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April 25, 2019

Billy Donovan

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Q. We'll start with something that might have been answered a couple nights ago. Why not trap him in that situation?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, he was obviously really, really, really far away from the basket at that point in time. We got our best defender on him, and actually I think he did a good job guarding him.

Q. The big thing coming into this year was it was your first year since you've been here that you've had some roster opportunities, especially with the foundation of superstars. Do you feel that was an accurate assessment? The way the roster was constructed, did you appreciate it, and do you feel that it helped that you were able to -- whatever strategies that you wanted to employ, that those were employed?
BILLY DONOVAN: You know, it was a little bit different. Obviously your team is always going to change from year to year. I don't know that -- maybe there's certain situations where you have actually your top eight or nine guys come back every year, so it is a little bit different. But I think Paul having his free agency put behind him and kind of planting his feet here, so to speak, Steven being back, I think Jerami probably getting in a more solidified role this year than maybe he had been the last couple years because when he first got here he played the 3 and the 4. Last year he played the 5 for us. This year I think it was pretty much a consistent him playing the power forward spot and starting the season coming off the bench and then starting it, obviously the outs and the Andre situation would have maybe given us a little bit more continuity in that, but I think there's always flux situations from year to year and then there's injuries and things that occurred during the season.

You know, it was different than last year, so to speak, yes.

Q. The Thunder obviously picked up your option for next year. It's the last year of your contract. Do you anticipate being back next year, and do you expect to talk about beyond that?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, for me it's just kind of like business as usual. Sam and I had a chance to visit a little bit on the plane yesterday on the way back, just talking about the next couple days and getting together. So I'm sure he and I will get a chance to set down as some of this stuff slows down and talk in detail and look forward to that, but for me it's just, okay, handling our players today and the team today and giving them some things to think about going into the off-season, most importantly where we can get better and where we can improve.

Q. What were some of the things that you had a chance to think about --
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I'd rather just keep that between us and them, but just I think where we maybe can get better collectively as a team and where we can get better individually. I think some of the things we had talked about coming out of last year was the defense. I think when Andre went down we had talked about our defense really had kind of suffered there once he was out towards the end of January, and then I think what we ended up doing was trying to figure out a way to be better defensively, and I thought for the most part this year we were. We did some good things, and we were better than we were maybe at that point when we closed out the season a year ago.

Q. Is the emotional aspect of Russell Westbrook a good thing or a bad thing or maybe a little bit of both? He's the emotional spark plug behind your team, also got 16 technicals. Gets into a few players from time to time. Looking back, a little bit of both?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I think for Russell, he's done a good job at least since I've been here of constantly trying to evolve and grow as a player, as a leader. You know, he's going to play with a passion and a fire and an energy, which is kind of who he is as a player. I think he did a good job with some new people coming in, trying to acclimate those guys as best he could. I think for him, he obviously had to deal with a lot physically from missing training camp to dealing with his ankle, and then I think just during the course of the season these guys deal with different bumps and bruises that they've got to deal with on a consistent basis. I think there was a lot on his plate, and I think with that, the one thing he always plays with, he always plays with an emotion and a fire.

Q. What specific areas would you like to see Russell improve over these next couple months before the season starts?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I think as he has a chance, I think, to digest the season and get some time away, we'll get a chance to sit down and talk. I think he's always thinking about ways to improve and to get better. I think that's really kind of been pretty consistent throughout his career of him trying to find ways to get better. I thought this year we played a lot faster, which I thought was good for him, than maybe we did a year ago. I think that his incorporating Paul this year and trying to get him going I think was really, really good. I think helping Jerami, helping Ferg. But there's always ways that he's always, I think, looking at being more efficient. I think when you talk to Russell he always wants to be an efficient player and play efficiently, so I think there's always ways to try to improve in that area as a point guard, because I think as a point guard in this league and him being an experienced veteran, there's a lot that falls on his plate as it relates to things that he has to do, not only between the lines but in practice, in the locker room, with our team, leading, all those kind of things that maybe a lot of people don't get the opportunity to see.

Q. Given the results this year and the last two years, what do you think needs to change or what do you feel the development needs to be?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I always believe it takes what it takes for a team when you're competing, and what I mean by that is you go through these disappointments and you go through these struggles, I think you find out more about what you've got to do to get better and to improve. You know, this is just not an excuse, but every team has got things they have to deal with during the course of the year. We obviously had to deal with two wing players that we were hoping to be a big part of our team this year that were not here, and we tried to do different things to overcome that.

Every team, I think, in this league deals with the absence of players, and it's not an excuse because you can overcome it. Look at Portland, they overcame it with Nurkic, right, so you've got to be able to do that. I think that for us, the continuing to build out defensively, I think that we can get better there. I think our formula has been when we can generate and create more shots than our opponent, when we did that on most nights, that's when we were at our best. I think playing fast offensively and ball movement, I think our assists were way up this year from where they were the previous year. We made, I think, some strides and we got better in some areas, but I don't think it necessarily, to your point, ended in the result of the way the season ended this year.

Q. Do you think roster changes are necessary? Portland made none clearly, but most teams feel like -- they had some sort of major or significant roster changes.
BILLY DONOVAN: I think it'll be something that Sam and I will probably sit down with the front office and talk about those things. I don't want to speak too soon on any of that. I really enjoyed the group that we had this year. I enjoyed working with those guys. I enjoyed the connections that those guys generated and created as teammates.

But I also know just being around Sam for four years and the front office for four years, they're always trying to find ways to improve and grow and help the team get better. But I'm sure there will be discussions about that in the very, very near future.

Q. What are the summer plans for Andre?
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I think the positive part for him is because he's had so many setbacks throughout the course of the season, this has been a really long stretch for him where he kind of progressively now has gotten better. The healing has been good from what I've been told in his knee. He's doing a lot more now without any setbacks. I think the pressure that he felt just internally of wanting to get back this year, when the injury happened in January, and then trying to get him back or him working to get back and then having those setbacks, it kind of really was hard.

I think now that the season is over with, in his mind he doesn't have that kind of pressure to try to get back and want to play because he's a competitive guy. So there's a length of time now for him to get ready. And not that anybody was pushing him forward or trying to fast forward with the process. That's not what I'm saying. But I think for him mentally, it'll be a little bit different now knowing the season is over with of how he can kind of say, okay, I can see kind of an end goal of where I can be.

It's just going to be him kind of constantly trying to progress and grow and get better with his knee and the things he can do on the court to try to get his timing and rhythm back. I think when you don't play competitively for as long as he's played, once he does get back healthy, that's going to be the next part for him is being in situations where he's playing.

Q. Talk about Paul; what's the plan for his shoulder?
BILLY DONOVAN: I mean, I'm sure he's going to have to deal with that, but I mean, again, he was cleared to play. I give him a lot of credit. He's not a guy that ever complained. I mentioned to you that there was never any minute restrictions on him. Generally when he was in discomfort or really had problems, he kind of voiced those to me, in particular to close out the year. I forgot what game it was, it was a Houston game where he kind of reaggravated it again and kind of missed those few games, missed the Milwaukee game, and then Game 1 there was a little bit of unknown whether or not he would play. But he's a tough guy. He plays through stuff.

But I'm not up to speed, at least today, on all of what will take place, but I'm sure I'll meet with the medical staff here today, and they usually brief me on where guys are at physically and just different things that need to happen for guys in the off-season, and I'll probably find out more about that.

I haven't gotten into it. I know obviously he's been dealing with the soreness, and the biggest issue I think in Game 1 for him was just the ability to raise his arm up. That was the biggest issue he was dealing with. But I think once he got that under control he was able to play. I'm not going to sit here and say that the guy was always pain-free, but that's just not who he is. He's not a guy, at least around me, that complains and says this is really bothering me or even during time-outs or games or hey, listen, don't put me on this guy, I'm tired of running into screens. He never does that. He just plays.

Q. What's your thoughts on Burton, Nader, Diallo, some of the young guys?
BILLY DONOVAN: I think it was good that those guys got some experience. I give Abdel a lot of credit, considering the fact that he missed a good portion of training camp and then kind of was able to get back in the rotation some. Burton I think got some quality minutes with us and then was able to play with the blue. Hami obviously had to have that elbow surgery, but he gave us some good minutes, too, so I think some of the experience that those guys have will help them get better and improve here throughout the course of the off-season.

Q. You guys brought in Markieff late in the year. He sort of took Patrick's rotation spot. Who knows what's going to happen, but it seems the most likely thing is that Markieff signs elsewhere and Patrick opts into his contract. Do you have to do any kind of damage control or confidence rebuilding or trust rebuilding since he very likely could meet Patrick back in the rotation next year?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I mean, Patrick was a complete pro this year. Obviously as a coach you're going to make decisions that a lot of times not everybody, player wise, is going to agree with. Patrick and I have had conversations during the course of the time when Markieff came in and we spoke about some of those things, and he was great. Patrick is a competitive guy. He's always been a team guy, and I'm sure deep down in his heart he wanted to be out there a little bit more to help. But Patrick and I have spoken, and we'll get a chance to continue to connect during this off-season to speak more.

But even like when Patrick started in the beginning of the year and I made the change to put Jerami in, he was like totally fine with it. He's always been about the team, Patrick, and I admire that about him.

Q. Do you think there needs to be something done in terms of relieving the burden on Paul George? And how much of that falls on development and other guys so he doesn't have to do so much?
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I think every time a player steps in between the lines, there's going to be an opportunity to get hurt. You're not avoiding those risks. That to me would be like, okay, should he not jump and leave the floor because he sprained his ankle last time, should he not get over a screen because his shoulders are sore. When these guys as big and strong and athletic as they are are out there playing and competing, they're always putting themselves in a position that they could possibly get hurt. I think the biggest thing, what helps him more from a fatigue standpoint of what he has to do on both ends of the floor, is the development of Terrance is importance. I also think having Andre back kind of helps that where you can move different guys around to different match-ups and lineups and put Paul last series against Portland where he guarded a lot of different people. He guarded Lillard, he guarded McCollum, he had Harkless sometimes, he played Aminu sometimes. So again, I think the injury part of it is always going to be part of it. I don't think you can ever just say, hey, listen, we're going to play him to avoid injury. It's just like when those guys step across the line, it's kind of like everybody's risk that's playing the game.

Q. You've talked about liking this group of guys. I think during the Portland series there was some press conference stuff, stuff sort of back and forth during the game. There's been a lot of talk about your guys, just their personalities, whether they're kind of entitled, whether they're particularly unlikable, and there's been a lot of jokes made. Does that kind of stuff bother you? You know this group of guys.
BILLY DONOVAN: You know, I always say this: I think sometimes people can pass judgment on people when they watch them from a distance and not get a chance to know them maybe at a deeper level. You know, I know them on a deeper level. Everybody handles competitive situations, emotional situations differently, so to speak. Like the one thing I'd say about our team is we're not a flopping team. Like we don't flop. We go in there and they're aggressive and I think we're a physical team, and I'm not saying that any of that stuff had to do with other teams flopping. That's not what I'm saying. But I am saying is that those situations cannot get the best of you as a team, and sometimes when people see that, it's easy to kind of project some of those things.

My feeling has always been that we need to focus on what we need to do in the game. I thought, to your point maybe referencing Game 3, I thought coming out Game 4, there really wasn't a lot of that by both teams. I think both teams really focused and concentrated on playing. But we have a really, really highly competitive group and guys channel those emotions in different ways. But I would say just being around our guys as people, I think they're good people.

Q. What about Russ in particular? What is it that people don't understand about him because the perception is one thing and maybe the reality is different.
BILLY DONOVAN: In terms of -- what do you mean by --

Q. His personality, how he's viewed by the public.
BILLY DONOVAN: Well, I mean, I think Russell certainly plays the game with a speed and an energy and a tempo and a pace, and he's a guy that plays with great emotion and passion, and I think when you play with emotion and passion -- and I'm not comparing the two because they're two totally different people. I had to deal with that with Joakim Noah when I had him in college. He was a very, very emotional hard-playing guy, and a lot of times that turned people off. They didn't like it. Other people did like it.

I think Russell has to be who he is, and he is an emotional, passionate player that puts everything he has into the game, and sometimes I think when people can see that, they can see that maybe it can be something they don't like. I saw it with Joakim Noah, and I think guys would tell you in the locker room that Joakim Noah was one of the greatest guys they'd ever played with and been around.

I think for Russell, he's going to play with that passion. But I think it also raises the level of our guys' play, and he's tried to do the best job he can leading and guiding those guys.

Q. When you don't win, everybody is looking for signs and everything is kind of hyper-scrutinized. There's been some stuff written, people looking back at Russell's 20/20/20 game, were you and Russ and the team on the same page with what he was trying to do, and they said, is the relationship tight there. What can you shed light on about your relationship with Russ and how the coach-player relationship is?
BILLY DONOVAN: It's been fine. Russell has always been respectful. I've enjoyed being around him. I think for me, I don't know if it's because of my background or being from New York or what have you, I enjoy that intensity, that fire and that passion. That to me, kind of like I just enjoy that.

But you know, we've always communicated, have always talked, and from a relationship standpoint I feel good about that with he and I. I think any coach-player relationship, there's always going to be some level of form of disagreement or maybe not always seeing things the same way. I mean, that's part of, I think, any relationship, whether it's with a friend or a wife or -- you're not going to always agree and see eye to eye on everything. But he's always been a guy for me that's been easily approachable and I can talk to him and communicate with him and walk up to him and tell him what I'm thinking. I think he feels like he can do the same thing with me.

Q. What's the challenge, particularly when it pertains to Russell since he has the ball in his hands so much and he plays so much in terms of decision making for you guys on offense? What's the challenge between you getting him into positions where he can make open shots but also him taking some of those open shots and distributing them to guys who are better from other places on the floor?
BILLY DONOVAN: I'm not quite sure I understand the question.

Q. For instance, his shot selection. If Russell has an open jump shot and the guy is going underneath the screen, that shot is open. But at the same time he could also probe a little bit and get a guy a shot, which he's done at times this season, but we've also seen at times where he's relied on his jump shot and the game has gotten away from you guys. What's the challenge as a coach being able to kind of bridge between those two --
BILLY DONOVAN: Yeah, I mean, for me as a coach, like I think every player when the ball is in his hands has got to read, react and make good decisions, and not everybody is going to always do that all the time. But I think if you look at Russell throughout his career, the one thing that has always kind of been his bread and butter if he hasn't gotten to the rim or out in transition has been those mid-range jump shots at the elbow.

I think what it does when he's making that or those shots are going in, it opens up other things for him. I think when teams are necessarily, to your point, going under or trying to take away his driving lane, that to me is always a way to open up more things, and then there's other times where, to your point, he's in there probing a little bit more because he can get in there and probe.

There's a fine line between -- I always look at shots being good or bad based on the contestedness, and I've always said this before, that -- are you going to go through a game as a team and every shot you take is going to be uncontested? Probably not. Everybody defensively, we're trying to contest every shot. But he's going to have to make those decisions when the ball is in his hands, but he's always been a really, really good guy -- that's kind of been his thing where he's kind of coming full speed at you, he's coming off a pick-and-roll and they try to run under, he's always been really good stopping and pulling up and making that, and that's kind of what he's really worked hard at and what he's really developed.

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