Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti has had a predictably busy offseason. In addition to firing former coach Scott Brooks and replacing him with Billy Donovan a week later, he’s also preparing for free agency as well as the NBA draft in June. But he still took the time to email a Q&A with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman and shed light on the team’s recent moves and the future of the franchise.
Presti was asked about how the team would look different under Donovan and responded in typically complicated fashion:
His system will take shape over time and throughout the course of next season. However, his teams have generally demonstrated the qualities found in high performance groups in any sport over a sustained period of time. Attributes such preparation, precision, connectedness, efficiency and resiliency are aspects that most teams, along with the Thunder, strive for every season.
In discussing the recent hire, both Presti and Donovan have mentioned shared core values that made the pairing a natural fit and Presti continues that trend. However, he seemed noncommittal on any specifics that Donovan might implement.
Mayberry asked about the Thunder’s decision to play the luxury tax this year and whether the team is “committed to constructing the best roster possible if it means continuing to be a taxpayer”.
Our decision to enter the tax this season is due in part to a few independent variables that came together at a time when we had the flexibility to stay opportunistic. Those variables include opportunities to overcome the minimal tools at your disposal to add to a current core within the new system, the influx of new TV money set to hit that system and our strategic commitment to be able to sustain a championship level team throughout the prime years of our core players, which all converged to allow us to capitalize on the short term aspect of a long range plan.
The gist of the response, as Presti has hinted at repeatedly over the past few months is to continue building the team around the core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. While he took the long way to answer the question, Presti clearly understands that the title window is closing and if adding key players means paying the luxury tax, it’s something the team is willing to do.
Among those key pieces were Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler, whom the Thunder acquired at this past season’s trade deadline. Mayberry followed up with a question about their impending restricted free agent status and the team’s hopes to re-sign both players.
Both players stand to be restricted free agents in their early-to-mid 20’s, and this, in combination with the pending TV money hitting the system in the future made it possible for us to pursue both aggressively in trade while still maintaining confidence that we could continue to build a team around our core in the coming years. Enes is someone we are committed to seeing in a Thunder uniform moving forward. With regards to Singler, finding a player in free agency that can shoot close to 40% from the three point line over the course of a season, embrace various roles, and stand as one of your more fundamental players at 6-9 is unlikely when over the cap and tax. Therefore, we are hopeful we will be able to keep working with him in the future.
The next question addressed a recent rumor by Sirius XM host Justin Termine posted on Tuesday via Twitter:
Sources: Thunder consulted w/ Durant on the hiring of Donovan, but not Westbrook… This has Westbrook upset with organization…
— Justin Termine (@TermineRadio) May 5, 2015
The tweet from Termine certainly contradicts earlier reports that Presti did not consult with any player prior to the selection of Donovan as the next coach. However, Presti’s response to Mayberry adds a new wrinkle to the situation:
As I have stated before, I do not feel it is in the best interest of the guys, or team collectively, if we were to poll our players in regards to specific personnel or staff decisions. However, we have spent a significant amount of time over the last seven-plus seasons discussing, observing and defining our culture with our players, which we feel is important given their role in building the identity for the Thunder. One aspect of this recent process was to have specific conversations with several core members of the program, including Kevin and Russell, regarding important qualities that should be considered in looking for our next head coach. Fortunately, our continuity and communication over the years in combination with our more recent discussions gave us an understanding that there is an alignment with regards to the qualities that we felt were important to our progression and evolution. Multiple people within the organization have been in contact with Russ and he will be in town later this week to meet with the staff.
It would appear that the team’s “culture” did help shape the decision but that recent conversations were had with both Durant and Westbrook and that they were in “alignment” with the team’s choice of Donovan as a coach. It’s been theorized that the Thunder have been sensitive to protecting their players from negative exposure and any idea that they – and not OKC’s front office – may have had a role in either Brooks’ firing or Donovan’s hiring.
Mayberry’s final question was regarding the team’s upcoming draft pick and what type of player fits “the biggest need” for the team.
Every draft pick is viewed as an opportunity, or an option of sorts for the club. Will Dawkins and our amateur scouting department have done a great job this year of planning for various scenarios within the draft. It is up to us to sort through ways that we might be able to use the draft pick to generate the most value for the organization. This could mean picking the best available player, looking to trade the pick, or any other myriad of concepts that we are exploring each day.
Nothing much to go on there other than that Presti has a number of options before the draft. But he did add this tidbit, showing a dry sense of humor in the process.
Russell Westbrook will be representing the organization at the Lottery, and I told him the other day that if people watching at home do not have to adjust the brightness on their television screen based on what he is wearing, I will be really surprised. That or something sans sleeves.
This alone makes the entire draft worth watching…we can only hope that Westbrook will be choosing an outfit similar to these…
Check back with Thunderous Intentions for the latest news and updates…including what Russ wears to the draft.
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