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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 1, 2016
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Q. Coach, just overall, how would you describe your first season here with the Thunder?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, myself personally, I think it was a great experience -- personal growth, working with a great group of guys. I think the front office, working with Sam has been terrific. I really enjoyed the evolution of our team from the start of training camp and how we evolved and got better. These guys' commitment to working hard every single day and trying to get better and improve. I thought we came together as a team. I thought we got better as the year went on.
Obviously, to see so many guys play well late certainly, I think, gives me great hope and optimism going forward.
Q. Billy, you don't often see teams improve like yours did in the playoffs. Sometimes they elevate play, but just to see guys improve, what do you chalk that up to as you think back to these last four to six weeks?
COACH DONOVAN: I think it's human nature, but coming out of the All-Star break, we obviously struggled, and we played against really, really good teams, and they were coming very, very quickly. I felt like -- and I said this at the time. I felt like our team needed to go through that in order to find what we needed to do to reach our fullest potential.
I think the thing that got lost and nobody talked about in the playoffs was Dallas was really injured, and they made it very, very physical, and we were really challenged. Then we had a chance to play 13 straight games against two teams that set historical marks in the history of the NBA. When you play that level of competition, you can't help but get better and improve. And I always felt like the harder it was for our team, because they're resilient, because they're competitive, because they work hard, when you play against that level, it forces you to raise your level.
So for us, the last 13 playoff games were clearly against two of the greatest teams of all time in this league.
Q. Billy, you said the other night that what you're most excited about is kind of sustaining the habits that you guys were able to build over the course of the season. Can you kind of lay out some of the characteristics of your team that you saw develop and grow that you want to kind of initiate again in training camp coming up?
COACH DONOVAN: I really felt like, as we were going through -- again, this being my first year, me getting to know the players, the players getting to know me, there's a transition, there's an adjustment period. But the way these guys were open minded all year long to want to get better, to try to improve, to work was really good.
We've got an opportunity to utilize what happened this season and transfer it into next year, but we've got to utilize in the correct fashion in order for us to grow and develop. I think the first thing you have to do is you have to have a high sense of humility in terms of really look at it for what it was and how do we improve and how do we grow and how do we get better from this?
And then being able to come back the next year and take the things that helped us evolve into a team that was playing very well at the end of the year and try to pick up from that point and try to continually grow and evolve again.
Q. Is it going to feel like you're back in college when you sit down with Kevin, having to recruit a guy?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I don't think I'll be recruiting him. I don't look at it as recruiting. For me, it's been over 100 games with Kevin. Obviously, for him, this decision will be his decision. I'm there in any way he needs.
But I think when you've been with somebody for basically an entire year -- and it was a year ago at this point in time when he was coming off his foot injury that we had a chance to spend a lot of time.
So Kevin will go through this process, and I'm going to respect his wishes of taking his time and evaluating it and making the right decision for himself.
Q. What would your pitch be?
COACH DONOVAN: I'm not going to give -- I have no -- I have nothing to do with this. This is Kevin's decision. I don't think it's about me posing a pitch. Kevin's very bright. He obviously has had an incredible impact on this community and this organization, and obviously the organization, the community love him a great deal as well.
This is about Kevin, and if he needed anything from me, I would be there to talk to him about anything. But this is about what Kevin wants to do, and it's his decision.
Q. Do you have -- he's been really good about not really even addressing it. Is he that way inside the doors? Do you have any clue at all what he's going to do?
COACH DONOVAN: I don't, and I will say this. As a coach and this being my first time going through this, I could not be more impressed with the way he handled this year because it wasn't necessarily about Kevin. Kevin is a very humble guy. It wasn't necessarily that Kevin was going to draw attention to it, but everywhere we went, people wanted to talk about it, and he never allowed it to get into the team. And I really, really respected that and admired that.
He put the team first, and Kevin made an enormous amount of sacrifices this year to help our team get better, from being accustomed to playing the entire first quarter, to then being okay coming out with six minutes, to trying to do things on the offensive end or the defensive end of the floor. I mean, he was terrific.
So he allowed -- by just putting all of his focus on the team, he allowed us to improve and get better, and it was never ever a challenge of having to deal with all that stuff.
Q. What did you learn about Kevin Durant in this 100 games, this one year, that you didn't know? You knew a lot about him when you got here. What did you learn about him?
COACH DONOVAN: Great work ethic. I think deep down inside he's got a lot of composure and poise. I think he's continuing to evolve as a leader. I think leadership for him is very important. I think he is a great leader and wants to keep getting and growing in that area of his game, in terms of lifting people up around him.
I thought, coming down the stretch of the playoffs, the way he verbalized to the guys and communicated with the guys was really terrific. And I think the other thing too, on a personal level, just who he is as a human being. I have great, great respect and admiration for who he is as a man.
Q. Obviously, Golden State is going to be in the running for the next few years. What do you think this team needs to do to be able to get over this hump that it wasn't able to be able to do the last three games of the series?
COACH DONOVAN: I don't necessarily look at it that way. I look at it as next year is next year. It's a totally different year. We'll have to start all over again. There's a process we have to go through. I think the experiences that Dion got and Enes got and Steven got and Andre Robertson got, and even though Cameron didn't play a lot in the playoffs, he got a chance to play during the season. I think our young guys, I'm excited and optimistic about their growth and their development.
So we need to keep getting better. We need to keep improving. I'm hopeful that the experiences we went through here in these playoffs will give us an opportunity starting next year to build off of that.
Q. What's going to be your process with regard to the lead assistant position? Have you gleaned anything from Monty in terms of where he stands?
COACH DONOVAN: Monty is not going to come back. My feeling right now -- and I mentioned this when someone's asked. The most important thing to me is staff chemistry. I've said this before. If you're going to try to build a team and you want your team to be cohesive and have really, really good chemistry, then it starts with the coaching staff. I think you've got to be able to model that.
So for me, I want to, first and foremost, find somebody. It could be someone inside the organization, maybe someone from the outside. Certainly, I'll sit down with Sam and we'll talk about it, but the chemistry part is the most important thing to me. At this level, there's plenty of really, really good competent coaches X and O-wise, but to me it's so much deeper than that because, if you don't have good staff chemistry, the length of the season, it's too hard. That's got to be the first part is it's got to be someone that really fits in.
Q. When do you start contacting people, or has that happened?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I'll probably sit down -- obviously, getting back just yesterday, I haven't had a chance. That's something I have to deal with, but I'll start to evaluate that and talk to Mo and talk to Mark Bryant, Darko, guys on our staff and figure out what we need to help us grow and help us get better as well.
Q. Billy, the playoffs can be a chess match, in terms of move, countermove, the adjustments that go on in the series. It seems like you enjoyed the aspects of that experience you had diving in that way? Is that accurate? Did you enjoy the process?
COACH DONOVAN: I did enjoy it. The thing that I think was fascinating for me as a coach was I think there's -- you get into a series, and how can I find ways -- so like, for example, this last series, it was hard for Enes matchup-wise in certain situations, but like instead of just shelving him and saying, okay, dude, you just can't play in this series. That's like easy. How do I find out and figure out ways to get him in there where he can make a little bit of an impact?
Now, the last two games, games 6 and 7, it wasn't like he played big minutes, but we put him in position where, you know what, his 8 or 10 points, that helps.
I think the same thing could be said of Andre early in the series against Golden State. It was like, well, they're not playing him. You've got to take him out and play somebody else. How can I generate and put Andre in position where he can be effective? I enjoyed that, that to me, because I feel like as a coach you try to put your personnel in the best position to take advantage of how teams are guarding him and what may be available.
From game to game, that's going to change, but I think that's the part of you get an opportunity to grow and you get a chance to think about the game on a different level.
Q. So follow up on that, I know it's early, but would a goal with you for Andre to be to continue to work with him as kind of that small five, four, and his passing and ball handling in those situations?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, that's a great point because I thought going into the year that we had flexibility roster-wise with stuff, but there's a lot of different lineup that's really played coming down the stretch. Obviously, you had Steve and Enes got a chance to play quite a bit together. We got into, as you mentioned, Andre playing with Serge and almost being a center at times. We played conventional lineup as well. We played Steven with basically four guards.
So there's a lot of different things, I think, we can look at going into next year that evolved and happened this season that, because of the roster and its flexibility, allowed us to do some different things.
Q. How comfortable are you with this current roster that they can get over the hump next year?
COACH DONOVAN: I just don't look at it as getting over the hump. I have never viewed it that way. This is a process for our team to continue to evolve and get better. We need to improve. I think going into the last two playoff series against San Antonio and against Golden State, everybody would agree that what those two teams did was historic. So we competed very well against both those teams. It's not about getting over the hump. It's about can we improve and get better and be better next year than we were this year? That's the biggest challenge.
Q. What do you see as those areas you most need to improve on?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I felt like coming out of games 3 and 4, obviously being up, you get into situations against teams that have won championships that understand how to go a little bit deeper in terms of trying to take it to another level, and we got a chance to be a part of that with Golden State. And if you look at those games where we were able to win, the rebounding margin was huge.
You look at the last several games, the rebounding margin wasn't as great as it normally was. That, to me, is more of those guys really taking it to a different level.
I thought the series forced our guys to dig down deeper. I think we can dig down even deeper. The more you get challenged and pushed like that, I think the more you have a chance to grow and flower. So that's what it is to me. It's going through where, in order to evolve into the best you can be, you have to endure, and sometimes the endurance of going through painful losses and struggles and those kinds of things, that endurance allows you to evolve into maybe, as we talked about, getting over the hump or the next step. That's what you've got to do. You've got to endure this to take another step.
And I think can we come back next year with the mindset, okay, we've got to start over again in this process of trying to build back up, but I'm very optimistic about these guys.
Q. Do you feel like this is a team -- we saw a lot of ups and downs in the regular season. It was more of an up trajectory in the playoffs. Is this a group that can do that trajectory throughout the season? Is that maybe one of the things that will come out of the growth of these playoffs?
COACH DONOVAN: Probably with me being new this season, if you were to draw a line of progression, it probably was up, down, up, down, and that's the way it normally goes. I don't think it's ever just smooth sailing all the way up. Like, listen, even in the playoffs, I mean, in Game 1 against San Antonio, we lost by 30. We played pretty well against Golden State in Game 1 and find a way to win the game. We come back in Game 2, and we get blown out.
So you're going to have those moments, but the trajectory of our team is sometimes you've got to take some steps down before you can go back up, and I think that happened.
But, again, for me being new and going through this with these guys and us getting to know each other during that process, I think that always takes some time.
Q. Billy, anything that kind of surprised you about the pro game, coming from college, that maybe you weren't expecting this year?
COACH DONOVAN: No, not really. The hardest part, or the most challenging part, was to try to develop and build relationships with these guys in a short period of time and try to get to know them. Obviously, I've said this from the very, very beginning is how do I create an opportunity for them to be efficient and effective both individually and collectively as a team?
You get a chance to learn guys' habits and what they're like in pressure situations. That was a process to be able to go through that. I think the game part of it, just having a chance in the off-season to watch so much film, that probably was really helpful to me.
But I felt like, because of the preparation of the people here with me, I felt like I was really, really prepared when the season started. And the biggest thing for me was going to have to be getting to know the players and tinkering with different lineups and trying different things, and taking some risks in the lineup matchup just to get a feel of the team. You can watch it on film, but when you start coaching them, you have to kind of get a feel for yourself as well.
Q. Russ is first team All NBA, having arguably his best season. Where did you see him improve the most from beginning to end?
COACH DONOVAN: I just believe Russell will do whatever he can do to help the team win. Again, last year at this point in time, I was being asked questions about Russell that he was the scoring champion, Kevin was coming back, could these guys exist, all this other stuff. Just talking to Russell and not knowing him a year ago at this point in time, I never got that sense from him. He played with Kevin, obviously, a good -- his whole entire career. So he knows what Kevin can do.
I thought Russell was really, really well-balanced. He obviously averaged a lot of assists -- the triple doubles, the rebounding, everything. He played -- he had a great, great year all the way around. And I think Russell is a player that will do whatever is asked for him to do to put his team in the best position to win.
Q. During the season, we talked about you putting guys in position that's they're not used to doing certain things, particularly your big men. How did you see that bear fruit? And did you see that in particular players like -- how did you see that?
COACH DONOVAN: I saw Serge get a better handle on the basketball, Enes Kanter being able to stretch his range and shoot three-point shots. To see Steven, the way he evolved in terms of rolling to the basket and he and Russell connecting on a lot of lob dunks. His post-up game had gotten better. I thought his transferring of the ball from one side of the floor was very, very good.
Our big guys really got better, and obviously, Serge has been here for a while and has been a key component to the team, but I think, when you look at Enes and you look at Steven, those guys being relatively young, it was good to see them evolve the way they did.
Thank you. I appreciate everybody. You guys were great this year to work with. So thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports