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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 26, 2017
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
BILL DONOVAN: Well, I'll just start off and be happy to take any questions.
First thing I want to do is I want to personally thank Mr. Bennett and Sam and Troy, and the rest of the front office. As a coach, I couldn't ask for more support. People couldn't be more gracious and helpful in myself and my staff trying to do our job each and every day.
I have great appreciation that when you're working with people that you can work collectively and cohesively together and have a shared vision and be on the same page. I never, ever take this organization for granted. How they've helped myself and our staff just for me personally in the last two years.
Going back to the start of the season, there was a lot of uncertainty, I think, going into this year, just with our roster, a lot of new faces, a lot of new guys. Some of the players I knew a little bit, like Victor Oladipo just from recruiting situations. Didn't really know, obviously didn't know Alex at all, didn't know Domas Sabonis, didn't know a lot of these guys, and certainly with the addition of Norris Cole and Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, I didn't know those guys.
So your first concern, I think, going into any season is first and foremost, how is your chemistry going to be, and I think a lot of times people don't get a chance to see what takes place behind closed doors. I couldn't ask for a better group of guys, and I appreciate so much, particularly on the road how hard this group being new worked together to try to become connected and try to become a closer team and to try to play together.
Obviously, with the roster changing over, you're trying to establish an identity, you're trying to establish a style of play, and you're trying to integrate people and you're trying to figure out how people can be most effective and useful in a particular role. And I thought our team during the course of the season just got better and better. I thought we improved.
I think everybody knows the youthfulness of our team. But also I thought with that youthfulness we were able to gain an enormous amount of experience this season with a lot of young players that I think are only going to continue to get better and improve.
My focus now going forward is how do we continue to keep building, continue to keep getting better. Because we obviously have got a group of guys or great guys, great to work with and I also think they've got great upside. So I was really pleased and happy with a lot of the uncertainty going into the year with our roster, what the season even looked like, and I thought these guys from start to finish just did a terrific job coming together as a team, working hard collectively as a group, and trying to get better throughout the course of the season.
Q. What's the thing that Russell has expressed to you the make up of this team, and the youth and where it might be going forward?
BILLY DONOVAN: I think he's pretty clear about that. That's the one thing that I appreciated the whole year was just seeing how much these guys came together as a team, how they grew together as a team, how much time they tried to spend with each other to get to know each other.
I've been around. The whole key to having any chance to be successful is when people are working together. I was really, really impressed and pleased with the way the group collectively worked together.
Q. You talk about Victor and Steven, a few guys that are on longer term deals that are going to be here for a while. What do you see in areas where they can most improve, and how much better can they get?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I think two things. One, Victor statistically had maybe his most efficient season of his career. His numbers and points from here to Orlando are about the same, but he was really efficient for us.
Steven, I think, walked into a new role, just being honest. He went into a new role for Victor and for Steven. This season was really a season of firsts, and that's what I would say for a lot of our guys. It was a season of firsts. I think it was a season of firsts for Russell, having to lead a new group of guys.
I think it was a season of firsts for Steven taking over a more prominent role. I think it was a season of firsts with Victor coming into a new organization, same thing with Doug and Taj. There were a lot of seasons of firsts. I think Steven and Victor will continue to get better, and I think their summers will be very, very important.
I think if you look at Steven throughout his career, every year he's gotten better, so I'm encouraged and very optimistic that he'll continue to do that. I think Victor having one year under his belt here, this will be another big off-season for him to continue to improve and get better. But I'm very optimistic with both of those guys. One, because of their character, and two, because of their work ethic, and three, how deeply they care about the team.
Q. How important was it for those young guys to experience this now? No longer can they say they haven't been to the Playoffs. They've gone through it. They've gone through tough games, now they understand.
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I feel like myself and our staff, we've got to help. I don't believe because you're a year older you become a year better. I think you have to put in perspective what you've learned and be exactly on point about what you've learned, and then what you've learned has got to then Milwaukee you better.
