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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 22, 2018
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
SAM PRESTI: As I always do after the draft, I think it's an excellent time to just make sure we thank all the different people associated with the organization that make the preparation for the draft possible. Will has done another great job of preparing our amateur evaluation and had us extremely prepared for the night.
Our people from our strategy team, all the different analytics folks, and it's a real team effort to get these things done. We're really excited about the guys that we were able to add this evening, Hall and Hervey are guys that I'm going to have Will talk about more specifically. But anytime you're picking in the late 50s there, you're really main objective is to try to shift the odds the best that you can and give yourself a chance of finding a player that has a chance to play in the NBA.
We've had some luck with respect to that in the past, just with finding Dakari, Semaj, and we're hopeful Daniel Hamilton as well just as guys that can find a way to play some games in the NBA in that area of the draft. If one or both of these guys are able to do that, we'll feel really good about that. But there is a lot of basketball to be played before that takes place.
So I'll have Will talk about each guy and open it up for questions.
WILL DAWKINS: Good evening. Obviously, like Sam said, when you're picking later in the draft, the odds are a little less what you're going to come up with. But the way we've kind of approached the draft is the same every year. And we went about it the same way with the same amount of detail, trying to make sure we were prepared for tonight. Knowing that you have those picks going in makes it helpful from the beginning of the year, and we're able to come away with two guys tonight that we feel fit our program as people, character guys that are going to come in and work and embody some of the things that we look for on the basketball court and off the basketball court.
I'll start with Hall from Virginia, Virginia Beach kid. We had him in here for a workout. We actually got time with him at the Portsmouth Invitational as well. So we feel like we know him really, really well. Been able to see him practice and play for a while now because he's a veteran player.
So when you get guys that have been through it, top teams in the country, played high level ACC basketball, you're always happy to add those guys into the program. He's a guy that was an All-ACC defender. He's a guy who improved his shooting every single year he was in college, attempts and accuracy.
So he's able to play on the ball, off the ball. We're interested in seeing him just kind of get on the floor and just fit in with our other wings and have a chance to play there.
With Kevin Hervey, he's a guy that you guys know has had some injury issues in the past, local. As far as Texas, down at UT-Arlington, local kid, winded up going and staying at home. Had some bigger offers but decided to stay at home and made the best of his opportunity. He's also a four-year player. We've seen him play for a while.
We're used to seeing him going to practices, and really, really comfortable. At his size 6'9" with a wing span of 7'3", that's something we look for and value. Then he's a person that's been able to stretch the floor on offense, make some plays, cover a couple different positions. So those are players we're excited about and we got an opportunity to add them to the organization.
Q. How important was it in the evaluation process that those were guys that were guys that have been in college a longer time? I know you had some guys in recent seasons that were one-and-done guys, younger guys in Terrance and Dakari, and even Daniel Johnson or Hamilton, rather, but how important was that experience that those guys have?
WILL DAWKINS: I wouldn't say it's something we went into the draft making sure we wanted to do, but, again, when you're picking later in the draft, some of those more experienced guys are on the board, and you also know they're going to be in the draft, so you've been preparing for them for a longer time.
But both those guys bring veteran presences that you wouldn't get from a rookie, and that experience and ability to have been through some wars and been against high-level games already, that's valuable when you're really evaluating them.
Q. How do you evaluate -- both those guys improved quite a bit as shooters over the course of their careers. How do you evaluate them as perimeter shooters?
WILL DAWKINS: So it really helps when you get multiple looks at guys, because like he was saying, some of the freshmen we only get to see once. We get to see these guys practice a couple times a year, so by the end of it, you're looking at the mechanics, studying what they're changing, and our scouts and evaluators, they go out and work really, really hard. So they've seen these guys each year. They're documenting it each year, and you really get to break it down and watch them.
So it's helpful to see the repetitions that they're getting in, and those guys work. We talk to the coaches, we talk to the staff. We know who is really putting work in, and we expect those guys to get better, and they did. That's what actually intrigues us about them, some of the things.
Q. When you don't have a first-round pick, how do you alter -- you're not centering on lottery guys? Are you looking for guys that may slip through the cracks? How is it different, I guess?
SAM PRESTI: I think it kind of speaks to what Will was saying earlier. We approach every draft the same way. We want to know the front to the back, and even the guys that we just finished talking to that went undrafted. So it's really the same process, because you just don't know what's going to happen.
One year we had no picks. That was the year we ended up with Domas and Victor, you know. That was without really thinking. We weren't even in the 50s that year. So we just try to evaluate. The other thing that you have, you have years that run into each other, so there are cycles of years. So you're evaluating one draft class, but you're really also evaluating one half of another at the same time.
Again, Will and the group of guys that we have working on this, it's what they do every single day. They spend their entire day thinking about the draft and getting ready for this evening, and then starting tomorrow they'll be getting literally -- we have meetings starting tomorrow, transferring the valuations from the amateur group to the pro group, and then start talking about scheduling for summer scouting for all of the amateur guys. So it's a year-long thing really basically.
Q. Are these the only two guys you can talk about at this point?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, so in the world that we live in, I think that everybody's aware that there's potentially some other stuff that happened tonight, we're just not able to talk about it just because of the logistics of previous trades and things like that. There will be an opportunity to do that later on.
Q. How does the Summer League team look right now as far as do you feel like you have a certain number of maybe guys you want to sign to the team or where are you?
SAM PRESTI: Well, again, that's another reason why we're here late. Will and Jesse Gould are spending a lot of time after the draft just trying to populate that group, trying to figure out who exactly is going to be there from our group as well as some free agents and things like that.
It changes all the time. You know, the draft generally takes a precedent, and then there will be some changes that come from that after that will effect the Summer League roster, but that should be done relatively quickly. We'll feel pretty good about it. We'll have a bunch of our guys from our team and the blue team that will be playing, and then the guys that we're able to select tonight and some other guys we want to take a look at as well. So we're excited about that.
Q. These guys will be available for the Summer League?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, again, they will be in here in the next few days to start training and working out. Then they'll have a chance to meet you guys, I think, probably once Summer League practice starts is what we're kind of spit balling right now. Tumbleson's not here tonight, as you can tell, so we're barely making it. But, yeah, so you'll be able to meet these guys, and as Will said, you'll enjoy them both and have a chance to get to know them and their stories.
Q. Do you have a plan in place already, or is it yet to be determined, in terms of how you're going to bring these guys along? Like Dakari, that was a guy that spent multiple seasons in the D-League? These guys are a little farther ahead in terms of their collegiate experience.
SAM PRESTI: The thing I would say is when guys get to the NBA, it doesn't matter, really doesn't matter how old they are. They become professionals as soon as they get drafted. So the fact that they're older in years doesn't really change the plan or the way we would approach it. At the end of the day, we're going to get to know them as players first, try to understand where their opportunities for growth are, the things that we feel we can help them with.
We're not going to try to get too far ahead of ourselves and try to map out their career arc or anything like that. But I would say that Summer League is usually the time that we use to establish a baseline of where we see the player, and then from there we will sit down as an organization and try to map out some specific goals in different areas using Summer League as the baseline for that. Then we use the rest of the summer to track those and get ourselves to training camp and then assess and see if we need to make some new ones.
That would be the same process we've gone through. I do think the improvements that Daniel, Dakari, those guys have made and the patience that they've shown and how methodically they've gone through their work has really been reflected in their improvement.
I think, obviously, Dakari has played some legitimate minutes for us and started games for us, helped us win some games this year. We're excited to see Daniel have an opportunity to play in Summer League. So we'll see where those things go going forward.
Q. As you mentioned, you've got these guys, some other developmental guys in the Summer League; how important could those weeks be for Terrance as well?
SAM PRESTI: Terrance has been -- I mean, he's been hard at it. I mean, he's been here the majority of the summer, and has been -- as have those other guys, putting in a ton of time. I think he's excited to go out and play in Summer League.
I think one of the things for us, we've always tried to do, is stretch the players in Summer League. We're not looking for them to be perfect, because if that's the case, they're not stretching themselves and not trying to make themselves better or try new things.
Again, like I said, we're trying to get, I guess, a bit of a benchmark of where he is to this point, and then we'll develop some more plans going into the rest of summer. But he's been great. I think he's one of the huge benefits, I would say, about Terrance is the fact that he got some minutes this year. So, it's hard. With the teams that we've had and been fortunate to have over the years, it hasn't been easy for younger players to break in there.
