Sam Presti’s preseason press conference was held at the Thunder ION practice facility this past Thursday morning. By design, the two-hour media scrum took on a laid back, conversational tone between Presti and the press.
My biggest takeaway: the Thunder’s General Manager digs Kraftwerk and happens to be BFFs with Pearl Jam.
Due to the length of the presser (the transcript is 18 pages long, single spaced, two columns on each page!), I will just highlight with a running commentary the most relevant and important quotes.
Let’s hear from Sam.
This is kind of a unique press conference in that it's our 15th season in Oklahoma City as the Thunder. We're extremely, extremely grateful for the 15 years that we've had, the players that we've had past and present, all of our staff that we've had past and present, our community support, our fans, the civic leadership, everybody that it takes to create a basketball team from scratch. Looking back over those -- well, the last 14 years as we head into 15, it's been a remarkable journey. 11 of those 14 years, we had an 11-year run where we had the second best record in the NBA, the fourth best record in all of pro sports cumulatively, and we've been to the postseason 10 out of those 14 years, and that doesn't happen without tremendous cooperation, partnership, collaboration, persistence.
Presti has always and will always open every preseason presser by acknowledging the people that even make the existence of the Thunder possible: the Oklahoma City fans and community. But I like the extra point he hit from the outset just as a reminder to all the critics of OKC’s rebuild: “Hey, we were awesome for a long time.” I imagine the organization feels like a decade of dominance deserves a bit of grace and has earned some trust that they know what they’re doing.
You only have one 15th anniversary, but when I think back to where we started in 2008, we were looking up a pretty steep mountain. We didn't have a team name. We had no uniforms. Some would argue we didn't have much of a team at the time. We didn't really have pens or pencils. But we climbed the mountain. We fought it as long as we could. We stayed up there for a long time. We had, like I said, a pretty good run of sustained success, and now we're facing another climb.
It's also easy to forget that just two years ago we were still on the mountain, you know, before we had descended to start the second climb, and we're obviously very early in that. But two years ago Shai, Lu, Baz, those guys were playing meaningful minutes in the bubble.
Presti’s reminder that, yes, OKC is still rebuilding towards another stay at the top of the mountain. But in case anyone forgot, this rebuild just started. Despite what outside voices have led many to regurgitate, the Thunder have not in fact been losing forever. These kids were one blocked Dort game winner (cause you know it was going in) away from making it to the 2nd round of the playoffs just two years ago.
As far as this season goes, I think we have a pretty wide bandwidth in terms of the potential outcomes of the team. We project to be probably about the second youngest team in the history of the NBA, second only to last year's Thunder team.
Could the Thunder surprise people this year? Of course. SGA is an All Star level talent. Josh Giddey was a top rookie last year and could take a Chip Engelland-led leap. Lu Dort’s offense gets better each season. Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala are rotation worthy vets on a playoff team. Tre Mann was basically Bones Hyland without the hype last year. And Jalen Williams looks like he could make some All Rookie Team noise. But Presti is quick with the flip side of that coin: young teams don’t win much and no team has been younger than this team in the history of the league besides last year’s OKC squad.
Letting other people set the agenda for what's important or what the priorities should be or what the outlook should be, that's another common threshold that every young team has to face at one point or another. And just the general wanting to skip steps that are necessary to go through in order to get to the goals that you want to ultimately achieve.
Unlike his former assistant general manager, the Thunder are not trading for any Bojan Bogdanovic’s anytime soon.
I also think we have a pretty long runway with this particular team. Shai is just entering his -- what do we call it? Pre-prime years. Josh, Chet, some of the other guys we have, are still a few years away from getting to that point. But at some point here in the near future, you're going to have those tenures overlap, so to speak, and that's extremely exciting when you think about the progress that the guys have made. Even this summer, when you see some of the players physically at Media Day, without them even touching a basketball, you'll see that these guys really are young and they can improve rapidly physically. It's really exciting to think about, wait, when we get a few of these core guys all kind of overlapping during their prime years, we could have a lot of fun with that. That doesn't mean we can't be successful and win a bunch of games in the near term as well, but we're working towards that period of time where those guys are overlapping. And when they do, if we prepare physically, mentally, and emotionally and we have these things prioritized, like I talked about, I think we have a chance to be pretty good.
Probably the most telling quote of the presser in my eyes. It’s a peek into how Presti views the three guys everyone considers OKC’s young core: SGA, Giddey and Chet Holmgren. He’s acknowledging that sure they’re young now, but man, just wait… the future with these guys is exciting. At the end of the day, Presti is every Thunder fan.
So let's wait for it to play out before we decide this is what it's going to be because I really don't have an idea. Because you have a young team, as I said before, if we prioritize those things, we'll punch above our weight. I'm pretty sure about that.
Sam Presti knows better than even the staunchiest pro-tanking Thunder fan that this try-hard, 110% effort group of high BBIQ players will win more games than what every NBA talking head and Vegas oddsmaker predicts. Because he’s had to rely on the likes of Zavier Simpson and Charlie Brown Jr. to lower the losses and up the lottery odds each of the past two seasons.
As far as Chet, I also want to say that the thing we probably lose more than anything -- because I think developmentally, I'm not concerned about that. I think having a year to learn the league, to experience the cadence of the league, to work on his body, to understand the personnel in the league and all the different schemes, I think that's going to be actually extremely beneficial.
Work on his body, he said! Chet’s redshirt season is already off to a promising start.
We love Shai. He's going to be such a good player. He's got so much room to improve. And he's already really good. The thing about him is -- I feel this way about the Molson Twins in general, Shai and Lu. They're both -- you can't get long-term results with short-term people. Neither one of them, in my opinion, is a short-term person, and that's the reason why we've made commitments to them that we have, and they're significant commitments.
Hold please. I’ll be back after I email this quote to every ESPN, Bleacher Report, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, USA Today, Reader’s Digest and Better Homes and Gardens writer and blog boi on social media.
Loyalty. Shai, he made a long-term commitment here. Lu, he's made a long-term commitment here. Mike Muscala, Kenrich Williams, I think that is appreciated in our community because they're not just basketball players here. They're also people of the population, people of the city and the state.
Please cut and paste this quote the next time you see a Phoenix Suns fan propose a trade offer that includes Cameron Payne, Jae Crowder and 3 lottery protected 1st round picks for SGA. Or when a Lakers fan tries to trade Talen Horton-Tucker for Kenny Hustle. Yes, I know THT isn’t a Laker anymore, but that’s not gonna stop them.
I was walking through the airport the other day, and I was just walking, and someone yelled from behind me, Thunder Up! God, that made me feel good. It made me feel really good. What it made me feel is God, I want this -- I really want the people here to experience like another postseason.
Okay, which one of you was this?
I love the group of guys we've got. I love their mentality. I love their makeup. I love their character.
This really is a likable Thunder team. Zero egos. Friends off the court. Unselfishness. High basketball IQ across the board. Hard workers. Young. Fun. Underdogs. This particular squad is easy to root for and to watch grow and hopefully develop into a playoff team.
There is a willingness for him [Lu Dort] to be part of the organization going forward. There is a willingness for the team to want him to be part of the organization. When you have two mutual interests, a lot of times those things work out.. He just wanted to be here, and I think he's going to do great. People forget how young he is because he's been around a little while. He's still getting better.
In this era of NBA basketball, any good young and upcoming player that wants to commit to your team and city is a win. It’s obvious Presti believes in Dort’s defense and physicality given how he has spoken of Lu’s toughness in his last two pressers. This quote tells me Sammy thinks Dort’s offense will continue to improve as well. As Presti, Mark Daigneault and virtually member of the Thunder organization has said time and again, Lu Dort represents the identity and culture that OKC is building.
We have his [Vasilije Micic] rights. We traded for his rights during the Horford trade with Philadelphia. We wanted the rights to him because we think he's a really good player. He's really taken off since the time in which we acquired his rights. All I can tell you is I thought we were pretty close at one time. Then, you know, he is a contract, and he's committed over there. But I wouldn't rule anything out.
Tune in next summer when we all tune into the latest episode of Will Micic Come To The NBA? Same bat time, same bat channel.
They're great guys. Number one, their sustainability is pretty remarkable. These are guys that have been -- they've been through a lot of different eras. I remember -- dating myself, but the first time I saw -- they did the Unplugged. Remember when Unplugged was like a brand new thing, and they did that Unplugged series? The first time I saw -- it's probably just my age. I think I was in high school. When they did that, like the intensity and the passion that Eddie Vedder had performing, I was like, man, that's what a real artist looks like. I remember it just resonated with me, like this guy is totally immersed in this. I always remember that. Like it was just so visceral and so -- it really struck a chord with me. But the thing that was great is like -- I don't know how many of you were there, but they said some things about the team and how the team was previously -- these guys are huge basketball fans. I've gotten to know them a little bit over time because they're so nice.This is an excerpt of Sam Presti’s answer when I asked him what he thought about getting a shout out from Eddie Vedder onstage at the Pearl Jam concert the other night. First off, I used to think Sam’s inspiration for “sustainability” was Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. But now I fully believe he modeled the Thunder’s goal of sustainable success after Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam. But most importantly, I think “besties with the band that sings Alive, Jeremy, Even Flow, Black and Yellow Ledbetter” trumps “ringz” in every Thunder fan’s next online debate over the NBA’s best GMs.