But to take the route of where we've been to the Playoffs, we know what to expect now and just assume that you're going to get better, I don't think it ever works like that. We've got to really, I think, map out and help our players put into context their season individually, our season collectively as a whole, how to get better, and where the avenues to do that, and the things that they did learn and the things that maybe we learned about them, how do you come together as a group and collaboratively work together to make those kind of improvements? I think that's really important.
I think the biggest mistake we could make is to think, okay, this group, for Victor, for Jeremy, for Alex, for Domas, it's the first time they've been through it, absolutely, but we've got to get better from that. And just because you went through it doesn't mean you get better from it, in my opinion.
Q. You mentioned a season of firsts, what did you learn this season for yourself?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, the one thing I always love about coaching is that every season is totally different. I may come into the same office every day, but every day provides something new, and I find that to be great. I feel very blessed and fortunate that a lot of times in jobs it can be the same old mundane thing. It's not that way in coaching.
When you're around the team, everything is somewhat new, fresh. I learned a lot about these guys. There was a lot of uncertainty that I had, just because you're trying to piece together a team that's totally different with a lot of new and young guys. First and foremost, we've talked a lot about the chemistry and cohesiveness, and being a connected group and having to play together. They worked really, really hard at that. So I learned a lot about those guys.
As a coach, a head coach, I've dealt with a lot of different experiences in terms of guys that have been younger or older. I do think going through this group and being young, there is no shortcut to getting better. I think it's important that they understand that as well too, what we just talked about. Just because the experiences when you get better, and there is a process.
If you want to be very, very good and continue to get better, there is no shortcut to that. That is a long process. I say I learned probably a lot about these guys, learned a lot about, I think, like every season you coach, just different things about our team in particular that maybe I didn't know about before the season started because of the uncertainty.
Q. Free-throw shooting for Andre became a focal point during the Playoffs. What do you need to see from him during the off-season?
BILLY DONOVAN: Andre gave us an opportunity in four of the five games to be right there with his defense and things that he did. Then certainly his scoring average going way up. But this is the point I would make: Andre is a better free throw shooter than what he showed in that series. I said that I have confidence in him, and I do. But that's an area of focus that he really needs to put the time and effort and energy into this off-season and continue to get better in those areas.
Andre has always been a guy to me in my two years being around him where there is a challenge put in front of him or there is an area he needs to get better at, he always puts his best foot forward and tries to get better at that. No question he's going to put focus on all areas of his game, but certainly his free-throw shooting.
Q. Whether through analytics or your gut feeling or what you've seen on the floor, do you have a sense of what kind of players are best to surround him with, and the more lineups around him that you think will work best?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I like our team a lot. I like our guys a lot. I would probably defer that to Sam, just to the point that I've got a lot of trust and confidence in Sam. I think he works tirelessly each and every day to try to figure out ways to improve our team. I think he'll look at that. We'll probably have a chance to sit down and talk about those things.
But Russell in a leadership role, in my opinion, and I think the guys would echo this, took a lot of new guys and a new group of guys and really, I think, tried to show them the way. It was in the trenches and we were in the trenches together, and we worked hard to connect together. The biggest thing I can tell you about Russell, which is the most important thing to him, it's always about just guys going out there and competing. He'll go to battle with anybody.
I feel like our guys as a group and as a whole did that. We didn't always play perfect or great, but we went out there and competed and played.
Q. So you mentioned it's not going to be a quick process to get better for this team to go to the next level. How well do you think Russell is to go through that process after already being through it once before?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I think that you're going through a process of improvement. An improvement process takes time for everything. If you look at Russell's improvement process over his career how he's continued to grow and develop every single year, I expect and anticipate the same thing's going to happen. At the end of the day in the college level and here now in the NBA level, there's only one team happy every year. Every other team is trying to get better, and that's just the reality of it.
I've always felt like this as a coach, and I learned this when I was really, really young because having a chance to be a part of two National Championships, losing in The National Championship Game, when the season ends and you're not the last team standing, there is purpose and meaning in every season, and there was purpose and meaning in this season to help us get better. And we'll be better for what we went through this year.
I couldn't be any more encouraged with the quality of people and the character that I had a chance to work with each and every day. So improvement always takes time. I can't tell you that the jump we'll make will be from here to here or where it will be. But every team, maybe outside of one, is trying to get better. That's what we're always going to do is try to get better.
Q. The way the game is headed, it seems like Jeremy Grant is the type of guy that might have a prominent role. What would you challenge him to focus on heading into the summer?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I think his versatility and what he did in this series was unique because Ryan Anderson played some center spot for them. But he's played anywhere from the small forward spot to the center spot for us. I love his versatility, I think he got more and more comfortable as the year went on. He shot the ball well from behind the three-point line, I think there is more to his game, and he can continue to get better. I'm encouraged with him.
Again, I think coming to a new team, when he did, being traded, missing a lot of training camp, we had Jeremy, we had Doug, we had Norris, we had Taj, those guys all missed training camp. I couldn't be more pleased with the way they came in. And even Doug, Taj, and Norris coming in when they came in in February, that's not easy.
It's not easy for Taj Gibson to come into a situation where he's been with an organization for his entire career, and now there is a chance in the middle of the day and now he's here in Oklahoma. Just his professionalism and the way he handled himself, the same thing with Doug, and the same thing with Jeremy. I think these guys going through what they went through is only going to make them better.
Q. (No Microphone) more power forward than a small forward?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, he's got -- yeah, I think there are certain times at the power forward spot he's got some advantages because one of his greatest strengths that probably people don't talk about is he's a terrific rim protector and great shot blocker. Sometimes in those situations he could be a little closer to the basket at that power forward spot to protect the rim than at the small forward spot.
Q. How do you get the most out of this as this leads or continues to evolve, and just the way the game is changing?
BILLY DONOVAN: I think you've got to look at a couple things. First thing, one, the Houston series going on like it is, and I think any playoff series is about matchups. Before Enes hurt his forearm, I think everybody here would at least give strong consideration that he was in the running for the Sixth Man of the Year. So we would not have had the type of season without Enes that we had.
The second part of that was playing Dallas last year in the Playoffs and them doing some different things with Nowitzki playing them at the four and at the five, going into that next series against San Antonio, if he's not on our team, we probably don't maybe have a chance to advance to play against Golden State.
If we were fortunate enough to get by Houston, he would have been extremely prominent in the next round against Memphis and/or San Antonio. So I think the Playoffs are about matchups and just calling it like it was. This is a tough matchup part, but also Enes contributed an awful lot to our team to put us in a position to be in the Playoffs with the way he played throughout the course of the season. So I think probably for him he's a competitor. He wants to be out there like any of these guys do, but also I think he understands that sometimes those matchups can be difficult.
Q. Do you feel like you can play with traditional bigs with Enes and Steven on the floor?
BILLY DONOVAN: I feel like you have to play multiple ways. This is a series where I thought we did a really, really good job on Ryan Anderson in this series, and he's been a real prominent, important piece to their team. Maybe he didn't have the impact on the series like he's had with their team during the course of the year. Maybe the next series he's a huge factor.
But I do think you have to be able to play multiple ways. I don't think you can sit there and say, listen, we can never have a big lineup out there, because there are going to be times when you're going to need that, and certainly some times against Houston we needed some smaller lineups out there.
Q. How much do you see Domantas having a bigger role next year after his rookie year?
A. I don't really look at it that way. I look at it that he gained an awful amount of experience. He obviously started a good portion of the season for us. He played a lot of minutes as a rookie on a really, really good team, which I thought was helpful. I think that he's going to be able to improve.
I think anytime you're a rookie, you go through your first year, usually you make a pretty big jump in my opinion with experience-wise, 82 games, the normal rhythm and pattern of an NBA season. I think he'll get better. How our team looks next year, I do feel totally confident that there will be a strong factor to our team going forward.
