season was about taking the challenge, creating a path for the future. You know, getting the team in position where it could have upward trajectory regardless of the different limitations that we have, and continue to put the Thunder in position to play playoff basketball and not depart from that for an extended period of time to try to rebuild ourselves.
Q. Is there a particular type of skill set or characteristic you're looking for in an assistant coach?
SAM PRESTI: So part of that debrief is to sit down with Billy, talk about a lot of things, not just the on-court component, but every aspect of the operation. We do that every single year.
I like to say that because you know, the one year that you asked me about something other than that, and I say we do that every year, you'll say, no, you're just saying that for this season.
We do; we sit down and go through every aspect of the department, every department, how can we make it better. That's one of the things I ask the players in the exit meetings is how can we create a better environment for you as a basketball player and as a man, what can we do.
I love to try to gain as much feedback as I can to make this a world-class basketball operation, and the players's input with respect to how they feel resources-wise and support, is really important. We've been fortunate to have a group of guys that do appreciate what they do have here.
So with respect to the coaching staff, I don't have an answer to that right now. I know Billy really feels strongly about the group that he has. I thought they did an excellent job game planning for the post-season and throughout the season. But I also know they will be working really hard figuring out how to maximize the team going forward and looking at different ways and things that maybe haven't been adjusted in order to continue moving us forward.
Q. Taj said last week that he asked you in the exit interview if your job was stressful. So I'll ask you: Is your job stressful?
SAM PRESTI: For me, I just see working in the NBA as such a privilege that if you do feel that, I think you have to have some perspective in life. The people that should feel stressed in their jobs are the doctors, the police officers, the fire department, teachers; people that really have impact on future, quality of life, safety, people in the military. That, to me is, that's where the stress comes.
For me, I work in the NBA. I feel so privileged and fortunate to do what I do. I feel tremendous purpose in what I do. I know I'm not going to be the last general manager that ever is here for the Thunder. But while I'm here, I want to enjoy and leave a certain standard for the position because it's not my job. It's the job of the organization. I don't look at it as stress. To me I look at it as opportunity.
Like that's why, I don't know what you were expecting me to say today, but I'm pretty inspired about what's in front of us because like I said before, there's not a lot of teams that have done what we've done over the last eight years, having dropped completely off the face of the earth with what took place and found a way to navigate and build up ward mobility and trajectory to an organization that's not even ten years old. That doesn't happen because of me for sure.
It happens because of Russell Westbrook, Billy Donovan, this group of players that we have that put their head down every single night and busted their tails, this tremendous group of people, and for the business in the basketball operation that have put time in every single day.
I'm privileged to be a part of that, and I don't look at it as a stressful. I look at it as, like to me, that's inspiring, because I care about what I do, you know what I'm saying. It's exciting to me to potentially take that on. I don't see any reason to shy away from that.
Q. Do you ever get frustrated when people out there think that you snap your fingers and all of a sudden everything's fixed?
SAM PRESTI: That's part of this job. So like you have to understand that people have -- sports, that's what's great about sports, right. People enjoy the sports. But there's also -- there's just a lot of complexities to these things. A lot of times, the same things that they are saying should happen, like are not different than the things that we ourselves would say. But as I said before, you can't be deterministic or simplistic about these things. Like sure, we'd love to be able to do this or do that, but that's been the case over the last eight years. That's not changing.
You know, when someone comes up to me and asks those questions or says those things, one, I'm grateful that they are interested in the organization, they care about the Thunder, they are excited about what we're doing. And you know, I tell them, look, the first thing I'm going to do is go back to the office and call Adam Silver and see if he can erase one of those cap spikes. You know, once he says -- you know, because those tend -- I'm learning those things tend to come in handy.
Once he tells me that that's not possible, we'll go back to the office and we'll continue to work and do what we've done over the last, you know, nine, going on ten years, and hopefully we'll be able to have people be proud of what we're doing.
And I can tell you, we're going to work our tail off like we always have, but we're also going to not be ashamed or not proud of what we've accomplished over the last year because we feel like we're in a position where we can get better, and that's wasn't necessarily a given.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports