The Oklahoma City Thunder’s General Manager held his annual Preseason Presti Presser on Wednesday morning and addressed everything from the team’s improvement to a new OKC arena to Rush drummer Neil Peart.
While past Sammy symposiums clocked in at nearly Christopher Nolan feature film runtimes, this year’s entire media availability breezed by at a relatively brief Rob Reiner romcom time of 1 hour and 50 minutes.
I’ll hit some of my favorite highlights to save you the time so that you can spend it watching When Harry Met Sally instead.
“This is our 16th year of basketball in Oklahoma City and we’re really excited about that. So many great players have come and gone, followed by other great players.”
Sam always starts his preseason pressers with reflective, grateful nostalgia. To his point, it’s pretty wild to think that NBA megastars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Chris Paul, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Al Horford and now Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have called OKC home over the course of the past decade and a half. And that’s not even including the likes of Serge Ibaka, Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo or three-time Slam Dunk Champion Nate Robinson. Even crazier: Presti stated that only 5% of players in the league when OKC got the Thunder are still in the NBA.
“There’s two types of forecasters: those who don’t know and those who don’t know they don’t know.”
Sam Presti is a music man at heart so this was just his version of dropping a Save Your Predictions, Burn Your Assumptions 2023 Remix.
“In the spirit of the 15 years, if you look at it, since 1976 when the ABA and the NBA merged, there hasn't been a more successful first 15 years of an expanded team or relocated team, and that's more than half the league.”
The Thunder’s inaugural season featured that infamous 3-29 start. The next season brought playoff basketball to OKC. The next decade was filled with Western Conference Finals trips, a Finals appearance, KD’s restaurant grand opening, All Stars, All NBAs, two MVPs, KD’s restaurant grand closing, scoring titles, triple double records, annual playoff berths, one tiny two year rebuild and a play-in in a pear tree.
“A year ago at this time, the number one question you guys were asking was ‘is Shai okay?’ But not for the reasons you're thinking, because he sprained his MCL, and that was a big deal at this time, but no one is thinking about that right now. Isaiah Joe wasn't on the team. You wouldn't have to be here right now if you would have wagered that J-Will would get 8, 8, and 8 in a play-in game. You could be on a beach somewhere relaxing and not having to listen to me, for some of you for the 15th or 16th year.”
Not really a beach guy, Sam. If I won that kind of money betting on Jaylin Williams, I’d probably just be in the movie theatre room of my brand new house still watching this same press conference on a tiny phone screen instead of this cozy media room sitting next to the friendly neighborhood sideline reporter Nick Gallo.
“We had a lot of regression during the year, but that regression ultimately led to improved play as the season wore on. I think that's another key part about this particular team we all understand and accept, and has been the case for a long time. Which is that regressions are not necessarily part of a problem, but they are part of a process that you're going through all the time as a basketball team.”
Probably the quote most Thunder fans could’ve lived without. But Presti also reminded everyone this still wasn’t a .500 team last year. If it helps to ease any worries, Sam also said that he felt confident in saying that this year’s Thunder team would be better than last year’s Thunder team.
“What I say to our fans is: enjoy the ride. We have a great group of guys. And they work hard. Really hard. They really want to do well for the city, the team and themselves. One day we want to have a real home court advantage again. And we realize we have to earn that.”
This youthful, high effort, try hard Thunder squad that keeps punching above its weight on the court and is fun and active with fans off the court is an easy team to root for and support. There were moments last year when Loud City sounded like its prime self. The team continues to grow and so will the crowds… and the decibels.
“Watching Shai’s emergence has been incredible. And we’re not taking that for granted.”
No further comments needed.
“Who’s to say we don’t have a player who could be really good in that spot right now? We don’t know… I wouldn’t want to cash in to become above average.”
Maybe the biggest clicks and views quote of the presser. This was in response to the question that’s been on the mind of every Thunder fan, NBA fan and basketball analyst for the past couple years: will OKC cash in their chips for a superstar? It was nice to hear a response directly addressed from the man in charge of all the chips instead of Bleacher Report writer John Smith or ESPN talking head Stephen A. Cowherd.
“Bertans and Isaiah, you could ask people to write out the best shooters in the league and I think both guys make the list. And Vasa can really stroke it too.”
Music to every Thunder fan’s ears. Speaking of music…
For those playing the Sam Presti musical artist name-drop pool, here’s the tally: Rush, Living Colour, The Rolling Stones, Keith Jarrett and the understudy of either Aaron Burr or Alexander Hamilton in the OKC Civic Center production of “Hamilton.”
“There's not many times I've walked into this building that Tre Mann hasn't been in this building. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has been in this building. These guys are wearing this place out."
Say what you want about Tre, but this is the second summer in a row he has been specifically namedropped by Mark Daigneault or Sam Presti as one of the hardest workers on the team. And remember what he did to celebrate the night he was drafted? He was in the gym getting shots up. Can’t help but root for him.
"There's about a 7% chance that we would end up improving by 16 games. 93% of the time that's not happening. If you're under 30 games, it usually takes 2 years to improve by about 12.5 games.”
OKC last year = 2 years improvement + 3.5 more wins.
“Josh has gotta get to the free throw line. I think we’ve paid our dues on that. He’s 6’9 and people are teeing off on him when he drives. That has to go our way now.”
Josh got much more love from the FIBA World Cup refs over the summer. His free throw rate was dramatically improved in the international tournament compared to his NBA numbers. Or was he being more aggressive? Maybe a little bit of A, a little bit of B. But if he can get to the line at that rate this coming season, his efficiency will make a huge spike.
And finally, I asked Sam Presti if the potential revenue from a new arena would be a financial benefit for OKC ownership to help keep this talented core together. It’s one of the few worries that fans have in this rebuild: will the Thunder be able to keep SGA, Chet, Giddey, JDub and Friends? Here’s what Sam told me:
“I think knowing that potential revenue could be coming...you also have potential expansion, new TV contract potentially, in-season tournament. For a team like us, how we're positioned, those things are very positive for our ability to retain our best players…
…but how often if you have a really good team do you have a chance to keep it together financially? And certainly knowing that revenue would be coming would be super important for us.”