Thunder GM Sam Presti sat down for his end-of-season press conference today in Oklahoma City, discussing the team, the results, and, yes, the tough questions surrounding the future of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The entire interview lasted about an hour, with Presti offering up a bit more insight than fans have grown accustomed to. However, there was plenty of Presti Speak mixed in as well.
Before getting into the quotes and deciphering what they might mean, here are some immediate reactions:
- Presti is really disappointed with the 2017-18 season.
- Billy Donovan will be back as head coach in 2018-19.
- Paul George’s future is a mystery for everyone.
- He thinks the organization needs to be honest with Carmelo Anthony about his role.
- Russell Westbrook is going to work on three-point shooting.
If you’re interested in listening to the press conference in podcast format, our Andrew Schlect was at today’s event and has that available for you below. Continue scrolling for quotes, notes, and thoughts.
On the 2017-18 Season
“We’re sitting here in year 10 in Oklahoma City with 48 wins, a team that was one of three or four teams to be in the top 10 in offense and defense. The seventh-best net rating in the league. The ninth-best record… And we’re disappointed. And we should be. We expected more out of the team.”
Presti obviously said a lot about the season that just ended but this particular quote stood out. While it’s laced with the relentless positivity he’s known for, it also addresses the emotion most commonly used when describing this Thunder team — disappointment.
For all of the sunshine pumping fluff that comes out of every GM’s mouth at this sort of thing, there was a slight hint of agitation with Presti today. You can tell he’s disappointed with the team he put together, which is a heck of a lot more palatable than having it sugar-coated while being sold a summer of internal development.
On Billy Donovan
“One of the things that I’m most excited about and excited for him about going forward is the fact that if fortunate enough, he’ll be able to work with the same core of a team that, as I said before, has a baseline that we’ve established, but has some controllable areas that need to improve.”
As if that quote doesn’t make it clear enough, Presti went on to give a hard “yes” when asked point blank about whether or not Donovan would be on the Thunder sideline next year. Although the season ended less than a week ago, one of the summer’s most curious storylines has already been put to rest.
The general sense among Thunder fans is that Donovan should be fired, so there’s some frustration regarding Presti standing by his man for another season. However, I don’t feel like Billy D’s seat was even the slightest bit warm in 2017-18. Unless there’s a broader organizational shakeup in the near future, I assume Donovan will finish out the 5-year, $30 million contract he signed in 2015. He’s put together a 150-96 (61% W/L) record in his first three seasons in Oklahoma City.
For better or for worse, he’ll run it back and try again in 2018-19. As Presti mentioned, Donovan’s job will be a lot easier if the Thunder’s core is intact when the summer is over — a luxury that Presti doesn’t believe the coach has enjoyed in the NBA yet.
On Paul George’s Future
“We feel good about where he is in his mind, about the Thunder, where he is with his approach to things. We’re looking forward to the opportunity in July to have a more official conversation and one that can be more specific to a deal.”
If you’re wondering why this sounds familiar, it’s essentially the same thing Presti said about Kevin Durant immediately following the 2015-16 season. But although fans would love to get more specifics, this is where things are at right now. The Thunder can’t officially get down to business with George until July. Hurry up and wait.
In regard to yesterday’s report of George being “gone” from OKC when free agency opens up, Presti said:
“I talked to PG. I would say, why don’t we listen to Paul? He has had a lot of comments also. I’m not trying to dissuade anybody or say what someone says someone told them is inaccurate. I’d rather listen to the man himself.”
Fair enough. He was never going to say any more than this.
On Carmelo Anthony
“I think every player is entitled to take a step back after the season, reflect on the year they had, and, in his case, have to make a determination about whether or not this is a role that he wants to continue to be functioning in. I actually think he’s being quite honest with us in that respect and I respect it very much. It’s incumbent on us as an organization to be honest and transparent, straight with him about what that might look like going forward.”
So this was interesting.
