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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 26, 2019
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
SAM PRESTI: So just a couple words before we get started. We want to thank everybody for coming. Appreciate your time. Obviously this is our 12th season of Thunder basketball in Oklahoma City, and I just want to make a few comments and then open it up to you guys for questions.
First, obviously coming into the season, I think much has been written and said about the transition that the team has gone through this summer, and while that's the case, I just think it's commendable that the energy that our team, players, both new and returning, have shown coming into the off-season has been really remarkable. Coaching staff is really prepared, excited about what's ahead, and just the building in general has a great energy about itself, and I really think that's a great thing and something that we've always relied on. But it's really refreshing and good to see.
Relative to this time of year, one of the things we talk about internally all the time is the difference between standards and expectations. Expectations, as we all know, are things that get thrown around beginning of the season, and they change. Some years they're high, some years they're not, some years they're arbitrary. What we've always tried to focus on internally is just internal standards, the things that have really drove our success over the years, things that are within our control, and it's our belief that if you have really strong internal standards then expectations can be set externally, but they're usually a result of the work that's done internally to those standards, things like commitment to playing hard, playing together, a real appreciation for the fundamental aspects of the game, supporting one another, sticking by one another during the good times and the bad times, picking people up when they're down, and not letting people get too far -- their heads in the clouds when things are going well and not too dark when things aren't.
Those are things that we've always stuck to, and our commitment is to continue to do those things at a high level inside the building.
Relative to the season, I think we've got a really interesting mix of not just new players and returning players but also veteran players and young players. I'm excited and I think everybody is excited to watch and see how the team comes together through the year. I think this team has a significant amount of discovery within it in terms of just learning about the new players that we have and how they fit with the existing group. And I think it should be really exciting to see.
I think when we look at a season over the course of the 11 years we've been here, our best work has always been when we've focused on process and not just simply outcome, and I think for the majority of the time we've been able to do that. So taking an 82-game approach, making sure that we're not using all the bullets on Monday night at the expense of Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, but really being intelligent about how we manage the year, watching the development not only of the individual players throughout the season and their pathways to improve but also the development of the team. Those are going to be the focuses that I think are going to be important for us to optimize this season.
Obviously we say this all the time, and it continues to be the case. What we want to do is be playing meaningful basketball at the end of the year. We want to try to do everything we can to put ourselves in position to optimize the group that we have, and there's just no shortcuts to that. It comes back to the commitment to the process that's in place and being willing to be patient with that as we go through, especially with this much change as we've experienced.
Last thing I just want to speak to, and then you guys can ask whatever you want, is much has been talked about obviously with our off-season about just the long-term outlook that we have for the team. Nothing has changed in that respect. We're still a hundred percent focused on building the most sustainable path for an elite team in Oklahoma City, realizing that that's something that eventually we're going to embark on, but we're not at that point yet, and we think that this season is one that we should really dive into and experience, and I think it will be great for our fans, as well, to have some of the guys and get to know some of the new players.
But long-term, we're not going to do anything that will sacrifice the long-term plan that this organization needs to take long term in order to build that type of sustainability, and that's something that Clay and myself talk about quite a bit. He is a hundred percent understanding and behind doing something that's sustainable for this organization, and he understands the circumstances and the rules and the system as well as anybody, and that commitment is still firmly there.
I'm excited about both the long-term outlook of this organization but I'm also really excited about what's in front of us this season and watching this group play together and grow together. With that, I'll answer any questions.
Q. Give us an idea of the thought process behind the beard.
SAM PRESTI: All right. (Smiling.)
So I have an incredible family, incredible wife, and she has always allowed me a couple days over the summer to get away and clear my head, to generally think about the year ahead and spend time reading and writing in my journal and things of that nature. I went to Vermont and let it go for a little bit, and then when I got back, nobody seemed to have a problem with it. So I just kind of let it roll for a little while. I can't tell you this is something that's going to be around that much longer, but that is really the story behind it. So thanks, Vermont.
Q. With such a young squad, do you see having a different approach in the way you approach the way you develop the players as opposed to in past years, or is it the same Thunder ways?
SAM PRESTI: I think it's an interesting question. I think the team as a whole is a really interesting mix. We're talking about a team that has Chris Paul, Gallinari, obviously, Steven, Dennis, so there's some real stalwart type players on the team. That's one of the reasons we're really excited about it.
We've never looked in our 12 years here, never looked at it like young players or necessarily like veteran players per se as much as like players and how can we be the best version of the team over 82 games. Some players you know more about because they have a body of work. Other players you need to give them some runway to understand what it is they bring to the table, and they could produce at a much higher level by game 50 than they could by game 5. But that's the art of managing an 82-game season.
