As training camp approaches, Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti held court with national media Wednesday afternoon. During his annual pre-season summit Presti discussed salient team issues, highlighted by quotes detailing Russell Westbrook’s off-season demeanor.
In addition, Presti waxed eloquent regarding Victor Oladipo’s arrival, floor-spacing concerns and OKC's defensive identity moving forward without Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.
Among a small gathering in Oklahoma City, Presti opened by fielding a query in relation to Westbrook’s approach as team leader:
Q. As the guys get back into town have you noticed any changes in Russell in particular just the way he's approaching things? His leadership, his demeanor, those sorts of things?
SAM PRESTI: “I think it would be hard for me to make a snap judgment... But I would say this: For anybody as a leader, you know, coming into a different environment and different circumstances, I think the expectation would be that you would continue to grow and evolve... I think that's his expectation... Russell has been a player and person that's evolved every step of the way, and I think this is another opportunity for him to do that.”
Later, Presti artfully dodged a committed response regarding the Thunder’s perceived floor-spacing limitations in a “space-and-pace” league.
Q. Do you have enough shooting with the NBA going three-point crazy? Does it seem to be a weakness with this roster?
SAM PRESTI: “Well, I think obviously you'd like to have a surplus of everything on any team. And until we see the team and the style of play, until we have the opportunity to identify what the creative limitations are with this particular roster, I think it's going to be really hard to sit back and say we need to have this or we need to have that.
So we'll be able to answer that question. So, yeah, we'd like to have everything. But until we know kind of how this particular team is going to look and evolve, it would be really hard for us to make a judgment on what we do or we don't have.
I do think we have a physicality to us, an athleticism to us, and I think there's a competitive spirit to this particular group that's really fun to be around.
How that comes together and how Billy (Head Coach Billy Donovan) charts the path for us to find and craft our own identity, that's what we're waiting to see.”
Continuing on the defensive theme, Presti elaborated upon how the Thunder may look on that end without former pillars Durant and Ibaka.
Q. You mentioned the physicality of your defense that came together so well in the Playoffs last year, but obviously a couple of the guys that really played great defense down the stretch in Serge and Kevin are gone. Can this team play defense? It probably will look different, but can it play defense like last year's team eventually?
SAM PRESTI: “Well, I would say that for us to be successful we've always kind of pointed to a few different aspects of the game... Part of the identity of the Thunder has been athletic, physical and really putting a premium on the defensive end of the floor. I really don't see that changing. We think those are core tenets to having a successful team, whether you're playing in the NBA...
So we'll have to work at that... We're not going to walk in day one of training camp and be an elite defensive team... It's the teams that really understand what drive their success on the defensive end of the floor, build up great discipline habits and can apply those regardless of who they're playing, when they're playing and where they're playing.
We want to be a really good defensive team. I think we have the opportunity to do that, but that takes a lot of work and a lot of patience on the details of the game. And hopefully you're playing really, really well by the end of the season on that end of the floor.”
When pressed, Presti alluded to “playing with size” amid the small-ball revolution, and how Victor Oladipo fits into that equation.
Q. What would you like to emphasize about that guy that everybody wants? Is Victor that guy for you all?
SAM PRESTI: “But, yeah, I mean, we look for good players. We look for players that complement our group as a whole. And I think when everyone's looking for the same things, I think you run a higher risk of finding limited options in mediocrity in different things. Therefore, for us, we've really embraced opportunities to add players and look to leverage those players' strengths.
So I like our size. I think a year ago people would have said that you can't play with size anymore in the NBA. For us, we saw the opportunity to try to cultivate some different lineups with that size. That, again, goes back to Billy Donovan's approach to a season, his creativity, his ability to think in like progressions so that he's not cutting off options in the first 20 to 40 games of the season. He's constantly looking for ways to, A, build habits, but also how can we build a competitive difference.
But Victor is definitely a player that presents great athleticism, great speed, high-character, professionalism, and a competitive spirit that we value. How that fits into an entire team, that's to me the path of the season for us.”
The tenor of the conversation then shifted toward Thunder Forward Mitch McGary’s status within the league’s anti-drug program.
Q. How do you deal with Mitch McGary for the season given his latest suspension?
SAM PRESTI: “For me, I'm disappointed in the fact that he's in that situation. We're not privy to the NBA's program, so I don't have a whole lot of information. All I can say to you is that I'm disappointed. Then from there, I don't think I have to expand past that.”
Presti discussed options for McGary as a Thunder moving forward.
Q. What are your options with McGary?
SAM PRESTI: “Well, I mean, listen, he's under contract with the team. He'll be with us in training camp with an opportunity to compete.”
Concerning the Thunder’s guaranteed contract situation, Presti didn’t offer a hard answer, but gave an outline to how the organization will proceed.
Q. You have 16 guys who are going to be guaranteed come opening day. Do you have a plan in place for how you're going to get down to 15 or is that something you'll figure out in training camp? If so, how do you manage what you see in training camp versus kind of the sample size of information that you already have for the season?
SAM PRESTI: “The plan is dictated by the fact that we do have to cut down by a certain date with the rest of the league. But leading up to that particular date, I think we don't want to be self-limiting by saying or predicting what's going to happen versus let's see where we are, and let's not necessarily project too far ahead, because we have to let the information tell us where we are.”
As Victor Oladipo was again mentioned, Presti unabashedly sung the talented two-way threat’s praises.
Q. Talk about bringing (Inaudible) him (Victor Oladipo) into the organization and being a good fit. Are you also encouraging bringing him in that he has this upside to him and he's gotten incrementally better every season he's been in the league?
“But Victor is, I think people here in Oklahoma City are going to take to him very quickly and very kindly. He, in addition to getting better season by season, I mean, it's exciting to think about the speed, agility, quickness and ferocity of a Westbrook-Oladipo backcourt. That's exciting for us. So couple that with some of the other big, physical, athletic players that we have those are the things that get you excited.
So I'm excited that he's in the program. I'm excited that he's in the community. Those are all positives.
To Barry's point, he asked about the shooting. There has to be in competitive sports more ways to win than one. I think we demonstrated that last year. We weren't a great three-point shooting team. When we won, we won by playing to our strengths. Leveraging our advantages. If everyone's trying to win the same way, I think it's the easiest path to the middle, and we have to continue to figure out what that path for us is going to be to maximizing ourselves as a team. I wouldn't say just this season, but I think moving forward as well because, as we know, teams change, players change. Principles, I think are the things that are the underpinning to your organization. I think Victor fits a lot of those principles for us.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder open the preseason Oct. 3rd with an appearance in the NBA Global Games vs. international power Real Madrid. Training camp starts for all NBA teams September 27.
Oklahoma City begins its 16’-17’ regular-season journey with an Oct. 26 visit to Philadelphia.
To read the full transcript of GM Sam Presti’s press conference, visit ASPAP Sports.