Really, generally, in the league, the only way you're going to really improve or establish yourself is you've got to get on the floor somehow. Terrance, and I give Billy a ton of credit, because he put him in some situations early, gave us enough of an understanding to understand where we were with him. So you get to a night of a draft like this, and you feel good about having Terrance in your program. We're not sitting there and saying we don't really know anything about Terrance Ferguson, what should we do here?
The fact that he had gotten some opportunity, I think, really helps us understand who he is, where he's going, and that's a major thing for us, especially in a draft. So we're excited about him.
Q. The fact he got minutes, does that put the expectations on him a little bit higher than say a free agent rookie?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that Ferg has done really well, and I think he's got -- one of the things we liked about him last year is he knows how to fit within a team and play to his strengths. I think actually playing overseas, I feel like this is last year's press conference, like dÃ©jÃ vu.
But he played overseas, and he had to fit into a team of much older people, and he found a way to impact the game. He was able to do similar things for us.
He's still really young, and he's got a lot of basketball to go. But if he maintains the mentality he has, I think he has a good chance to be a good player for us going forward. But that all has to be earned. He understands that, and he knows he has to work, and that's all really we can ask from him.
Q. Outside of the height and wing span for Hervey, can you expand on some of the skill level, all-around game on both sides that you see from him?
WILL DAWKINS: Yeah, for sure. With Hervey, he's someone that was asked to carry a lot of load for his team at UT-A, and he responded well, not just in conference. When you watch him against some of the bigger teams he went up against, those were actually some of his bigger games.
So he's a guy on the offensive end that has an ability that's very valuable in the league now where he can dribble, handle, make decisions and also shoot the ball. Offensively, he's someone that has some upside.
He's got some things he'll have to work on, but for the most part we're excited with the person who can go out there on the floor and make decisions and just play free-flowing basketball.
SAM PRESTI: The thing about him also, and we talked about this before the draft is he had some setbacks physically. He obviously checked out for us, he was fine. He was actually in here just this week. But if he doesn't have those setbacks we're not looking at him at 57. We feel like his ability at the four spot, like Will said, to be able to handle the ball, make decisions, stretch the floor at his size, it's something intriguing to us to take some time to work with.
But he's pretty talented, but he's got to make some decisions just like all these guys do when they become professionals as to how hard they're going to work, what's important, and how committed they're going to become to becoming the best basketball player they can be.
Q. When you evaluate guys, do you have them broken down into early, second round, mid, late, free agent? How does the evaluation process go?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, there's a wheel.
WILL DAWKINS: Spin it. Pretty much just throw darts at the board (laughing). No, it's a long process like Sam talked about. From tomorrow morning, we'll gather and recap the things we did, the things we did well. Kind of how we mapped out the year. From last season to get here and start from the very beginning, getting ready for the 2019 draft.
So when it comes down to the draft night, we usually have our board set to where we've met with our strategy side, met with the evaluation side, and put our best process together to put a flow on our board to where we have the players ranked, and we kind of go through and knock them off as they're going through.
So we put a lot of time into it ahead of time to get those lists right. Then obviously the draft is the draft, and you've got to be able to fluctuate, and Sam does a great job going off feel and making the best decision for the team. But we try to be as set as possible when we go in there for the list.
SAM PRESTI: How are you seeing for evaluators, in my experience having been in that position before, is you can feel like you've got a really good handle on the draft with respect to who the players are going to be and where they are and who they potentially can be. But then that has to merge itself with like the team strategy with respect to cap and long-term planning. All these different aspects now become part of team building and organizations and how you sustain them.
So it's hard because sometimes you might have things in a certain order, but in order to plan for the future or identify a certain spot on the roster that you have to plan for two, three, four years in advance, the board doesn't go exactly the way you want. I give our evaluators a ton of credit because they do so much work, and they essentially hand that off to the group of people that have to manage not just this season, but four, five, six, seven years down the line as we try to put a competitive performance plan together to help our team and organization.