I think our coaches -- as I've said, years and years now, no one works harder than Billy. I mean, he's one of the hardest working craftsmen I've ever been around, and I think that some of the changes with the assistant coaches have been really healthy, really good, really positive. Those guys have done a great job this off-season. But there's like an art and science to managing to optimize the entire season.
But we want to do everything we can to figure out what the best combinations are, and that's really Billy's job, and I don't think he can walk into the year and say this is what it's going to be because there's been a lot of change.
In years past, the last couple years, we've returned a pretty veteran leading group. Not as much unknown about those players. Most of the discovery of the team in the past few years has been as a result of injury or absence or things like that. Terrance Ferguson becomes Terrance Ferguson because we're missing Dre, and Ferg really sees that opportunity. Hami, what we learned about him last year was a result of Terrance being out. And on down the line.
A lot of our development work has been more necessity, and so this year might be a little bit different because there are some spots that are up for grabs, and they need to be competed for.
Q. You mentioned the mood in the building. I'm curious how you personally are feeling going into the season given the large-scale changes. I know you've had change in the off-season before but maybe this is a different level.
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, listen, the way I look at this and the way I feel is number one, I feel really optimistic. I feel really confident about the long-term future of the franchise because I believe we're going to be committed to a certain set of principles and guidelines that are going to give us the best chance of building an extremely sustainable team in Oklahoma City. I feel resilient. I think that our organization has been through a lot over 12 years. You know, we've never necessarily looked at things for what they are, but we've always looked at them for what they can be, and I think that's served us well, and I think that we'll continue to take that mentality into every single thing we do.
I feel humbled about the fact that we have a really big task in front of us after 11 years in Oklahoma City. We have the second best record in the NBA, we have the second best net rating over that same period of time, and we've had a lot of success. I'm humbled about the fact that now we have to look at how we're going to continue to chart a path that's going to be able to meet those long-term standards, and that can be energizing, but it also makes you realize, like it's hard to do that in the NBA. So I'd say those three things are the things that I've thought about the most, and you can thank Vermont for that, as well.
Q. Doc Rivers was quoted a few weeks ago, a couple weeks ago, saying that even before the Paul George trade, word was around the league that you guys were looking to tear down the roster. Is that true?
SAM PRESTI: No. I mean, again, I don't know the context in which that was -- that comment was made, and obviously no one asked us our opinion about it. But no, I mean, I think at the end of the day, we all know that players like Paul George and Russell Westbrook are extremely hard to acquire in cities, in the smaller cities in the league, and when you have those players, you try to do everything you can to retain them.
But once Paul asked for the trade, I felt like we made the most of the situation to work for everybody, which allowed us to do it. But yeah, that's not something that we were entering into the year.
I think the thought pattern just doesn't really line up if you just look at it logically, probably that type of thing would have been done much earlier and it wouldn't have resulted from a trade request from one of your best players.
Q. Considering the past few years y'all have worked to maximize Russell's strengths, now you have Chris Paul, and that might be for a limited time, what does this offense look like?
SAM PRESTI: That's really a question for Billy. I mean, he's the person that is in charge of the on-court aspects of the team, and certainly the tactical aspects of those things.
I would build on one thing you said, which is for our team and organization to go from Russell Westbrook to Chris Paul without a season in between -- that is like an annual thing, I think. But for our fans to go from one season with Russell Westbrook to the next season with Chris Paul as another Hall of Fame player to play in Chesapeake Energy arena in a 12-year period of time is remarkable, and we're extremely excited about it.
There's going to be, like I said earlier, there will probably be a period of discovery for us to figure that out and for Billy and the group to figure out those style-of-play questions, but I think Chris Paul is going to have a really, really good year.
I think, number one, he's in incredible shape. I just was with him this morning, and this is a guy I think sometimes things get overlooked as to how good a player he is and the impact he has on a basketball game, primarily because of his mind. You know, he's just a brilliant basketball thinker, and he sees the game extremely well. So I think that will bode well. But to have Russ into Chris Paul for our fans I think is like -- that's something we're really happy with.
Q. How do you get off to a start, and Chris is still a good player and there's going to be talk about him moving around the league until something does happen. You're playing really well but then you get an offer for him. Winning now versus the future, that whole thing.
SAM PRESTI: You know, again, those are all case-by-case things. We're not really focused on the hypotheticals. Trust me, I know the -- I see the same things you guys see in the media. I would just say that like everybody's focus for this team is, one, coming together and getting to know each other a little bit obviously because there's a lot of new people, but optimizing the season that we have in front of us.
I think that it's an exciting thing to come into a year with some new players that have a pretty established track record. But I also think the existing players will also look a little bit different because you're removing two all-NBA players from the team. Like Steven Adams, I'm really excited for him. I am really obviously a huge fan of his. I think that he still has growth left in his game. I think he has an opportunity to expand himself a little bit. He's the ultimate blocking, tackling player, but I also think that he's a talented player, and so he'll have an opportunity to do a little bit more. I think Dennis obviously, Shai is a young player we have to continually think big but build small with him and not rush anything there because I think he's an extremely talented guy, but you have to let those things take their course, and there will be ups and downs as we've seen with all kinds of young players here. Gallinari is just absolutely beautiful player to watch just because of his skill level and his understanding of the game. I think we have enough on our plate there to focus on, but as I said before, like that doesn't affect the fact that eventually this organization, this team is going to do with every other franchise does in pro sports, it's just that over the last 12 years while we've been in this era of the team, I would say 25 of the other teams have gone through some type of transition. We've been able to fight that off a few different times. Eventually we're going to get to there, and we're trying to be extremely transparent about that. But that's not right now.
Right now we still have a team that we feel like we want to go out and see what they can do, and at some point we will get to that restructuring, rebuilding period. But we're not there yet, but we're not going to sacrifice the long-term vision we have for the team.
Q. Kevin Durant spoke to the Wall Street Journal about his distaste with the organization now. I know you've been fairly consistent of your views and thoughts of Kevin since he left, but on a human level, whatever the relationship should be, is there some regret that it's not in a better place?
SAM PRESTI: Well, the only thing I would disagree with you about is I don't think we've been fairly consistent; I think we've been like 100 percent consistent relative to just the way we feel about him, recognizing his contributions to not only the team but the city. They're monumental. I think we've said that consistently.
I would just say this: If there is anything that Kevin Durant ever, ever needed from me or from anyone here, it would be moment's notice for that to happen. I also think if you work with people for eight years like we did, he and I -- he was 19 when he came into the NBA, I was 29. We both went through a lot of changes together, and I have nothing but positive things to say about him and his tenure here. You can ask me that -- you've asked me that in the past. You've asked me that today. You can ask me that in the future if something like this comes up again. I'm never going to change that tune because that's how I feel.
I think that his contributions here are -- they speak for themselves, know what I'm saying? But I would always be there if he needed anything from me, and I truthfully believe that I think that would be the case if that was -- it would be reciprocated, as well.
Q. Russell was and is still a very regimented player, probably could set your watch by when he was going to be in the gym and all that sort of thing. Him being here for the amount of time that he was and now no longer having that regimented person in the building, have you sensed a change? Have you sensed guys stepping into the void?
SAM PRESTI: That's a good question. I mean, it's still so early, know what I mean, and we haven't necessarily started playing games. Teams are organisms. Teams are always changing. You can bring back the same exact people when you're the next, but the team will be different, and teams change day-to-day, and the reason why is because they're made of humans, right. So everyone is different, and I think our team will adapt accordingly to whoever it is that we ultimately are meant to be or are going to be will be a result of all the people that comprise it.
And I'd like to think, also, is to continually try to not look at it in a fixed way but what we can be versus what we are today. Russell obviously had an unbelievable career here, and I think that's been well-documented. And now there's opportunity for us to chart a new path.
But that's more a function of the way that teams work. I mean, one of the things I also think that is pretty remarkable is the amount of time that he was with the team, there's only a couple other people -- I think I made a mistake when I said how many I thought that was last time, and people were very upset. I said like two and it was five, people with tenure like that.
But you know, that change is really more the norm now. If you just looked at what happened in the NBA this off-season, half the All-Star team shifted around. I don't know that that's going to change in the short term. So everyone is going to go through that period of time. So your ability to navigate change I think is just part of business, and now it's becoming a huge part of sports, as well.
Q. Just to go back to the question about Kevin's comments, he specifically in those comments said -- he mentioned the general manager: I haven't talked to him or had a positive conversation with anybody in the organization since I've left. What are your thoughts on that?
SAM PRESTI: You know, what I can say is I've never made it a habit of getting into my personal conversations with our former players other than to say I feel really good about those relationships, and I think you can hear in my voice the way I feel about him. That hasn't changed, and it won't change.
Q. You'll be happy to know that Nerlens Noel chose not to comment on Andre Roberson practicing last week. I was curious if you could provide any update on his rehab or where he's at in his ability to impact the team?
SAM PRESTI: Dre will be on the floor for training camp. He has worked so hard and has put so much time in, and he figures to be an important part to, as we talked about, optimizing the team that we have. I think we also know that he was a big loss for us last year. He'll be on the floor for training camp. We'll obviously manage him closely because he hasn't played a lot of competitive basketball in a while, and we have to be really supportive as he goes through that return-to-play process.
But we're hopeful that he'll be seeing some preseason action as he gets closer. But I just can't say enough about the mental resolve it has taken for him to do what he's done, and I would just -- I know our fans will do this, but when he's back on the floor, I just think he's worked hard to get there. I will say that. He's worked hard to get there.
The other thing is I think his -- the things he brings to a team are really, really massive. You know, if you look at just the impact he's had on the floor while he's been with the team, it's pretty significant. Hopefully we can get him back out there doing what he does, but it's not going to be an immediate thing. It's just going to be small steps hopefully.
Q. Speaking on the future of being responsible for drafting future Hall-of-Famers and all the draft picks you'll accumulate this off-season, how hard do you think it'll be to somewhat duplicate that?
SAM PRESTI: Somewhat? (Laughter.)
Well, I think the first thing you've got to look at with those types of things is that the success we've had in the draft is because of some specific formula or something like that. What it is is pure luck. We've been incredibly fortunate. You know, obviously with the players that we've drafted, the players put in an unbelievable amount of work, our coaches and our medical people and our performance people and our analytics people all play a role and try to leverage their strengths to try to help the players be the best version of themselves, but the players are the deal. That's at the end of the day what it's about.
But I do -- I love the fact that whether it's the guys at the top but like we're really proud we drafted Sabonis. We're really proud we drafted Ibaka, Reggie, Dre, Steven, those types of guys. It's just fun to watch them have success as they grow through the NBA and go on to have great careers even if they're not here. They started here, and that's a big important thing for us, and I think as our identity as an organization is that people and players improve and get better here.
But a lot of it's just good fortune, and I wish I could tell you that it was something else, but it's mostly that. You just try to shift the odds with decision making, but we've been very lucky.
Q. You've had the luxury of having a ton of Hall-of-Famers and All-Star players and stuff like that. How are you going to sell this year's team to the casual sports fan?
SAM PRESTI: How would I sell it? I'm not a really good salesman. I don't normally focus on selling things, I focus on doing things, and I think for us, we've always tried to do is stay true to these types of standards I was mentioning earlier.
As I said earlier, having -- I just think it's pretty rare to go from Russell to Chris in Oklahoma City, and our fans to have the opportunity to see a player of this caliber. I think that's a really cool thing. Usually when you lose a player of that magnitude, you know, it's a different outlook. You're not replacing them with another Hall of Fame level of player. And so I think that's great. We have to embrace that.
The other thing I would say, to your question, I don't know if it's specifically what you're saying, but like we've never taken for granted our station in the league. Like when those things are happening for you and you're going to four Western Conference Finals or I don't know what it was, 10 out of 11 -- I'm probably going to get crucified for missing the stats on this, but I think we went to the Playoffs nine out of 10 or 11 years or nine out of 10 years or something like that. I don't think you can pin your identity on the outcomes of everything because this is pro sports and things are constantly changing, and success is so elusive. There's days that you look up and you say, well, we've had the second best net rating in the NBA over 10 years, but there's days where you feel like a failure, know what I mean? Because we haven't been able to win a championship.
And you can pin yourself on the symbols of success. I think you need to have those goals and aspirations. We certainly do. But those things are moving targets. So many things have to go your way in a given season, like the way I -- I explain this internally is there's a million ways for things to go wrong in the NBA. There's really only one way for it to go right. It only goes right for one team. You know, you want to be that one team, and you want to strive and do everything you can. But you've got to be really smart about how you get there.
If you're just looking at and thinking that those things are going to constantly be coming your way, like you're owed those things, I think that's going to be a hard fall. I think if you can consistently have a set of principles you're focused on and you're looking at things to give yourself as many opportunities as possible to reach that goal, I think that's a much more earnest way to go about it, and that's what we've always focused on, and that's, I think, we're all really proud of the fact that it's never come down to one game or one season because we've always felt like we would have enough to make it back to that place again. From that stretch of time, from '12 to, I don't know, '16 there, like we always -- all those teams are basically 6+ net rating teams. That's a 50 percent chance of going to the Conference Finals every year.
All that being said -- we were I think third in the league in that many 6+ net rating teams in the 10 years we've been here. But that's still only a 10 percent chance of winning the title. And coming into the season, even the best teams are like 1 in 4 because so many things can go wrong, and there's really only one way for things to go right.
You have to be able to I think internalize that and get excited about the challenge, which is what I think we always are. It's the challenge in front of us to maximize ourselves, and whether it's this season or a longer term plan like we've talked about, like that's -- we're game for that.
Q. Gallinari is coming off his best season and he's a 30-year-old and coming off a good FIBA. How rare is that for you to see guys have their best seasons later in their career?
SAM PRESTI: I don't think it's necessarily rare at all. You know, I think the best players play at a high level longer because they're that good, and when there is some level of slowdown, when you get into your 30s or whatever, you're just starting so much further ahead than the average player because of your skill or your mind or whatever it might be. So those types of players have success.
I think his skill level is really elite. He's got great size. He just knows how to score the basketball. He's got a lot of experience. He's played in a lot of situations, and he's been a really fun guy to get to know. He's got a great sense of humor, and he's a baller. I told him this story, and he got a kick out of it, probably doesn't remember. We went to dinner when he was here, and I said, you play a role in my family because I went over to see him play when he was in Milan as a young player, like 20 years old or something like that, maybe younger, and at the time I was courting my future wife, and I was in Milan going to the game, and I was like, I've got to come home with something from Milan because he'll really impress this girl. So I got like these books on Italy that I lugged home with me. They're thick. Somehow, some way, they have made it -- they're in our living room still. I don't know that we've ever opened them, but they look really cool. So I was walking out the door to meet Gallinari for dinner, and I noticed them, and I'm like, wow, what a long strange trip this has been. But yeah, those books have been around as long as the first time I got to see that guy play, and he was really good in that game. Probably why I also remember that trip.
But it's not abnormal for those guys to exceed later in their careers, especially with the advances that we've seen in sports science, medicine, rest, recovery, nutrition. I mean, and the players have just become so much more dedicated to their craft in a way, and I just think they just didn't have necessarily some of the information and we didn't, but their own interest in education in these things has really been accelerated, and for us to keep up with that as an organization, to make sure we have answers to these questions, and if we don't have answers, where can we go get the best outside resources to help with these questions in terms of career extension or nutrition or preventative measures that we can take.
I think Chris is a great example of he's made a big commitment to some changes in his performance training, and I think he's going to really, really bear the benefit of that as well as some nutritional decisions he's made. And so I think guys are playing longer also because of that.
Q. What do you see from Markel Brown?
SAM PRESTI: I mean, to me he's like a professional scorer. We also know him well because of his ties here. He's been around our gym for years. It's funny, he's been in and out, whether it's pickup games, workouts, things like that, and those are guys that we're always rooting for because people often think about professional basketball in the United States as bright lights and 18,000 seat arenas, and players like Markel have fought and clawed to earn a living playing the game they love, and it's taken them to all these different places all over the world.
We have a guy that I'm extremely proud of in Eric Maynor who is going to be coaching with our Blue Team and kind of following what we're establishing as almost like a former Thunder alumni coaching internship program. It worked really for Royal, obviously, and Eric is in it now. Eric had great years here, but he also played overseas, which I think gave him a totally different perspective on the game and appreciation for the game.
Those experiences that Markel have or like an Eric Maynor has or Royal has had, I think that really helps those guys for life after basketball, as well.
Q. You talked about Dennis Schroder already; with the situation Chris Paul has and you also added Jae Gilgeous-Alexander, I imagine this wasn't the situation he originally signed up for. It's one thing to back up Russell Westbrook, but can you talk about where his mindset is at going into the season?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, well, relative to Dennis, when we acquired him, he knew that it would be a different situation than what he had in Atlanta just by way of the level of the team. What we have here now is I think a pretty unique opportunity to see what we can do with those three ball handlers. I think it's well documented that ball handling and the ability to create opportunities for yourself or others is a pretty high premium in the league, especially with the way that the game is officiated and the value of getting into the paint.
I think having those three guys is a real positive. Now, we've got to figure out how to leverage that over 48 minutes and use that to our advantage. But Dennis is like -- Dennis is a huge talent, and he showed us that throughout last year. I don't know how many games there were last year with he ended up with 18 points in the second half to kind of give us a jolt or help us win, and so I think those are the things that have to work themselves out. I'm not going to sit here and tell you we have the specific rotation set out, and I would think that would be a massive mistake if we did, and that's part of like kind of where we are. We need to embrace that, that there probably will be some discovery with how we see the team develop over the course of time, and Billy has got to make sure that the team is growing through the season and not just staying fixated because that's how we started.
And Dennis will be a huge -- he'll be a huge part of the team. He's just that talented.
Q. You've talked consistently since probably your very first press conference here as general manager about building roots for this franchise and the long-term longevity. Is there a point where you get to whatever year that you start to feel like, all right, we've sunk in, we're here, that you kind of get to stop worrying about getting the roots and the longevity of this franchise in Oklahoma City?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I wouldn't say worrying about it, but I think you can never take it for granted, and one thing that I would say is one thing that's deepened our roots probably more than anything is the adversities that we've faced, and we've had our fair share of those things. And the way we've responded to those I think have hopefully been representations of the values of the city that we represent, you know, the way we go about our business. When we do get knocked back, dusting ourselves off, getting up, taking steps forward, putting a huge value on the doing and not the saying, and I don't know, I mean, all of us that have had the benefit of being with the organization from its inception, and I mean people that aren't even here anymore, know what I'm saying, but if you've been here in the early stages, I just think that it's really humbling to feel like you're a part of something that's being established that will be around long after all of us are no longer here, you know, representing the logo behind us.
And so like I don't think you can ever take that for granted. I think you've always got to be focused on putting the organization first, trying to stick to the principles and values that we've established it with. All that being said, evolving with the world around us because when you have an extended period of time like we've had together and with the success that we've been fortunate enough to achieve, you know, there aren't a lot of like reset opportunities or refresh opportunities, and that's a good thing. But you still have to preserve your values and principles but also try to modernize those things, as well, and I feel like we've tried to make an effort to do that. We're certainly not the same organization we were in 2008 when we arrived, and that's a good thing.
But I think the adversities that we've faced and as much as the successes we've had, but our responses to those hopefully have embedded us. We're not perfect. We certainly don't have a perfect scorecard in any respect. But we are trying to do the right things for the city, for the future of the team, and position ourselves all the time so that there's a brighter day that we can look toward.
But I just -- like I said earlier, I'm extremely humbled to be a part of the organization, to be a part of this unbelievable group of people that we've had and currently do have, as well, and we all know that like the work we're doing today is going to last longer than our time here. That's cool, to hopefully look back and say we are there when this started and the first pillars were put in. That's a unique thing in sports. I will never take that for granted, never.
Q. There are proposals to upgrade the arena and the practice facility. What's the significance of that tax getting approved and that going through?
SAM PRESTI: Well, this isn't like my specific area, but what I would say is that the significance of MAPS for our city is monumental, and quite frankly, I don't think we'd be sitting here without the people that envisioned MAPS initially and the citizens that voted for it in order to create a better long-term outlook for Oklahoma City, and I am obviously a transplant from a different place, but even I understand the significance of that period of time for this city.
The concept of MAPS to me in and of itself speaks to -- and again, this is just my opinion, speaks to the city and its resolve, the ability to see something down the line that you don't even have tangible objective, like, return for that moment but are willing to say, you know, six donuts today for 12 donuts in the future, and then to continue to double down on that, and the city I think just has benefitted both from a perspective standpoint and obviously from the things that have come as a result of that.
How we're involved in that, I mean, again, I'm not an expert in this area, so I don't want to speak out of turn, but I would say a lot of it is focused on the fans and the experience of the fans, and Dan Mahoney is really the person to speak to more specifically about the actual proposal, but we're grateful for what it is that we were able to do here and try to reciprocate that the best we can for the city that we represent.
Q. You mentioned league-wide player movement earlier. Do you have any thoughts on the anti-tampering measures that were passed?
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, so number one, I really think, and I applaud the league office, Adam Silver and Rick Buchanan and the people heading that up. I think that obviously the easy thing to do would be to do nothing because it's such a hard topic, but clearly they work at the pleasure of the governors of the teams, as we all do, and this is an issue that I think the governors, as Adam said, see as a significant impediment to equality and fairness.
We can all agree that like June 30th was not a shining moment for the league, just with the way that those things unfolded. I don't think it's an easy thing to do, but I think it's an incredible sign of leadership on Adam's part to take it on, even though it's not an easy situation, because I think it's in the spirit of fairness, and it's in the spirit of equality.
Now, the final details of what that's going to look like, I don't think we know. That's still, I think, being developed by the governors and the ownership of each team and the league. But I think it's a positive that we're looking at it. I think it's, again, really a rule or an effort to protect the majority and try to gain compliance from a minority.
If that can be achieved, even in perception, I think it will be healthy for the NBA and healthy for all of us, and I think it's a great thing that they're trying to accomplish. But it's not something that's easy, as Adam said, there's no silver bullet to do it, but I think they're trying to do the right thing.
Q. Do you think the Paul George had anything to do with how much that played a role?
SAM PRESTI: Honestly, I don't know. And again, I don't think that the way that that took place -- there's nothing illegal about -- at least to my knowledge, unless there's something I don't know, but there's nothing illegal about what took place. There's nothing stopping players from communicating, talking and planning and strategizing, and so that's why we're not up in arms at all about that. That's the new NBA. That's the modern NBA. Again, like I've said before, PG handled that like a pro with us. It wasn't the conversation I wanted to be having in the middle of free agency, but it was handled professionally and in a way that was respectful, and we were able to make it work for us.
But I can't speak to what brought it on. Probably -- I don't think it was a one -- I don't think it happened at one time. I think it was just a cumulative effect and sometimes things need to be course corrected. Like I said before, I think it shows a lot of leadership, and I think the teams themselves, all of us have to do our part, too. It's not just the league that needs to be doing anything. We all have to do our part, as well.
Q. How much does Chris Paul want to be here? I'm not saying his actions, I'm just saying his desires. He's 34 years old, never won a title. He was at a team that was a contender, traded to a team that looks not to be a contender.
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, so obviously that question is best served to be answered by him.
Q. I'll ask him the first time we get to talk to him.
SAM PRESTI: Yeah, which will probably be two or three days, right? I think that one thing about him is he's a hooper, and he's a competitor, and he wants to play basketball. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for him and for us.
I think our fans are going to really enjoy watching this guy play. He is one of the best passers in the game. I think he's a 40-plus three-point shooter off the catch, always high up there in steal percentage. He affects games in a lot of ways. He's competitive. I mean, he's a lot of things that you want.
But as I've said before, to transition from a player like Westbrook to a player like Chris in terms of just like opportunity to watch this type of player in Oklahoma City back-to-back seasons is great. I think it's a really cool thing. I'm looking forward to watching him play and him work with our group. I think he'll help us on the floor a ton. He's just a really good basketball player. And that's not obviously comparing those two players. I mean, just these are two of the greatest point guards to ever play, and to have them both here back to back years is remarkable. Usually you don't move on from a player like Westbrook and get a player like Chris Paul back. We're grateful for that, a hundred percent.
Q. What do you want to see specifically passing down from Chris to Shai?
SAM PRESTI: Well, I mean, that's one thing Chris has already done is he's built really good relationships with like the entire group. When we first acquired him, that was one of the first things he did was get a lot of numbers for the different players and galvanized the group, I think, over text from what I gather, and again, like I don't know that it's like specific things, but Chris is a craftsman. What I would say about Chris is he's a technician actually, if I were to use that word. The guy really understands every aspect of the game and the profession, and he's really got it locked in. Pretty impressive.
And I think everybody on our team can pull something from him. Even while he was here playing pickup earlier in the summer, the way he would communicate with Terrance or Bazley or things like that, those are things that I think he does it naturally, will be positive. But Shai is his own guy, and he's a talented guy, but as we've all seen, like young players, they go through ups and downs. They go through a lot of adversity. I would think Shai will be no different.
But we're not going to be able to put -- I think one thing people make the mistake of at least in basketball evaluation and development evaluation is you can't evaluate people every day. Like if you evaluate daily, you're inevitably going to end up being frustrated. You have to let the process play out. You have to evaluate periodically. But if you're constantly checking the temperature, that takes away the ability for people to stretch themselves and try new things, and everyone is just trying to play within a box because they don't feel like they can -- because they're being like evaluated for more or less playing time every single time, you're not going to get the best version of them.
So I think we have to understand that there's going to be times where Shai might have a bad stretch of time. But like that bad stretch of time could be the catalyst for a stretch of time that's really good that's twice that amount of time. You know, and so we've always tried to take that vantage point on our players and player development.
Q. Bazley didn't play the last year, but you got to see him in Summer League. How much do you think he can help you? Is this kind of a transition year?
SAM PRESTI: You know, this is a great question. I've sat up here in the past and had similar questions with people, and they've said, Sabonis is really young, how is he going to -- how much is he going to play. And I'm always hesitant -- he ended up starting for us. Same thing with Ferg. He was extremely young coming in and a little bit of an unknown because he played in Australia, and he ended up maybe playing a little bit that year. I don't know the answer to that. I think he's got really good tools. He can really handle the ball for his size. I think he's got some unique nature as a player.
But how much he's playing or where or what position, I think, again, coming into the year with some deterministic view of well, he can't do this because of this or he will do this because of that, I think that boxes yourself in. So we can't do that with this team. We didn't do that with any of our players ever. We needed to let them declare themselves, and I also think one of the things for us as a team and an organization over time is we have a really, really collaborative and integrated development process. So all of these different people within the building are contributing to the development of the player, whether that's -- they may not be getting X amount of time but our performance team might be making massive strides with them in the weight room or medical area taking care of some preventative measures that will keep the player healthy for a really, really long time or even just education on nutrition or sleep. All that stuff goes into the development process, acclimating the player to the community and getting them engrained in like where we live, what we represent, onboarding that person effectively, all that stuff is part of development for us.
So how much they're playing obviously is really the pathway and the key to more, but there's other things that can be done in the surrounding disciplines, as well. I don't know how much he'll play, but I Noel take positive steps and has in a lot of other areas so far since he's been here.
Q. Who decided to bring back Brian Keefe to the staff?
SAM PRESTI: You know, BK obviously is one of those people. Based on what the question was earlier, he was here when we were practicing next to the Purina plant and was part of some hard times and some great times. Has left and gone on to other opportunities. He's got a very unique experience in the sense that he's worked in the two biggest markets in the NBA and also like one of the smallest now. It's pretty extreme. The commutes are different, amongst other things.
But no, I think he'll be a positive. Billy spent a lot of time with him this summer and really connected with him, felt like he would be a positive addition. I think not just because of his prior experience here but also just because of the things that he's learned by stretching out and going and seeing some other things, which is obviously a positive.
We're really blessed because we've had several people that have moved on to other things and then come back. Mo Cheeks obviously is someone that's returned, BK, Dave Bliss, who's on our coaching staff now, he's returned. Rob Hennigan went from here to Orlando, and he's returned. You know, when those people stretch out, see other things, we get the benefit of people coming back and adding new things to us and enlightening us and helping us evolve, and the fact that they want to come back here means a lot to all of us because it means that they feel somehow connected, and Maynor is another guy like that, Naze, Collison, all those guys are part of what we're doing, and that's part of kind of the environment, the family group that we want to have over time. Hopefully they won't be the last.
Q. This is a different group, you don't have the established veterans, the star players outside of Chris, younger guys. Is there a particular mix that maybe he came from college that allowed him to maybe work with this group a little bit different than say the past groups?
SAM PRESTI: Well, you know, change in the NBA is becoming, as I said earlier, that's just kind of the norm. I mean, just because shorter contracts, the cap spike, the downstream effects of that, more cap space. The player movement phenomenon I think has put the ability to be adaptable as a head coach really on display. I think that's one of Billy's strengths. When we brought him on I guess in the summer of '15, that was one of the things we talked about was his experience as a college coach and the teams changing quite a bit year to year. I think adaptation and evolution are important things.
I think he's going to do a great job of that. He has done that over the course of his time here, and I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him because of his work ethic, because of the fact that he's seen a lot of different things and has adapted to a lot of different changes.
Some people could potentially see that as like a limitation. I actually think that like really successful people would see that as opportunity to improve and get better, and I think that's how he sees that.
So yeah, I do think that he'll do an excellent job with this particular group, and part of that is going to be getting to know the players and understand them and what their strengths are, and his job is to optimize obviously their strengths and minimize their limitations because there's only 10 guys in the league that really don't -- you don't have to do that for because they're that good. They're the ones that everybody is always striving to get, and generally if you have them, you're playing pretty meaningful games.
But there's only so many of those players, so the rest of it is how do you maximize the group that you have by minimizing their limitations, maximizing their strengths and getting them to leverage that together for a good outcome.
Q. What do you mean by meaningful games? Does that mean the Playoffs or does that mean developing guys?
SAM PRESTI: Oh, I'm sorry, so we want to be playing -- obviously we want to be playing good basketball, but we also want to be playing games that matter at the end of the season. Everybody that starts the season is looking for the same thing. You can't get to the postseason if you're not playing meaningful games, and then you can't win a championship if you don't make the Playoffs. So like the first step of being a high, high level team is playing well enough to get into the postseason and then getting to the postseason, obviously you have to do your work from there.
But having a level of sustained success is giving yourself as many bites at the apple, and in order to do that, you've got to get to the Playoffs continually.
You just can't take that for granted, though. During that stretch of time that I mentioned earlier where I think we had four 6 net rating teams, it was '12, '13, and then '14; '15 was the year where we had a lot of those injuries, so we couldn't hit that level. We came back the next two years and did it.
You just can't take it for granted. It's really, really hard to win games in the NBA, especially the Western Conference, the way it is now, and so you want to put yourself in position where the games you're playing toward the end of the year matter towards getting yourself in position to make the Playoffs. But that's really, really not something you can't achieve in November.
Your work in training camp, November, December January and all the way through is going to determine the games that you're playing as you get into spring, and so we want to always put ourselves in positions for that. But that's nothing different than what we've been focused on since we were here in 2008.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports