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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 25, 2019
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
SAM PRESTI: Morning, everybody. Just a few things before I take questions. First, thank you everybody for being here. Before I get started, just obviously it's my first opportunity since the transactions recently, and clearly it's really important for me to extend some thank yous. First, I just want to thank Russell, obviously, for the tremendous contributions he's made to our organization, to our community, and just the time that he put in here will be forever remembered, I think, by not only our fans but just the citizens of Oklahoma, and he deserves a tip of the cap for his contributions.
I also want to recognize his family, who also was a huge part of the community here, from his wife Nina, his children, his brother Renard, his mom and dad. All those people are, I think, always going to be part of Oklahoma, part of Oklahoma City, and they'll always be part of our family.
I also want to thank Paul George. He gave us a chance when we traded for him kind of sight unseen, and he is a tremendous guy. Again, his family is a remarkable family. The George family are great people. I think that he arrived at a time that was important for us, and he stayed during the period of time where he could have left, and we want to recognize him. He should be remembered fondly by our fans and organization.
I also want to recognize Jerami Grant, who I think is going to be a very, very good player in the NBA and is a lot different player than the player that I remember picking up at the airport in 2016. He was kind of on the end of the bench in Philadelphia. I couldn't be more proud of his development and the person that he is becoming, and I think he's got a bright future, as I said earlier.
Also just want to acknowledge briefly, before I take questions, the agents for Russell and for Paul. Thad Foucher, who has been with Russell for 11 years now, the professionalism that was shown through this process and the respect that I have for our ability to work professionally in an industry that sometimes can be challenging, and the same thing with Paul and his representation with Aaron Mintz. Again, I just think the ability to work with people face-to-face transparently during difficult circumstances is sometimes not recognized, so I just want to make sure that we acknowledge those two people.
And then obviously we want to welcome some new players. Having Chris Paul return to Oklahoma City is a really unique thing, and we're really excited about what he can bring to the team, not just as a player but also as a leader. His ball handling skills, his ability to make shots, and just, again, to have another Hall of Fame player don the Thunder jersey in our first 12 years will be a really, really special thing for our organization, for our fans.
Gallo, again, just another really talented player that we are fortunate to have. His overall skill set, his size, his understanding of how to play the game. Again, we're very fortunate in these transactions to not only receive the future draft compensation that was absolutely imperative for us as an organization to have but also get some really good players in return, as well, is really important.
And then obviously Shai, who we think has a tremendously bright future in the league, and we're really proud to have as a Thunder player, and excited about the growth potential that he has in his game. We're also really excited about just who he is as a person and the makeup of him as a young man is something that we're really, really excited about having and adding to our organization going forward.
So with that, I'd allow you guys to fire away.
Q. Yesterday Paul George mentioned that this was a one-year experiment. Was that something that you knew ahead of time, and is that also something that you're worried about becoming, I guess, the trend for people, free agents who come to Oklahoma City?
SAM PRESTI: Well, let me first start off by saying, I think the world of PG. I think everybody knows that. I know that he had used the term mutual. I wouldn't necessarily agree with that because that would infer that we were wanting to trade Paul George, which I think most people would agree that that probably wasn't on the top of our off-season priority list. But I would say that it was not adversarial at all, and I also fully respect the way that it was handled.
And the fact that we were able to make it work in a way that benefitted the franchise made it something that we could do.
And I would also say that we were excited about heading into the season with some of the additions that we made, but shortly after free agency began, things changed a little bit. The players have the freedom to be able to talk and recruit, and there's nothing limiting that, and that obviously changed the game for us.
But I feel really good about the fact that we were able to make it work for everybody and figure out a solution because based on just looking down the runway, we were probably going to be faced with that scenario probably after the following season. He would have had one year left on his contract at that point in time, and although we may have had more time to plan, I don't think we were going to be in a position to be able to recoup the value that we were able to in that particular situation.
Q. The issue of player (indiscernible) has come up the last few weeks. From your perspective, what's your stance on that and what are your views on that moving forward?
SAM PRESTI: Well, again, it's probably more of a league question. The only thing I would say is that there's nothing that prevents that from taking place, and if there's nothing to prevent it from taking place, then I don't see a way or the reason why we should be up in arms about it. It's really more a question for the league office and how they want to handle it. But players should be free to have conversations, et cetera, et cetera. Obviously it's our job to adjust and adapt to the situations that are presented to us, and as I said before, we were able to find a way to make that work for everybody, given the circumstances, and maybe it was a year earlier than we had anticipated having to look at some of these harder things, but how it comes about, that's really not my expertise. My job is to try to problem solve those things from there.