It doesn't mean you just go right off the list. You rank the list based on the value of the player to your organization, not just on the floor, but also strategically as well. I think it's hard -- not hard, but I think it's a challenge sometimes to see all that stuff happen, think you have it, and then like we have to maneuver certain ways and do certain things that may not be exactly the way the scouts see the players. But that's why we have such a great group of guys and girls that work together and understand that everyone's got a role that they have to play.
We've been really lucky. We've been together for quite a long time, so we have a lot of fun doing it, and understand that everyone's got to understand that everyone has a job to do.
But I really enjoy these nights, because you get to see a lot of people that live -- we've got people that live overseas. We have people that live on the west, the east. They come in periodically. But to get them all together at one time is pretty cool.
Nazr was with us tonight. It was a great experience for him, I think, to be in the draft room for the first time. So these are fun nights. We'll see if they were successful down the line, but we enjoy going through it.
Q. What is the ballpark figure, how many people with the evaluators?
SAM PRESTI: The number of evaluators?
Q. Yeah, just the whole process, you were talking about your scouts and your evaluators?
WILL DAWKINS: Oh, in the room tonight? I would say around 18 people. But it goes a little deeper than that. We do have different consultants and a few other pro scouts and people who weren't necessarily in town but contributed to the process. We have a robust staff. We're very fortunate that Mr. Bennett and his staff allows us to fill the void that some teams have that we don't have, where we can kind of stretch our resources. So we have a robust staff that spends a lot of time getting ready for situations like this on draft night.
Q. Is it harder to evaluate a guy in the 50s as opposed to do you take him, or a guy in the Top 10? Which is the harder evaluation when you're picking?
WILL DAWKINS: To me, it's a different challenge. It's definitely a different challenge, but we go around it the same way. We spend as much time as we do gathering information and talking to people for the guys that we're drafting the lottery for the guys that we think have a chance of being drafted to undrafted.
A lot of times it's easy because you're going to watch practice and you're watching the guy who goes No. 1, but you're also watching the guy who could go in the second round. The guy that could go undrafted, the two-way guy. You have to make sure you're going with that mentality every time, and it allows you to be a well-rounded scout.
Q. For the first nine years you guys really prided yourselves on drafting and developing young talent. Then last off-season you do things a little differently by bringing in stars like Melo. Do you see this draft as a return to that foundation, or is it just because of the situation of Russ being in his prime? Can you not return to that? Is that just something that you always want this organization to be about?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I think that's a great question. I think, number one, in order to make something last -- like you said, nine years, which is a long time, but we're going into year 11 now. In order to make something last in pro sports at all, like you're going to have to adapt, evolve, adjust, and figure things out because there's no way that you're going to be able to do something a decade consistently and just have it keep working. You know what I'm saying?
A big part of that, as you said, a lot of the players that we were able to populate the team with in 2008 and on have gotten older. Have gone from 18-year-olds to 28-year-olds, and their contracts have followed suit with that.
You're going to always have to adjust. You're always going to have to learn. You're going to have to stretch yourself. That was actually one of the things about everything that happened last summer. For me personally I kind of relish was that it was a totally new experience for us to have to figure out how to do that and do it from the position we were in, which was kind of a fixed position.
So, yeah, I don't think this year's necessarily a return to that. I think we're always going to have to find ways to develop internally. I've taken a lot of pride in that. And that's not just players that we draft, but I look at that also as finding Jerami. When we found Jerami, he wasn't who he is now. When we traded for Enes, he was a totally different player at that point. When we traded for Dion, I'd like to think that players have an opportunity to impact winning and get better here. That can happen other ways than just the draft.
But, yeah, for sure, when I think back to the team we started with in 2008, and I actually was looking just the other day for a reason -- as I said earlier, the end of last season, that's truly the canvas that we started on and we're still painting on that.
Thankfully because of a lot of good luck and a lot of good players we haven't had to rebuild the team and necessarily dive right back into the way the team was initially constructed. We've been able to kind of sustain it.
We've taken our hits along the way. Some things have gone our way. Some things haven't gone our way. But I think those initial stages helped build a foundation that we haven't had to tear apart. What we've tried to do is make it last as long as we possibly can. Definitely, the development of younger players while they've been here either acquired via trade or draft, has definitely been a huge key to our ability to sustain it.
But we're not going to be able to keep it going forever. But there's going to be an opportunity along the way for us to, you know, hopefully continue to do that, whether it be via trade or one of these guys who is a contributing player for us down the road.
Q. Carmelo has a deadline coming up. Have you guys been able to have a conversation with him yet?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, so we've had several conversations with his representation, and that's a pretty normal course. I wish I could tell you a whole lot has changed since the end of the season. We're still in June, and the season doesn't start until October.
So we'll continue to have the dialogue going forward. I can't speak to necessarily what he's going to do with respect to early termination option. But we have been in touch with him and tried to, you know, provide him with as much information as we can so he can make the most informed decision possible.
But it's pretty well-documented we have a lot of balls in the air, and it's still June. It's not even July. So we have to see what it is that he chooses to do and we'll continue to have conversations from there.
Q. It's almost July.
SAM PRESTI: Very close.
Q. Do you watch TMZ Sports or any rumors?
SAM PRESTI: I don't. I don't live under a rock, so I know like -- I honestly don't know. Is there something I should know about?
Q. Anything you want to tell us in terms of one particular guy on the team?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, no, so, again, I kind of go back to what I said about Carmelo. At the end of the season, it wasn't that long that we were sitting here. Paul and his representation, we built a relationship built on transparency, trust and collaboration. I'm happy to say that that's continued during the period of time the season ended until now, which I think speaks a great deal about Paul George and just who he is as a guy. That's just how he operates, things don't change.
We're looking forward to the opportunity to sit down and have a more specific conversation with him, you know, as we get to July. But we're basically the same message. We're excited about where that potentially could go.
Q. You weren't at Fortnite?
SAM PRESTI: No, I'm not even trying to be funny. I have no idea what you're talking about.
Q. But you can talk to him. He's your guy.
SAM PRESTI: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like I said earlier, we've been in touch with him. He's been consistent like he is. Had a surprise birthday party tonight, and that's where Tumbleson is actually, and a few of our other staff members are out there.
Q. He did?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, so, yeah, he's been great. We have no complaints in that respect. But he can't make any decisions. Our decision is easy. He can't make any decisions until July.
Q. The party's in California? Who organized that party?
SAM PRESTI: I believe his sister.
WILL DAWKINS: Yeah, it was definitely his family.
SAM PRESTI: I believe his sister did.
Q. Is this in L.A.?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah.
Q. Andre, his recovery from the initial procedure and second procedure, is it still going well?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, it's so funny. He was out there shooting free throws like ten minutes before we walked in here. So, yeah, he's doing good. He's in town for a few days. It's a long process, but I think that he's starting to get to the point where he can ramp it up a little bit.
I'm really excited for him to get back on the floor. I think we all know at this stage how important he is to the team and just what his size and length, and I think just his fiber in general, what it means to the team. So, yeah, he's progressing. We're not going to push him, you know what I mean? But his long-term prognosis is excellent.
Q. You used to play in Orlando Summer League. Going to Vegas, any change going there?
SAM PRESTI: No, the whole league is out there now. So actually the Orlando Summer League was, I don't know a better word to say other than that it was ended. So I think the powers that be would like to have all 30 teams playing in one place in Las Vegas.
We're looking forward to what that's like and what that experience will be. It will be different for us, but sometimes that's good. We'll get something out of it and figure out how to make it work. And go from there.
Q. I know pieces to the puzzle have to fall in place before this becomes maybe in the pecking order. But with Jerami, do you have similar conversations with him and his people?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, we try to stay in touch with all the players throughout the off-season. No different. And that goes all throughout the organization, you know what I'm saying? Because so many people in our organization have relationships with the players. We'll see where that goes.
I mean, you're right. There are a lot of different things that have to fall into place, and it's still early to be able to predict all that.
I think Jerami understands like our number one priority is obviously with Paul, but we also think very highly of him, and we're really proud of the improvement he made. But it really speaks to how hard he's worked. He's put a lot of time in and become a much better player.
He actually just took a trip overseas to South Africa. You guys will probably see this on Instagram or something like that, I don't know. But he took a great trip. He's had a great time. Mom went with him. I think he's enjoying life and also working out, so we'll see where that goes.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports