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June 20, 2019

Sam Presti

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

SAM PRESTI: Good morning (smiling).

So I think we ran into this issue last year. I'm not allowed to talk about potential transactions that could take place later on in the summer in the event you make a trade or you're involved in a trade. Anybody that's involved in the draft day trade can't talk about the trade until that trade is consummated. I'll have to be pretty vague on some of the things that we talk about. I don't know how else to say that. They gave us some stuff, the league, they'll probably send it up. Sorry about that.

I just want to say before we get started that today, every draft day is a special day for our evaluators, the people that crisscross the country and the globe, and they put in an unbelievable amount of time preparing for the draft. I've got a lot of respect for everybody involved in that.

Them and then obviously the different people in basketball operations that play a role in the draft process, from our medical group, our strategy, analytics, obviously evaluation, coaching. Everybody plays a hand in these things.

We culminate that today, then we start on the next draft tomorrow, quite frankly. But many, many thanks to all the people that contribute to these evenings and prepare us with the information that we have to try to make the best decisions we can.

With that I'll allow you to ask me any questions.

Q. Even though you can't talk about things, was there anything particularly that you were looking for headed into the draft?
SAM PRESTI: Yes, so I think the way we've always approached the draft is we're always looking to create value for the organization and get the most value from the opportunities we have to pick. I think we've also shown, like, at different points in time to try to take a long view, give yourself the most opportunity for the most success.

But every one of these is different. We try to just go off the board, take the next player that's there.

Q. When you talk about the long view, how do you balance the situation of trying to look big picture, trying to look down the road, and having two all stars in their prime, trying to build a winning team around them?
SAM PRESTI: There's so many different ways that you add to your team. This is really the beginning of the off-season. When you look at our team that we have returning, from the guys that were on the floor at the end of the season, we've got two guys that are free agents, potentially three with Nerlens from that rotation.

We have a group of guys, younger guys like Diallo, Burton and Nader all at different points during the season contributing and helping us win some actually pretty big games during that period of time.

I look at the off-season as a longer period of time. We sat here last year. PG was a free agent, Jerami was a free agent, Nerlens wasn't in the picture at the time. Denny Schroder was still 75 days away from going on the team. This is just kind of the beginning part of it.

We're going to look to try to balance out the team throughout the summer.

Q. With the need for outside shooting, what is your plan going forward?
SAM PRESTI: Just like we talked about before at the end of the season. We're going to need some internal growth, internal development, just based on where we are, just what available resources and players we have from a team-building standpoint.

We'll certainly have some opportunities to have conversations with people after July 1st about how they may be able to round out the group.

Nothing has really changed between the last time we visited and now relative to our ability to take some strides internally. It's going to be really important.

If you look at the history of the draft, in the 20s, there's a 40% chance or so that you can get a bench player in those areas most of the time, let alone someone that you're going to draft that's going to come in and play major minutes on a team like ours. So most of that work probably is going to happen from here on out.

Q. All that said, did you have a plan to address shooting in the draft, maybe at the time that you were able to pick up a player, the players you might have drafted?
SAM PRESTI: No, the plan is always to try to take the best player that's on the board at the time. So every player brings different things to the table. Like I said, at the end of the season those are for sure things that we're going to look to address.

But, one, the most controllable is our ability internally to improve in those areas, then number two, explore all those different options that we have in front of us through the rest of the off-season, which runs until September, to figure out how to be as creative as we can.

I feel like we're just kind of getting started on that. I think it will be pretty methodical just because of the type of off-season I think the NBA is kind of wading into. We'll look at all the different options available to us, then we'll have a team on the floor for September.

Q. There's been a lot of reporting on you guys reportedly wanting to lower your tax bill, lower some of the spending. Has something changed organizationally in terms of what you have to work with in terms of the money and what your mission is building this team while also having to manage the bill?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I mean, of course, whenever you're looking at these types of decisions, finances are going to play a role in that. There's no question about that.

Last season, obviously in order to keep Paul George in Oklahoma City, in order to keep Jerami Grant in Oklahoma City, we're going to have to be pretty aggressive. I think any team in that situation, to be able to keep Paul George, who is an MVP-caliber player, you're going to do what you have to do to do that.

Going forward, I said this from the outset: where we are right now, we're not going to be able to sustain that over a really long period of time. We're certainly going to look at ways that we can build the best team we possibly can.

When you get to this point, you know your resources and tools are going to be limited. That's going to be kind of our job to figure out what the options are and how to put the best team on the floor that we can.

Q. Earlier you mentioned the last time we got to talk to you. At that time you were saying you were hesitant to have a reactionary, I guess, thought about the season. In the intervening few weeks, have you had any more thoughts or gained any more kind of information or insight into last season, when you're looking for in the rest of this off-season?
SAM PRESTI: I think there's definitely things that we can do better. I think we addressed that. At the same time I think you've got a tremendous opportunity in front of us, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us as a team because of the continuity that we do have.

When you look across the league right now, I don't know what the percentage is of the league that are free agents, but it's a large percentage of them. As I said earlier, we're returning our core players that are under contract. I feel like that group of guys has a chance to be really good.

If you're asking now, with the way the Western Conference looks or the league looks in general, I couldn't even venture a guess kind of how that stacks up because we're so far from the off-season really ending. You know what I mean?

Every team is going to do what they can to come back better. We're the same. As I said earlier, it's a pretty methodical aspect. There's certain points in time, ways that you can get better. Tonight was one part of that. There will be several others going forward.

Q. Where are you in terms of rounding out a coaching staff?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, obviously we've had some change there. We're really happy for the guys that have moved on. They got great opportunities. We want to be as supportive as we can in those situations.

Billy obviously, myself, talked about those things relative to the chances that those guys had to improve their situations. At the same time that opens up opportunity for some change on the existing group.

Billy is talking to a lot of different people. I think it's great, he's being really methodical about how he goes about how he wants to fill the group out.

As I said earlier, we don't start playing until September, so taking some time with that is I think healthy to make sure he's looked at and we've looked at all the different options there are.

Q. Is that something he does, a combination of you, him, front office?
SAM PRESTI: He bounces names off me. I might throw him a few to talk to or think about. We have some people internally that we'll always look at that, as well.

I would say he's got a good handle on that type of stuff. I might give him some opinions and things of that nature. For the most part we've always been kind of on the same page. He's got to feel good about the group he's working with.

Q. (No microphone.)
SAM PRESTI: I understand what you're saying.

Any time we have openings and things like that, we'll always look internal. I think that's one of the things we've traditionally done. That doesn't mean we always go that direction.

There's a lot of different positions than the ones that people might see on the front of the bench or even the back of the bench. We have development positions, video positions. We have the blue group.

That development group, that group of people that kind of are behind the scenes have done an unbelievable job during the draft process. We're in great shape I think for summer league, all those types of things, which really affords Billy the time to be selective about who he wants to add to the great group.

Mark is great guy, glad he's part of the organization. If he's a part of that group going forward, great. If not, he'll do a great job where he is currently with the blue.

Q. Is there an ideal time when you want a coaching staff set in stone?
SAM PRESTI: I think it's basically taking your time to find the right combination of people. Then there's also people that might be working for other teams or things of that nature, and there's processes that you have to go through to get there.

It's no different than I think putting together a team. You're trying to figure out all the different combinations that are available so you can get the best group that you can.

But, no, I think the time is basically more or less when that group kind of presents itself. We feel really good about the coverage that we have currently, with kind of the development period of time we're in right now. That also adds great opportunity for some of the other people in the building to step up during this period of time. They've done a great job.

Q. With Paul's surgery, can you give us an idea how that progressed? Was it about what y'all expected?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, no, there were no surprises or anything of that nature. Timeline-wise we're going to update you when we get around camp. I think we'll have a better feel for that. Predicting that far out right now, I think we're better served having the most information possible, then we'll give you the best feel we can at that point in time.

But he's doing well. He's going to make a full recovery.

Q. What kind of things can he do at this point? Is he pretty limited?
SAM PRESTI: It's still pretty early. He can do, like, other body areas. Obviously having both of those things worked on is going to limit him a little bit. But his body can use the rest, too.

Normally at this time a lot of players that are playing heavy loads and things like that, they're not doing a whole lot right away. You really kind of have to get away from it, let your body recover. I think mentally, too, it's important to do that.

I don't think we're missing out. He's not going to have the off-season he's had in the past, but he's going to be healthier all around when he does get back on the floor.

Q. How about Andre, how is he doing?
SAM PRESTI: Doing well. He continues to make progress. We've taken a real conservative approach toward the end of the season knowing we'd have this period of time in the off-season to kind of build up some momentum.

He's doing well, training down in Texas. He has a good group of people with him. Our guys and girls are in and out monitoring that. Some video clips of him the other day that were really impressive. I just think he's itching to get back out on the court.

But, yeah, he's doing well.

Q. Back to the draft. We can watch college games and see talking heads and highlights. When it comes to you guys getting to know these players as individuals, interviews, what are you looking for when you have those moments to talk to these players and really try to get to know them?
SAM PRESTI: Hmm. I don't know how to summarize that. I think it's basically just trying to understand where each individual person is kind of on their own personal journey, how they see themselves, what inspires them, what makes them tick.

I think one of the things that's important is I think it's not just picking players, I think it's understanding, like, where sometimes the fits can be organizationally, how you might be able to enhance the development of that particular player. In order to do that, I think you have to understand the mindset of that player, their history, their story so to speak, if that assimilates well with organizationally where you want to be.

I'm always blown away by I guess I would call them kids that we get to meet through this process. Some really, really great interviews and touching stories, real insightful things. I think that's one thing about this, you really can't go into it with any bias. You really have to judge for yourself, your own experience of the person.

Again, I think a big part of the draft is not seeing things for what they are but seeing things for what they potentially can be. I think in order to do that, you have to understand your own context as to what environment the player is coming into, if they'll thrive in that environment.

At the end of the day, though, I wish I could tell you there's a real science to it. We're really just trying to shift the odds, trying to find players that can play in the NBA for more than a couple years. Obviously the higher up in the draft you are, the more likely that is. When you're back in the 20s, the odds are dwindling at that point.

So any type of information you can try to find to try to tip the scales, a big part of that is trying to understand, like, the potential pathway that player might have in your organization, success he may have had at different times with players like that, or mistakes along the way that may have been made.

It's a lot of things all wrapped in one. That's why we try to have as many different people working on this as we can, and try to funnel it all down and make the most educated guess that we're making. That's ultimately what it is, it's a guess.

Again, a lot of it comes down to some random things as to why players are extremely successful in one place, or maybe wouldn't have been. But this is the starting point for these players. It's just like they're all lining up on a starting line, and it's going to be a long race for those guys to determine that.

Q. Is the challenge in judging these guys changing or do you feel like it could continue to change as guys go from high school overseas or G League? You've always been evaluating guys, but now you have some young guys that maybe are doing some different things.
SAM PRESTI: Yes, we had a situation like that. Ferguson was an interesting one for us. Obviously he was kind of removed to a degree. Sometimes that can alter kind of the way you look at the evaluation. Sometimes a lack of information I think can be a helpful thing relative to where a player might be projected or not.

But one thing about the NBA is, like, it's become -- there's just a lot of different moving parts to this league now. I think you can see that just based on the way the league has covered I think the creativity and how you assess value becomes really important.

As I said before, you may not have as much information as you like, but at some point you have to put that together and make a decision.

For us, we've always tried to focus on (indiscernible). I would look at like Diallo last year. Declared for the draft, went back. We did get to interview him before he went back to Kentucky. A little nice feel for him there. Played on a really good team at Kentucky. Maybe didn't get as much opportunity because they're so well-versed there.

But the strides that he made from when we got him last summer, he actually wasn't able to play right away because we did a (indiscernible) on draft night. But he made great strides. I think he's on pace to have a really good summer so far from what I've seen. But I think you got to take a long view with some of those guys because there's limited information at times with them.

Q. (No microphone.)
SAM PRESTI: I'm not dodging the question. I know it's going to be a hot button issue. I think it all comes down to what we're defining, how we're defining that. You know what I mean?

I think it's probably more of a league issue than anything. But you got to work in concert with the players obviously and make sure that everyone is on the same page with the management of health and wellness, et cetera, et cetera.

But how the league is going to view that, I don't know. I'm kind of waiting to hear kind of their point of view on that. But we're always looking at those things, monitoring those things, having conversations with our players, having a plan relative to that.

There have been some unique cases. Every one of those I think is different. Painting it with kind of a broad brush is a dangerous thing to do. That's why I'm hesitant to give you a whole lot more on that.

Q. (No microphone.)

Q. Particular reason why?
SAM PRESTI: Most people that are going into the stage of his career usually don't. I don't have the precedent of the history of Thunder players. I'm sure there have been Thunder players that have done that. As a starter, generally speaking those guys don't do that.

We feel really good about where he is in his development, think he's taken a big jump from year one to year two. But that's not going to be something that he's doing.

Q. Just looking at salaries of teams like Golden State, Toronto, they spent a ton of money this year. Can you be an inexpensive team and compete for an NBA championship?
SAM PRESTI: I think it all comes down to a timeline, the cycle of your team. The reality is that market value for players in free agency, players when they're 'at the maximum level salary', it's all relative to time.

One of the reasons we're in a position we can do what we've done as of late is because in the first seven or eight years of our existence in Oklahoma City, we were able to find a way to win a lot of games with a relatively young team. That's given us the opportunity to come to this situation in order to elongate the run we've had.

You know once players start getting into a certain tier, a certain age, what they command, it's going to be an expensive proposition. In the summer of 2016, when we continued on the path and resigned Russell, the following summer, you know the team ultimately is going to be expensive in the event you can pair Russell with some other players. That's just kind of a timeline issue to me.

Every team is going to face that at some point if they have a level of sustained success. That's just kind of where we are at this point in time.

So to answer your question, absolutely you can have a competitive team. It all comes down to kind of the timeline of your players, where those dollars are going.

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