Q. Do you anticipate that becoming an issue at the next CBA?
SAM PRESTI: I don't know. The last thing I want to do is speculate on all that type of stuff. Again, I mean, I think it's fair to say that we've seen the effect that these types of things can have on franchises, and you have to do that calculus for yourself, if you want to put yourself in that position once these trade requests come in.
But as I said, and I can't stress this enough, I thought PG handled himself well with us, professionally, and we were able to make the most of the situation because of the relationships that do exist. We truly wish him the best of luck. That's not -- I truly mean that.
Q. Clearly you're starting a rebuild. How severe is the rebuild going to be? Will you get into what we would term "tanking"?
SAM PRESTI: Well, this is what I would say: I wouldn't say we've started to rebuild. As I said before, the primary focus for our organization based on the circumstances that we inherited this summer is first, we need to reposition the franchise. Second to that, we need to replenish the franchise after 11 years of not ever being able to do that because we were in such a pursuit for maintaining a team that could get to the postseason and contend in the postseason year after year after year. And then ultimately we will, just like every team in the NBA or in pro sports, ultimately have to rebuild the team.
But that tends to happen organically. I can't sit here and tell you like when that process will enact itself, only that our vantage point and our view is always going to be to create the most and longest runway for success and not to shortcut that, and that our decisions from this point on are going to be based on generating as much value for the organization as possible so that we at some point can recreate an elongated period of success like we've been fortunate to have.
That may not necessarily begin itself next season. I think we've put ourselves in a position to have a lot of different options as a result of the transactions that we've been able to make. But I wouldn't necessarily say that we've started that process.
I think our focus right now is on the team that we have. It's going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we've seen over the last several years. But I would just say that we're going to take a very long view to make sure that we're putting ourselves in position to have a long run of success in Oklahoma City as we possibly can and not shortcut that process.
Q. The piece that you wrote today for the Oklahoma news said given the way the league system is designed, small market teams are at a disadvantage. Can you elaborate on what you mean by the way the league system is set up?
SAM PRESTI: You know, the point in that aspect of the letter is more to say this: That yes, I think it would be silly for everybody to pretend that all these things are not noticeable to everybody. I think everyone realizes that. But what I'm really trying to say is that doesn't mean you can't have extraordinary success, and I think you can just look at a lot of the different teams in the league, and the fact that they have, but I think the way in which you go about that I think is important, and I think you have to be able to run your own race and figure things out, and I think that's what makes the league great, and I think we've been able to do that. And so have a lot of other teams.
So it's not so much that it's limitation as much as it is an opportunity for us to figure out, okay, how do we create the best opportunity for this franchise to have as long a run as possible and not be in a situation where we don't have a path forward, which truthfully if we were getting to the end of next season, and I thought we were -- personally I was excited about the year, especially with some of the additions we made, but we could have been faced with looking at this, especially from a financial standpoint, how much longer are we going to be able to sustain that payroll with those types of contracts on the books going forward. We might be looking at the same exact situation but without the opportunity to proactively kind of generate this path or these dual paths that we've tried to create out of the situation in July.
Q. Paul used the words "time's up" yesterday. Time was up with regard to both of you all understanding that the organization and Paul, and then he also used the word "stagnant." How do you feel about him using those particular words to describe what happened here?
SAM PRESTI: I mean, I love PG, and like I would never tell him or necessarily -- I don't know the context of how that was said, to be honest with you. But yeah, I mean, I think at some point the opportunity for him to play with Kawhi -- at least this is what was expressed to me. The opportunity to play with Kawhi, the opportunity to go back to LA were the things that -- were the biggest factor in this for him, and we understand that, and we were able to make the most of the situation.
As I said before, I thought that coming into this season, we probably had another year to really try to have a really good year and add on to kind of the -- I guess it was nine out of ten, maybe ten out of 11 years getting to the postseason, perhaps be better to move out of the first round, especially with Dre coming back. But I also feel like the way we were able to pivot has given us the opportunity to have a much brighter future going forward and still have a team coming back this season that we feel good about.
Q. When you say you felt good going forward after the season with what you had going on, when he came and asked for the trade, did you feel compelled to make the trade? I guess did you make it special since you had him under contract?
SAM PRESTI: Well, again, I think the one -- in a situation like ours where we had extended ourselves financially to -- and these were commitments that we felt we needed to make and were asked to make for Russell and PG to re-sign, and I think that you have to do that to keep those types of players in your program, I think that the indication that that's probably coming at the end of the season because of whether it's LA or whether it's wanting to play with Kawhi Leonard or something like that, you have to take a step back. I think you've got to have everybody pulling on the same end of the rope to really give yourself the most maximal chance of reaching your potential. And if that's not the case, then I think you need to take a step back and do the best thing for the organization, and in this case he was able to get where he wanted to go, we were able to find a way to maximize the situation for ourselves, and I don't believe that at the end of the year, we'd be looking at a fraction of what we were able to recoup in this situation, and we're pleased with the outcome.
Q. Did you consider denying the trade request from Paul?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I mean, the reason that we were able to find a way to do it was because of what we were able to get back. I wouldn't say that we were going to appease the request simply because it was made, but more than anything, it was because of the fact that we were able to get the return that we did, which then allowed us to accommodate what he was looking for, as well.
So yeah, no, it wasn't necessarily permission. It was how can we make this work for everyone. And the reality is we've seen these situations in other cities. I just don't think for us, we can take that risk, given the lengths that we had gone to to try to keep the run that we started in 2008 together, one more year without everybody being totally on board knowing that we could be faced with the exact same situation, from a business perspective, from a practical perspective, it would be irresponsible not to look at that opportunity. And it worked out.
I think one of the things I'm most happy about is we were able to accomplish our goals. Paul was able to accomplish what it is that he was looking to try to achieve, and there's no adversarial or animosity between parties at all.
Q. How would you characterize just conversations you guys had had with Russell and Paul about the state of things?
SAM PRESTI: I mean, similar like we do after every year, we have conversations with a lot of our players. We've done that for years. I always say like there's really no one at the end of the season that feels great if you're not one of the last four teams probably. So you're always having those dialogues, always having those conversations. But I'd say they were productive, and I thought coming back into the year with some of the additions that we made and Dre coming back, I thought we'd be in position to be like we've been in the past, in and around 50-something wins. I think we've averaged 52 and a half wins over the last 10 years, so something in that range, and with an opportunity if we stay healthy to make some progress.
But again, when the situation developed in July, that was the first we had heard of that. It was our job to try to figure out how to manage that from there versus look down the line and be pretty pragmatic about, well, are we ever going to be in this position again to be able to capitalize in this fashion, and it just made business sense for us to look at it hard.
Q. This morning you wrote that you're humbled to be a part of the process. Whenever the rebuilding process begins, is that an endorsement from you that you're wanting to see this through in the long-term?
SAM PRESTI: Well, what I would say to that is I think everybody knows how I feel about the organization. I think everybody knows how I feel about the community, and one of the things that's most important to me is to be extremely focused on repositioning and replenishing the team first and foremost because I think that's the most important thing for this franchise going forward. I think if you mix all of that together, I think you can get -- you can make the mistake of shortcutting things, skipping steps and not totally putting every ounce of energy towards repositioning or replenishing the team.
I certainly -- I love being here. I can't tell the future. I don't know all of that. But I certainly -- I'm excited about the challenge, quite frankly. I think that the opportunity to run our own race and use the situations that we have here to create the best path forward, I really feel passionately that the city and the team have a very special relationship, and I'm really driven to try to create the platform for another great Thunder team to take shape. I don't know how long that process will take, but I'm fully committed to making sure that the decisions are made in the best interest of the long term of the franchise, and that's really, really, really important to me.
Q. Was there an understanding once Paul moved on, immediate understanding between the team and Russell that you guys would work on moving --
SAM PRESTI: I mean, I think when these types of changes happen, you're always -- first thing that I want to try to lay out is that conversations with players and agents happen all the time. Like these aren't isolated conversations. It's just because there's some event that takes place after the fact, I think there's a lot of attention paid to the fact that there are these conversations -- these conversations are happening all the time at the end of the season, and it's very natural, and we have good relationships with the guys. But when there's something like that taking shape with the franchise, I think you sit down, and I think it's a good conversation to have, especially with someone like Russell who has the tenure here. I'm pretty sure this is accurate, but I think there's only one player in the entire league that's still on the same team that they were on in 2012, now that Russell is no longer with the Thunder and Mike Conley is no longer with the Grizzlies. That's just a small glimpse. There's 400 players in the league or so, 450. And there's one that's still on the same team as in 2012. So Russell Westbrook has given a lot of time, in contrast to other players in the league, and especially what we've seen in the NBA just this summer. Basically the All-Star team just changed jerseys. So you're going to have that conversation with him.
Again, I would say the same thing. How do we make it work for everybody? Obviously Houston was the place he wanted to go, and we were able to find a way to accomplish our goals and his. If we couldn't accomplish our goals we wouldn't have traded him to Houston, but we were able to find a way to communicate through that process to get that to happen. But to answer your question, you sit down, where are we going from here, where are you with things right now, and I think he and the organization came to the same conclusion, that hey, if there's something that makes sense for everybody, then we'll look at that for sure, and we were fortunate that it worked out the way it did.
Q. Has Billy exceeded expectations as a player developer, and if not, does he still have something to prove in the final year of his deal?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I would say again, for us, player development has really been the lifeblood of our organization over the course of time. I think that in recent years, we've obviously been in different stages of that. But with respect to Billy, I do think that players have come along under his watch.
I think Terrance is a good example of that. I think Jerami is a good example of that. And then there's probably some more, as well. But I mean, player development to me is an organizational effort, and everybody has to be invested in the development of a player. Most importantly with -- in my mind, it has to -- you have to have a growth mindset with player development, whether you're a coach or you're an athletic performance director or you're director of medical or whatever role you play, you have to see things for what they can be and not for what they are. And I think that's the ability to stay with that and have a process that can get you to the vision of the player.
I think Billy has done a good job with that. I think he's going to have more opportunity to do that going forward with some of the new additions that we have.
Q. What do you think of his role going forward? Obviously opportunity knocking for a guy who's been on the cusp --
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, again, I think there's opportunity for everybody on the team going forward because there's -- I think like the story of next year's team is completely unwritten, and I think that's kind of the -- it's kind of the intrigue to me is to sit back and watch this collection of players and how they come together, and I think that -- I mean, I think a player like Steven, I would hope continues to get better. I've sat up here, I feel like I'm repeating myself over and over with him, but he's taken small steps forward every season he's been here. I would expect him to do the same next season, and maybe there's some things that -- obviously that would be significant changes, like our two best players are not on the team. I mean, everybody's game should change in some way, shape or form, and where that goes, I mean, a lot of that's up to Steven and a lot of that's up to the coaches, and I'm excited to watch the development of that.
Q. Russell sat up here, we asked him about Billy and his relationship, and these guys are going to come out and say they have good relationships. Even dating back to Kevin, how do you feel like the respect level is with those All-Star-level guys, Russell, Paul, Carmelo Anthony, when it comes to Billy?
SAM PRESTI: Again, you're asking me to provide answers from them, which I can't do. You'd have to ask them that question. I would think good, based on the way that -- what I've seen, but I can't speak for them. You'd have to ask them those questions, but I have no reason to think that it would be otherwise.
Q. If everything were to come together next season, good health, great development of players, you guys win 52 games, will you be thrilled by that, or will you lament not having ping-pong balls in the lottery?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, I think that's the unique situation that we kind of set upon, is that we're able to accomplish a lot of the value generation that's absolutely imperative for this franchise going forward and these transactions. Simultaneously we're also able to get good players, not only good veteran players in Gallo and Chris Paul, but to get Shai is a big deal for us. And so we feel good about where we're positioned. But I would also tell you that we're not looking at this -- in one-season increments. Obviously the most important season is next season, and we want to maximize that season the best that we can. But not at the expense of continually and aggressively making sure that we're repositioning and replenishing the team so that we have a platform and a runway for the next great Thunder team to take shape. I don't think those things are mutually exclusive.
Q. We haven't had a chance to talk to you about (indiscernible). What stood out to you about them and what do you see their goals being?
SAM PRESTI: Sure, with Darius, we're really excited about him because he has a couple things that to me make him unique. One, his ability to handle the ball at his size is really, really unique, and defensively he's got great range for a young player at that size, as well. It's going to be a process with him. We'll have to be patient. We understand that. But at that range of the draft, to be able to get a player that has those ball-handling skills at 6'9" or 6'9" plus is pretty unique. And so we felt like that was a good investment to make in the early 20s. Again, like I said before, we have the ability to take a longer view, and we like that challenge of having a player like that in the program.
With Dort, again, he's a player that just has incredible physical gifts and is a potential to be, I think, a really good defender. But he's going to need work and refinement, and I think he's extremely motivated. He's an extremely high-character person. Very humble. I'm excited to see kind of how he progresses through the season. Both of those guys are guys that we're excited about adding to the team.
Q. (Indiscernible) with the roster you have now, potentially going forward, does his job get easier?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I would say that just the job of the NBA coach, just by mere fact of what you've seen over the last several years, every team is dealing with constant change. It's become almost -- I think to not have a lot of change or disruption from the player movement perspective would be more the exception, you know, to not have that. So I think that's a challenge every team is facing.
And at the same time, it's also opportunity. Do I think his job gets easier? I think it's an incredibly hard job no matter what. That job for any coach in the NBA -- being a head coach is a tough job.
But I think there's different aspects of that. I mean, there's different -- every year presents different challenges, presents different opportunities, and I think he's equipped to handle really all of them.
Q. Should fans expect to see Chris Paul here for a long period of time, until December, until the end of the season?
SAM PRESTI: You know, honestly, I can't give you a forecast on how many years or anything like that, especially after we've -- some of this transition we're going through right now. But I would say that we're excited about having him here. He's excited about the opportunity here. And I think he has an opportunity to really impact the team in a positive way.
What happens two or three years from now, again, I hate to keep coming back to this, but what used to be five years in the NBA has become like five months in the NBA or two years in the NBA. I mean, predicting anything beyond two hours in the NBA is what it's kind of become and evolved to. I don't know the answer to that.
But I do know that I think he's going to have a really good year for us, and I do think he's excited about the opportunity to have an impact on the team.
Q. What do you think about Steve Kerr's comments about guys asking out of contracts? I think one year I guess you could say gives a team a chance to trade two, three more. He says it could be dangerous in the league. What do you think?
SAM PRESTI: Well, again, I'm not going to jump into the middle of that. I would just say that Adam has spoke on that, and he said that it's something that has been happening in the league for years, and he prefers that it happens behind closed doors. I think we all know that, you know, the down sides that it can have. But at the same time, there's nothing preventing a player from requesting that.
And so at the end of the day, you just have to figure out the best way to deal with it. I think, you know, when something becomes adversarial and it's involving your -- someone that's driving, like the number one aspect of your business, that can have a pretty negative effect on your product and your long-term outlook. I don't believe that was going to be the case with Paul George just because of who he is, in my humble opinion, but I can't speak for everybody's opinion in the league. I just don't see anything right now that's preventing that from happening, and unless you want to just -- it's something that really Adam has to answer to. Our job is to adjust and adapt with the circumstances that come our way.
Q. There was reported discontent from Russell and Paul in the off-season. From what you know, where does that discontent stem from?
SAM PRESTI: I mean, again, I just can't get into like whatever the speculation is or -- I just could tell you this: I don't know how many people in the NBA are contented at the end of a season. I mean, and I don't know what the discontent is referring to. I don't know if it was pancakes not fluffy enough or we're not winning enough games. You're not giving me anything to really work with. All I can tell you is those guys are great guys. We're going to have conversations with those guys at the end of the year.
When you don't reach the potential that you think you have as a team, there's going to be frustration, of course. But I think all systems were go going into the season, and we were excited about it, but that's just not the path that it took. I feel really good about the way that we were able to handle that from that point.
But this comment of what you're referring to, I don't know what that means, and I don't know how many -- I don't know. I don't know how to categorize that.
Q. Could you expand on Shai a little bit, a guy that young becoming a starting point guard for a playoff team? A lot of people think he has All-Star potential. What do you and your scouts think of his game?
SAM PRESTI: I mean, we're really excited about him. I think he's not really even scratching the surface. As I said earlier, I think he's got tremendous makeup, and that's a big -- I think that's going to be a big accelerator for ultimately how good a player he becomes, and I think he has that. He's got great size and great length, and he's a sponge. You know, he's a sponge.
But we've seen this take place before in Oklahoma City. If you think about the differences between players in year one to year three or year two to year four, they're drastic. If you just think about the jump that Terrance Ferguson took from his first year to his second year or Steven Adams or Dre or down the line, you have to be able to -- in my opinion, to be able to see things through. And I think where Shai is today is not close to where ultimately he's going to be. But we have to be really patient with that process. But he's got great tools, and he'll have to follow the same track that a lot of these other players have, but we think he has a bright future.
Q. (Indiscernible) today do you have any further sense of maybe his availability at the start or at camp?
SAM PRESTI: You know, he should be on track for the start of the season. I think I said the last time we were together, I'm really excited for him. I think he's -- obviously he's champing at the bit to get back on the court. He's such a big part of winning in my opinion because he does all the stuff that doesn't show up, even in the box score, except for the opponent's score. But he doesn't get attributed for that.
But he's -- I'm excited for him. He looks good. We've taken a very, very conservative approach with him, and we want him to start the season in a good position, and I think he's on pace to do that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports