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Sam Presti’s end-of-season press conference was held at the Thunder ION practice facility last Monday afternoon. The 2 hour and 13 minute presser featured a beardless Presti in a revealing and transparent state-of-the-team address, as he took and answered questions freely about all aspects of the team.
My biggest takeaway: the Thunder are in good hands. Yes, the rebuild is still full steam ahead. And more importantly, the determination to meet the goal of another sustainable contending hoops team in OKC has not wavered.
You can watch the whole thing here if you want to try and decode every jot and tittle:
But Presti carefully and methodically says everything he feels is important in his prepared statements, and his public comments from the post-Westbrook era have proven to be frank and accurate representations of the team’s plans even when speculation and reporting vacuums have invited guesswork from the rest of us. With that in mind, I’m going to highlight and comment on some of the most interesting bits from that beginning portion, which we will file away as new writ in the Presti Doctrine of Thunder Teambuilding.
Let’s hear from Sam.
A couple things that stood out to me. One, I think we have the bones of a very good defense. We were in the top 10 defensive rating prior to Lu going down and us kind of losing guys left and right. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be a good defensive team next year. We have to kind of go back to the drawing board again, kind of rebuild the defense the same way we did, but I think we demonstrated that we’re very capable of being an efficient team on that end of the floor, and that’s hard to do with a young team.
Notice that Sam Presti specifically ties OKC’s overachieving and impressive defense last season directly to Lu Dort. The fact that the good D was the first thing Presti mentioned that stood out to him about the season, and the fact that in his mind its intertwined with Lu, may be a tell on Sammy’s Dort decision. Then again, he also talks about going back to the drawing board again so… maybe not? Just tell us if you’re extending or trading Dort already please, because I’d really like to know whether or not I should keep mocking Shaedon Sharpe to OKC.
The other thing that I thought baseline-wise was important was when we were playing last season without Shai, it looked much different than the way we were playing this season when Shai wasn’t on the court. I thought we were much more functional. I thought the style of play was much better. Obviously there’s different players, but it was also the approach and the way that we were able to play both ends of the floor when he wasn’t on the floor, whether it be injury or off the floor just for rest.
If there was any doubt that Sam sees SGA as an alpha and difference making gamechanger, naming Gilgeous-Alexander as the second of his “things that stood out” lays that notion to rest. Presti is giving the team and coaching kudos for their improved play without Shai… but really, this is all just a way of saying “Shai is that dude.”
I want to see what happens when they come back. With that said, I’m confident they’re going to work because if they don’t, they’re going to get left behind, and they understand that. There’s more competition on the team. There will be more players coming in. We did get a lot of guys experience, which is critical for us as we have to make decisions on people.
Spicy! You best work hard, young whippersnappers, cause someone’s coming for your job! Presti is giving fans the heads up that the roster will continue to be churned as OKC seeks to improve their overall talent. In other words, don’t go out and get jerseys from anyone not named Shai, Josh, Tre, likely Lu and probably Poku just quite yet.
Now, we also talk internally about pulling all the time from our community and the aspirational vision that helped reestablish Oklahoma and the history of Oklahoma, and one of the things we talk about is the state motto. I’m sure everybody in here is an expert on the state motto. But for those of you that aren’t aware of it or for those of you watching outside of Oklahoma, “Labor omnia vincit,” I brushed up on my Latin pronunciation to make sure, but we’ve had that in place and talked about that since 2008, but what that means is hard work conquers all. If you go back and look at the translation in Latin, it’s slow work conquers all because it comes from a poem by a Greek philosopher named Virgil, who I didn’t know a lot about, but that’s the mentality of the team. Like we have a lot of hard work in front of us. We have to grind in and do it. That’s what the state is about. That’s what the history of the community is about. That’s what the basketball team here is about. I think our guys are going to be ready and willing, and we’re going to see the fruits of that when they come back.
This tidbit was an impressive quadruple threat. One: Thunder showing love to the people of Oklahoma, always a crowd pleaser. Two: Sorry, this rebuild ain’t over, folks. It’s gonna take a minute. Three: An Oklahoma history, Latin language and Greek philosophy lesson all rolled into one. Four: We’re gonna get better, pinky promise!
Now, the way the system is set up now, and I mean the league system, it’s really meant to fracture continuity. It’s shorter contracts, player movement all over the place. The way you can overcome that is if you have bottomless financial resources you can kind of blow through all those rules, but otherwise it’s layering on younger players to try to build that out.
I like Salty Sammy. You can hear the deserved disdain for the current state of the NBA and how it heavily favors big markets while putting smaller markets at a huge competitive disadvantage. But he does offer a small market like OKC’s only viable solution: drafting young talent. OKC is coming for all those Cali teams… in a few years.
As we head into next season, we’re going to let the season unfold just like we have every season we’ve been here. We don’t walk into the season with a preconceived notion of what the year is going to be. Luckily for us in 2020 everybody picked us to win games or something like that. We finished on the 52-game pace. We were able to make a decision halfway through the year around the trade deadline as to how we wanted to manage the second half. We did that again last year and the year before, where we come into the year, let everybody set their predictions. I think there’s probably some people that picked us to win 15 games or 16 games again. Luckily we don’t listen to them, and we played the year out. Now, if we get to a situation where we’re out of the ability to play games of consequence or meaningful games, then we’ve shifted to development, which is I think the responsible thing to do for any organization, and every organization does that. But we don’t walk into the season eyeing how the season is going to go because the one thing you know is whatever your expectations are, that’s what it won’t be, because there’s only one way for you to meet your expectation, and there’s about 2 billion ways for it not to go that way. So we’ll do the same thing next year; see where we are, compete, continue to focus on how we’re working, not what we’re trying to accomplish, and play it from there.
This is the Thunder’s rebuild plan completely summed up and laid out in the open. Each year, they’ll start out competing, but once they’re out of reasonable reach of the playoffs, it’s tank time so that this team can ultimately be a powerhouse once again. There have been so many questions about when Oklahoma City will try for the playoffs again. The answer: when the young core is ready. If Shai, Giddey, Dort and, say, Chet Holmgren are good enough to make the playoffs while not being old enough to get into Henry Hudson’s, great. That’s a rebuild win. But until that day happens, OKC will keep adding blue chip young talent.
I would say that we’re closer to being the team we want to be this season than we were last season, but we’re still really far away from ultimately getting to a level that we want to be at. But I definitely think we’re in a better position than we were one year ago.
Again, the rebuild is going to last longer. But the light at the end of the tank tunnel is in sight. This infers the core keepers impressed this season, likely specifically Josh Giddey and Tre Mann. Presti already knew what he had in SGA and Dort, and I doubt anything they did this season changed his opinion. But OKC’s goal this year was to add blue chip talent. I think, and I think Sam thinks, they did by adding a passing wunderkind in Giddey and a potential offensive virtuoso in Mann.
I know there are some people that get concerned at times when I speak to season ticket holders and stuff like that. I’m out there before games, and a lot of times some of those people on the floor will say I hope you guys are going to stay the course, don’t deviate from what you’re doing. We really want to have a good sustainable team. I promise you that’s not going to be a problem. We understand what we’re trying to do. We have the context of history to do that in terms of how long it takes to get back to the Playoffs or consecutive playoff appearances. Everybody can do the math.
The Rebuild Is Not Over Yet and Is Going to Take Some Time But It’s for the Greater good, Part XXII.
Let me take a moment to say, I appreciated the transparency of Presti in this exit interview. This is gonna be a grind and he’s not afraid to say it. There were a number of other connective metaphors and analogies about how much time it might take for the rebuild and how OKC will refuse to skip steps or use short cuts, but I’ll skip those for the sake of brevity (too late).
Trying to fix things quickly takes a very long time. So we’re going to try to avoid making it longer by trying to make it shorter.
Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the greatness of this quote. It should be on a Hallmark card or a coffee mug or a White Woman’s Instagram.
We have confidence that we’re going to be successful. But the only way we’re going to be successful is if we show humility in the face of what it is we’re trying to accomplish, we keep our head down and focus on not what we’re going to do but how we need to do it, and then we need to stick together, because it’s going to get rougher, there’s going to be difficult times, and there’s going to be great times. So when I drive to work, occasionally I let my mind wander, and I think about what’s it going to be like the next time there’s postseason basketball in Oklahoma City. What’s it going to look like? What’s it going to feel like? What’s it going to smell like? What is it going to be like? I don’t know when that’s going to happen. I can’t tell you. I really can’t. I have no idea. But I can tell you that everyone here is going to be driving to the arena at some point going to a playoff game or a game of consequence, and the people that have walked the path with everybody here are going to have a mind/body/soul experience as a result of that, and that’s what sports is about in a small market. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization.
Ahh, there we go. Presti stuck the landing. After speaking at length on rebuilding and not watching clocks and running the race at their own path, he ends his opening statement with talk of the return of happy days in OKC once again. And because I take Presti at his word on the promise of a hard and possibly lengthy rebuild, I also take him at his word on the promise of playoffs and sworn success to come. And if that feels too far away? Here’s just a joyful reminder that in only year two of their rebuild, OKC won the same number of playoff games this season as Kevin Durant and LeBron James combined.
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If the Thunder are fortunate enough to land the #1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, odds are it’ll be because of the 125 lottery balls bearing OKC’s name. But, what about the pick from the Los Angeles Clippers? Have the odds ever been defied for a team to land #1 with such a low probability.
Before you go all statistics professor on me, I understand that prior history is irrelevant in assessing the actual likelihood–the numbers are the numbers, but hey history is interesting.
So, the team that most overcame the odds was the Orlando Magic in 1993. The Magic went into the lottery with just a 1.5% chance of landing the #1 pick, and wouldn’t you know it, they did it. This is the only time in NBA history a team with such low odds ever ended up with the top pick. Coincidentally, those are the very odds that the Clipper pick will result in celebrations across the entire state of Oklahoma.
In other facts that interest me, 21 of the 30 NBA teams have won the lottery since it was introduced in 1985. Of the 9 teams that have not, the Thunder are among them.
The Clippers, though, have won the lottery five times. More than any team.
Could it be six?
– John Napier
Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) re-drafted the 2021 NBA Draft and had the Thunder take one Josh Giddey at number 6. Vecenie vaulted Scottie Barnes, the player oft linked to the Thunder in pre-draft prognostications, to #2, and had Franz Wagner moving up ahead of Giddey to go #5 to the Magic.
Derek Parker (Inside the Thunder) explains how Tre Mann cemented himself as a pivolot piece moving forward. “Mann isn’t versatile in the sense that he’s going to be able to guard one through five, or fly high above the rim and extend out beyond the arc. Mann is versatile in the sense he’ll be able to be plugged into a starting role, a sixth man spark plug role and anywhere in between. With the roster configuration currently up in the air, Mann is an ace in the hole. Should any number of guards be dealt in order to move up for a forward or big, Mann will seamlessly be plugged into the starting lineup.”
Roy Ward (Sydney Morning Herald) spoke to Josh Giddey and got his thoughts on not receiving a single vote for Rookie of the Year. Simply put, Giddey said, “It’s disappointing.”
Ward also talked to Giddey about playing alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Said Giddey: “I’m trying to make that work and you see a lot of duos like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown [with Boston] or Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum [formerly together in Portland] – guys like that who are both want the ball in their hands, it’s not a natural fit so it takes time to work out and me and Shai are the same in that we have to figure out how to play together and learn how to play off the ball. “I think we did a great job of that this year and got better each week…”