11 min read

Presti: Amnesty is ‘not really something we’ve explored’

You’ll never believe this, but in Sam Presti’s final season media availability the biggest topic of conversation centered around Kendrick Perkins.

And if I understood Presti right through his fancy words, lofty sentence structure and winding explanations, it doesn’t sound like the Thunder are considering using the amnesty clause on Perk.

“Obviously I know that’s a topic that’s been talked about, and for us, the amnesty application is not something we really have ever considered as an organization,” Presti said. “I understand that it’s something that’s been talked about quite a bit, but organizationally that’s not something we’ve considered.

“We just haven’t considered using the provision,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily attribute that to any player on our team. Every team looks at the amnesty provision different depending on their circumstances, but it’s not really something that we’ve explored.”

Now, does that mean to this point they haven’t ever thought about using the amnesty? Or does it mean that philosophically as a franchise, they haven’t ever thought about using the amnesty? I suppose that’s still up for interpretation. I took Presti’s comments to say that unless circumstances change, specifically in the Thunder’s salary structure, meaning either getting under the cap or over the tax, they aren’t using the amnesty. Which makes sense, which is how this organization operates.

I’ve already seen some using the anti-amnesty talk to somehow illustrate how Clay Bennett and the Thunder’s ownership group are “cheap.” To amnesty Perk means the Thunder would have to pay out his salary, making up the difference of any new contract he gets, meaning the Thunder would be writing a likely check in the $12-15 million range while still having to sign, and pay, a replacement. OKC’s ownership and front office aren’t “cheap.” They’re realists. They understand the circumstance of a small market team in the NBA and the challenges that presents.

Throw money at every problem and what you do is damage the overall health and well-being of the organization. It hurts the opportunity to maybe sign a free agent later, or broker a trade, or re-sign Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in years to come. It’s not just about the present money. It’s about the future as well. Some get sick of Presti’s company line of “sustained success” because they want titles and banners and rings and trophies NOW. Trust me, the Thunder want those things too. But they also want to be in a position to compete for them as well next season, and the season after that and 10 more seasons after that. If you don’t like the philosophy of attempting to sustain success over a long period of time in a small market by making every transaction and move with an eye on the future as well as the present, pick a new team to root for. Be a Lakers fan, or a Heat fan. This is the situation the Thunder are in, and this is how they operate. You should really be used to it and understand it by now.

And just some evidence against the Thunder’s ownership being “cheap” — they attempted to re-sign James Harden. He said no to a four-year, $55 million extension that would’ve placed the Thunder deep into luxury tax territory. Currently, the Thunder are over the cap and flirting with the tax. They have two max players, and a third guy making nearly $50 million over four years. Would cheap owners do that?

What shaped the Thunder’s postseason, and their subsequent failure — and I can’t believe I have to keep repeating this — was the injury to Russell Westbrook. Everything, and I mean everything, is different with a healthy Westbrook. Not just in what likely would’ve happened on the floor, but also what would’ve happened with a potential failure. If the Thunder had lost to Memphis anyway with Westbrook, this season would be framed in a whole new light. The perspective is entirely different. Then those questions about Scott Brooks and other roster moves carry a lot more weight.

But you’re talking about removing one of the NBA’s five best players from your team. And while there was still a lot of good stuff in place, to have an expectation they’d carry on and play without issue is just entirely delusional and unrealistic. You’ve seen the impact having a 70 percent Dwyane Wade has had on the Heat this postseason. Take him completely away and the Heat might have a lot more problems.

Again, it’s amazing that in all the finger-pointing and griping that this seemingly significant part to OKC’s season is overlooked. Russell Westbrook was hurt. That changed everything. It exposed the flaws of some of the role players, it made people look bad that have otherwise been covered up because of Westbrook’s talent. That’s how the game works though, and that’s why you try and get superstars. They make things better when they maybe actually aren’t. You think Chris Anderson is actually tearing it up in Miami, or do you think he’s just really benefiting from playing with LeBron and Wade?

“It was a heckuva season with a disappointing ending,” Presti said. “But like I said, the goal here is to sustain success. And if you’re successful at that, it’s not going to be without interruption or disruption. You’re going to have to deal with things that are unforeseen and unfortunate, and that’s what separates the top tier teams in the NBA is the ability to press on in their march for sustainability.”

Presti makes a great point there. The more successful you are, the higher the stakes are on EVERYTHING. An injury’s impact is multiplied 50 times over. Kevin Love’s injury completely destroyed the Wolves this year, but nobody really cares too much because they weren’t all that good to begin with. But being in the rare and privileged position of contending means that you’ll face unique challenges. From roster decisions because players got too good, to injuries, to poor performances, to bad choices. It’s all amplified, and to get to that mountain top, for one perfect season, it has to all be overcome.

In the end, the season finished with a loss, which wasn’t supposed to be the way it worked. From the first round to the Western Finals to the Finals, it seemed like the natural progression was to raise a banner. But then again, you can’t skip steps in the process. And seeing as the Thunder jumped over ever losing in the second round, maybe this was just them checking that one off in the path to a potential championship. That’s all it was, right?

Other notes and quotes from Presti’s availability:

  • On the luxury tax: “We’ll look at everything, relative to the parameters that we have to work with. We have to look at things that will not only look at things in a year to year basis, but also in a long-term health and ability to compete basis. I think every team at the stage of the new CBA, the new tax starts this coming season, is going to have decisions to make. Some won’t. Either they’ll be able to compete at that level, or there will be some that will find that [money] in the couches of their sponsor lounge. But for us, it’s one to be in, it’s another thing to be in for a long time.”
  • On the attempt to re-sign Harden which would’ve broken into the tax: “We understood at that time that would be a short-term play. Just based on the realities and the parameters that we had to work with. We respect that, we accept that. But that was a unique situation. We were trying to do everything we possibly could. But once the player’s decision was made, we quickly moved to adjusting our scope to a more feasible situation for this organization.”
  • That line is interesting — “would be a short-term play.” What exactly does that mean? Signing Harden would just have been a short fix and the would’ve looked to move him later once the tax payments started ramping up? My understanding of the meaning there is that it would’ve been challenging to extend Harden — something they were willing to do, mind you — and then maintain the roster. Not the top level players like Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka or Harden. But the other pieces. And in a way, the Thunder would’ve been going against their core values even if Harden had accepted the extension. But that’s why Presti called it a “unique situation.” Because Harden was good enough to deviate from the plan.
  • On Perk’s play: “I think we have to be really pragmatic about how we finished and understand how that situation could’ve affected the different layers of the team. That’s not to say we can’t learn things from the series. I think we can pull a lot of things from the series. There were some things that were really positive that took place over the playoffs. Especially when you think about how close those games were, there’s definitely things that we can try and pull. I would say that individually, collectively, we have to give it some distance and really get away from the recency of the situation to understand who we are and who we are coming back and how to best improve on that.”
  • More thoughts on the amnesty clause: “We have several players that would be eligible based on the new CBA, and I’d be happy to talk about it, if I could help anybody understand it better, generally speaking not necessarily in pertinence to us, but if anyone wants me to explain the application, so that everyone understands how it’s constituted, how teams look at it, teams that do use it, why they do use it, I’d be happy to do that. But I also don’t want to waste time on something that we’re not, or haven’t really considered.”
  • Presti was then asked about why teams use it, and buckle up for a big time explanation: “Basically the way that provision is used is generally it’s used when teams are under the salary cap. There’s a difference between the tax and the cap. When you’re under the cap, it’s generally used to increase flexibility and use it as a roster-building tool. Now when you’re under the cap, by connotation, it also means that your payroll and your cash payment is at a different level. So therefore you’d be able to absorb a full salary of a player and it might be more beneficial because you’d be able toe exceed that player’s salary based on the salary cap space you’re using. So generally, teams are using those provisions as under the cap teams. Now the other way you can use the provision is you can go over the tax — you can use it anytime, but history shows teams generally use it as an economic tool — so if you’re over the tax and you find that paying the salary of a player is more beneficial financially than taking on the tax amount, as well as a full salary, then you can use it in that facet. So therefore you can pay an x-amount, or team salary, but you’re really actually seeing twice the amount or more even more depending on how punitive the level of the tax you’re in … Just for understanding, it’s typically under the cap, over the tax teams that use it. Then of course the revenue of the team, I think the situation of the team comes into play. I think you’ve seen some teams use it more aggressively because of where they can get to in terms of a cash standpoint, and other teams use it minimally to try and make a minor move here or there. But it’s very relative as to where you stand under the cap or over the tax.”
  • On evaluating individual players: “We think Perk has a lot of value to our team. He’s a member of a team that won 60 games and helped us to our third division title in three years. I don’t know that we can discount that. Obviously, I’m sure he would’ve liked to have had a better postseason, but I think that’s pretty universal for the whole group. And we accept that. No one’s running from the fact that we certainly feel like we should still be playing. But at the end of the day Memphis was the better team in that series and we tip our cap to them, and we go into the offseason looking at how we can improve.”
  • Presti called Durant and Westbrook the “caretakers of the organization” and “drivers of our culture.”
  • On if Presti thinks the Perk he has now is the one he thought he was signing to an extension: “Look, I could sit here and read off a lot of internal metrics that would indicate his impact on the performance of the other team when he’s on the floor. I don’t think that’s what you guys want to hear. And certainly not something we need to trumpet in front of you. Look, he’s a guy that’s contributed to this team the past three years. He would like to play at a higher level in the postseason than he did. But at the same time, I think that could be said for a lot of our guys. I think he’s going to go back and work and improve. But he does things we value, against certain teams we have to go through on a nightly basis. But as I said before, there’s going to be situations where he’s called upon and there’s going to be situations, as we saw in the Houston series, where his contribution might be different. But he’s a part of the group that’s had success and we value that. We don’t split that up and weight it based on eight games or things of that nature. We look at it a little more holistically and collectively.”
  • Presti noted it and it’s true: While you can glean a ton from the postseason, let’s not forget there was an 82-game season that was a precursor to it. Don’t evaluate everything and every player based on 11 postseason games. Again, you can get lots from it, but don’t be a prisoner of the moment.
  • On Jeremy Lamb: “Jeremy is definitely someone that we feel really good about. I think he’s doing to be a contributor to our team at some point in the near future. How much and how soon, I think some of that will be determined this summer. We’ve, again, been afforded the opportunity to have a very promising young player on our team that hasn’t been put in to action so to speak at this time. But I think he’s used the year wisely. The summer will be a continuation of that. And we think he’s a player that can really grow. He’s 20 years old at the moment … so Jeremy’s best basketball is still in front of him.”
  • On the series with the Grizzlies: “As constituted, Memphis was the better team.”
  • On the uphill battle against the Grizzlies: “They tried everything they could to wring the towel dry.”
  • Presti told a story about watching Reggie Jackson warming up pregame during the Finals and how hard he was working. And how his shirt was drenched and how if there was ever a game he could’ve taken it easy in his workout, it was probably then because he wasn’t going to play. But then fastforward to this season and Jackson took over the starting role from Eric Maynor on Christmas, in Miami. And Presti just enjoyed the symbolism of how Jackson’s hard work and preparation led to that moment.
  • On the Toronto pick: “We’re certainly going to look at it. I don’t that we can determine [if we’ll trade the pick] until we get a better feel for who will be there that particular night. But we’ll be open-minded about everything and if there’s someone there that we feel like fits our team and we can help them and they can help us then we won’t hesitate to use it there. At the same time, I’m sure there will be some interest in it and trade discussions, but it’s a little too early to say.”
  • Presti said Westbrook’s recovery is going well and essentially said that because he had the full repair, it’s likely Westbrook should be the same player he was health-wise.
  • On Kevin Martin: “I think he was very, very professional and effective in what he did. It’s not easy to assume the role he assumed and he did so with grace, he did so with professionalism and we’re appreciative of that. As I said, he was a part of the best regular season this franchise has enjoyed. With that said, he’s a free agent, he’s unrestricted, and with that comes opportunity for him. He’s earned that right. He’s going to have the opportunity to look at different situations and for us, we have to look at the parameters we have to work with and make decisions that are not just basketball decisions but make sure everything fits.”


Note: Presti talked for close to 45 minutes so I’m trying to get the second part up, but it might take a bit.