Q. Is there any point in the season that you felt this team turned the corner before the trade or after the trade winning 7 out of the last 9. What is your take looking at the whole season?
BILLY DONOVAN: I think when you go back and look at the whole season, it was a season in a lot of ways of not playing with a full complement of roster, obviously. Victor Oladipo missed nine games with his wrist injury, and Enes Kanter goes out after the All-Star break with his broken forearm. We come back out of All-Star break, Enes comes back, Victor goes out with a back. Then we add Norris, Taj, and Doug, and I think it took us some time.
I think there were some games that we probably lost because we had some new pieces we were trying to integrate very, very quickly. So that's what I'm saying. With what this team did with the injuries and the changes and all the different things that transpired during the course of the season, I think from your standpoint, Mike, the overall view, it was pretty remarkable what these guys did, because we had to battle through some different things throughout the course of the season.
Q. What Semaj did, there is a guy that's played in Europe, in the D-League, and now here he is in the NBA and at times playing important games?
BILLY DONOVAN: To me, as a coach, because when you're not the last team standing there are different things that you go through that make what you do every day extremely valuable. Being with Semaj last summer and seeing how he was in training camp and the growth that he made for me as a coach was really rewarding, because it was the hard road for him. It wasn't the easy road. It was the D-League. It was overseas. It was coming back. Is he going to make the team, is he not going to make the team? It's Cameron Payne's hurt. He's the back-up point guard. Now Cameron comes back, he's out. And then Cameron's traded and Norris Cole comes back in. He's back out. We kind of come back with him. His maturity as a young guy to put the team first, to do whatever I asked him to do of what I thought may be best for the team. And his ability to stay ready for Kyle Singler at the end of the year to do what he did going through long stretches where he did not play, you know, was great.
The unselfishness of Semaj and what he did, I couldn't be any prouder of him. Because what he went through this year wasn't easy. To keep yourself ready, especially being young, and it's your first year in the league. He did a great job.
Q. Do you regret at all not using Victor more at point during the regular season?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I always say this: Victor is in a lot of situations with the second unit where the balls in his hands and he's playmaking and sometimes from an offensive perspective it's easy to stay consistent running offense. Because the minute you go from a small forward to a power forward, where you go from a two guard to a point guard, the whole playbook changes.
I've always said this, okay, what's a point guard? Does the guy bring the ball off the court on a made basket so that makes him the point guard? To me the point guard is somebody that can generate and create plays. So even though at times he didn't bring the ball up the court, he's still in that second unit, he and Enes are two main kind of cogs for us offensively.
So I liked putting the ball in Victor's hands. We did a little bit of that last night against Houston. Part of the reason why I did it with Doug and Alex out there to provide some shooting. We tried to go with Enes a little earlier in the game. But I've always looked at Semaj as a playmaking -- not Semaj, Victor, as a playmaker regardless if he's bringing the ball across half court or not. He'll get it in transition sometimes. He'll get it on missed shots. He'll get it through some action, and we put him through some stuff where he can generate and make plays.
So sometimes the guard spot, okay, it's a made basket. He must be the point guard. He's bringing ball off the court. And sometimes those guys are just initiating offense, and Victor's the one actually playing kind of the point. But it's hard sometimes for a player to understand the whole playbook when it's totally flipped and now he's got to remember where's this guy go, where's that guy go, and sometimes that's hard.
Q. Some people dubbed this the season of Westbrook, saying it's the most amazing thing they've seen from an individual player. You were there for every moment of that. What are you going to remember most about that?
BILLY DONOVAN: His season was historic, and I think it's been well written and well documented. But I'm going to remember what he did from a leadership standpoint behind closed doors every day, and that's the unfortunate part people don't get a chance to see. Just even bringing Domas Sabonis in when he was struggling in pick-and-roll offensively to get into the right areas where Russell could find him, and he brings him in at 8:30 in the morning and works with him. Andre's going through a tough situation in Game 4 from the free-throw line. He's yelling from the free-throw line at the end of the court encouraging him. Just the different things that he did was remarkable.