As you all know, Melo made it clear in his exit interview that he wants a more prominent role next season — one where he can play his style of basketball. Don’t even get him started about the possibility of coming off the bench. As far as those comments were concerned, Presti said:
“I don’t want his comments at the end of the season to in any way be re-shaped by anybody to insinuate that he wasn’t a total pro during the season. I don’t want that to be insinuated that he didn’t put two feet into filling the role that was necessary for him to take on this team.”
I agree with him there — Melo waited until the season was over to go full Me70, which was appreciated. However, Presti also said he thought Melo did an “excellent job transitioning his game” and I’m not certain I agree with that. He seemed like he tried but I wouldn’t call any of it “excellent.”
The most important Melo-related line was when Presti said Anthony must “decide if he wants to do another year of trying to make this transition as a stretch player.” I still think the 10-time All-Star is back in OKC next season because of the $28 million on the line. However, it sounds like both sides are at least willing to entertain a change of setting if things can’t be smoothed out. Whether through trade, buyout, or stretching his contract, there are options on the table — however unlikely they may be.
On Russell Westbrook
“One thing I can tell you about Westbrook is he’s driven. He’s going to keep coming. He’s not going to kick his feet up and expect to come back next year and have things all of a sudden be a bit different. I think he’s gonna, based on every competitor, whether he’ll tell you this or not, he’s going to spend a lot of time thinking about the things he can do to get better. For our team, one of the things I think he’s focused on trying to do is become a better three-point shooter. I see him late at night in this gym working on that. His ability to continue to catch-and-shoot and knock shots down, I think, is a big part of his continued evolution as a player.”
Westbrook took a step back in his three-point shooting in 2017-18, hitting just 29 percent of his tries from long range. As he just finished his 10th NBA season and turns 30 in November, how well his game (and that supermax contract) ages will likely come down to his ability to become more effective from deep.
On next season
“The opportunity to potentially have Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams… all three of those players in their prime years, with playoff experience, and the fit of those guys — both as competitors, but also as players — is extremely, extremely exciting.”
I’ll have to check the roster but I feel like he left someone out here.
On Andre Roberson’s injury:
“Once we took the injury to Roberson it really disrupted us. It disrupted the progress we made. With all that being said, the real key in the regular season, in my opinion, was the amount of time it took us to respond and adjust to the loss of him. Therein lies the fact that we have to own that. We didn’t do a good enough job with that. Once that happened and the amount of time it took for us to adapt, we kind of shifted from the regular approach of trying to build habits and getting better to being a bit more outcome-oriented. Just trying to find a way to win the next game and I personally feel like that really caught up with us down the stretch and in the playoffs.”
On Jerami Grant:
“We take a lot of pride in his development and the fact that when we got him from Philadelphia, he wasn’t playing. Jerami is such a great kid, the way he put the work in and he’s progressed a little bit at a time. Now he’s become a pretty effective backup five for us with some unique skills. Really excited if we’re able to bring him back to the team.”
On the potential payroll for next season’s team:
“The only way our team becomes a really expensive team is if Paul George decides to say with the Thunder. If you’re asking me if we would like to keep Paul George if he wants to keep his talents in Oklahoma City at the cost it takes to re-sign him, the answer to that would be affirmative. Paul George is a very unique player. That’s how our team gets extremely expensive.”
On having a “Plan B” if Paul George leaves:
“We’ll be prepared for everything. At the end of the day, we’ll be prepared for all the different directions that could go.”
On Paul George’s ceiling:
“I thought that during that two- or three-month stretch where he was shooting the ball like that, I thought he was the best player in the league.”
On the development of Victor Oladipo & Domantas Sabonis:
“I wasn’t surprised because we gave Victor that contract. A lot of people made fun of us when we did that and we also traded a significant player to get Domantas… I couldn’t be happier for those guys… We want players that are from Oklahoma to go on and have success in other places. We’re not like 5-year-olds rooting against people.”