Certainly everybody saw what took place between the lines. It was historic, it was remarkable. But for him to be in a leadership role and to deal with a lot of new faces that he had to learn how to play with. He had to learn how to help, those players need to learn how to help him. They needed to learn how to become a team. They needed to learn to work together. Those are the thing that's really stood out to me.
Like I said, when you're a coach, and you're coming in with all these new players and there is all this uncertainty of how good are we going to be? What are we going to look like? How are we going to play? You need someone in a leadership role to pull the group together. He did a terrific job on the road. Those guys going to dinner, spending time, enjoying each other's company, being around each other, you have to be able to do those things so you can talk and communicate and have a relationship that in the most Heated moments you can kind of go to each other and rely on each other. And I was really, extremely impressed watt way he handled all of that this year.
Q. Even coming into this season, the year for Russell Westbrook would be totally different, your phrase, than it was in 2014 season when he had to carry so much. At what point did it go from that to him leading the league and setting an all-time rate and why?
BILLY DONOVAN: I'm not sure I understand the question.
Q. Him having to carry so much of a load. How did it go from player move many, ball movement, extra pass, to everyone sitting in on the system, and him carrying so much of a load this year and why?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I don't know if I look at the usage rate like they look at usage rate, because usage rate is like turnovers, shots and getting fouled. There is no assist in there, and he was one of the league leaders in assists. I actually thought he did a terrific job. I thought we did a very, very good job.
I think it's an area where Jeremy Grant and Domas Sabonis, I think those guys can do ball transferrers. You saw him making those plays, and I thought Domas will continue to get better being a rookie.
But Russell, all the usage rate stuff -- everybody was saying the same thing the whole entire year after the first ten games of the season. Can you keep this up, can you keep this up, can you keep this up? He's played the same way he's always played. And people think usage rate is wearing him down. Usage rate has nothing to do with wearing him down.
I actually thought he did a great job of getting everybody involved. I think the two guys that generated offense for us for three and this was post-ups during the course of the year, and I think Enes got good at passing the ball out of the post, and the other guy was Victor. And you've got to basically create situations where playmakers can make plays themselves or for somebody else. When they made plays for somebody else, that's where I think a guy like Jeremy and Domas will get better as they start to transfer the ball and move the ball to different places.
So I've never been -- I know everybody talked about the usage rate, and everybody was waiting for him to fall off the cliff and Peter out and okay they're done. I think he learned an awful lot the year before I got here where he tried to carry the team on his own, and I thought he carried the team leadership-wise. But I thought he got everybody really involved and that's why I thought we became a good team and maybe could have been a team that could have won 50 games if we had been healthy in certain situations. But I was pleased with the way he got involved.
Q. I don't want you to focus on that and use that as a measurement. But were you pleased with how your philosophy, your style of play, your preferred style of play, of player movement, ball movement and extra pass played out this season?
BILLY DONOVAN: I think we can always get better in those categories. I'm always looking to get better on that end of the floor. I'm always a big believer in ball movement and player movement. I think a lot of times when Russell plays, because of the ability to attract two defenders and sometimes three, sometimes his passes lead to direct shots. Sometimes those guys don't need to make an extra pass.
But there were times like in the Playoffs where he found Jeremy Grant in the pocket and Jeremy went to dunk the basketball, help came across, he took it and swung it to the three-point line for a shot. Those are the plays that I really, really like. But also the fact that Russell sometimes can generate offense for somebody else on a direct drive or in transition.
Guys are on the floor, he throws a bounce pass, and guy goes in and dunks. Like we don't need ball movement. Sometimes with him when he's doing that, we don't need ball movement. Where we need to keep getting better is where he finds that next guy and that next guy doesn't have a shot, can we help those guys be able to be playmakers as well to get the ball next side?
So I'm always looking for growth and improvement in that. Because if teams are going to send a couple people at him and they're going to make the next rotation, that next player has to be able to make the next pass, and that's something I'm always focused on.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports