In the last few weeks, the roster of the Thunder has changed beyond recognition. There is no Steven Adams, Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Danilo Gallinari. The team from last year is gone; Sam Presti has torn the Thunder down completely. It has been a busy few weeks for the Thunder’s General Manager.
Presti’s work is not yet done. The acquisition of Al Horford is still to be finalised. Oklahoma City also have players such as Trevor Ariza and George Hill who could be attractive trade targets for contending teams. Presti will have a lot on his plate in the next few weeks; the NBA is tentatively scheduled to tip off on the 22nd December.
Training camps start today and it is an important process for the Thunder. This will be Coach Mark’s Daigneault first training camp as head coach and it will be a formative stage in building a team.
In a normal season, NBA teams would hold a media day in the run up to the season and teams would talk to the press. Obviously, in the world of Zoom press conferences and social distancing, this practice has gone out of the window this season.
Media day has become media week; Presti talked to the media yesterday and Coach Mark Daigneault spoke to members of the Thunder media today. Presti’s press conferences provided a few interesting insights on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams and Pokusevski.
Dealing Steven Adams:
Presti on the Steven Adams trade: "That was a difficult decision to make. I talked with Steven prior, I extended my gratitude to him. He's left a tremendous mark on our franchise. Ultimately we have to put the Thunder first. It wasn't my best day at work, I'll tell you that."— Brandon Rahbar (@BrandonRahbar) November 30, 2020
The Adams’ trade was a seismic move in the Thunder’s history. Steven Adams was one of the few players last season who had played for the Thunder at their highest level. The trade formally closed the book on that era of the Thunder.
Erik Horne of The Athletic contributed an interesting titbit on Twitter that fed into this line of response.
Presti said that the deal was done as a trade + extension was the best for Adams, the Pelicans and Thunder. As they did with Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Thunder wanted to find the best situation for Adams. https://t.co/pIT8DYK3j6— Erik Horne (@ErikkHorne) November 30, 2020
Presti treated Adams with respect and worked with Steven to find a place where he could flourish as a player. It would have been very easy for the Thunder to dump Adams without consulting the Kiwi on any potential trades. These kind of moves are not uncommon in the NBA.
Presti’s collaborative approach is quite empathetic and these gestures will build goodwill among players. Oklahoma City is commonly cited as one of the best organisations in basketball. This approach has to factor into that reputation; respect and honesty are such valuable traits in a business that can be ruthless and deceitful.
I would not make the assumption that Sam Presti is doing this purely out of loyalty; that kind of approach would end up compromising the Thunder’s position in the long run. In a way, it feels like Presti has found a benefit that can be sold to players.
The NBA is in an era where players have a lot of power. It is the players who can decide to form super teams. An organisation that has a history of working with players to find an outcome that works for all parties is an attractive proposition. Players want to control their own destiny.
Oklahoma City does not have the strengths of a big market team but it does have an excellent front office who seem to be player-friendly. Those little things can make all of the difference in a league where big markets have greater pulling power than small markets.
Andre Roberson is now the last remaining link to the 2016 team that faced off against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Roberson hit free agency this offseason and has yet to be signed. Presti answered this question in the press conference yesterday.
Right now we are pretty full - Sam Presti on if Andre Roberson will return to the Thunder— Andrew Schlecht (@AndrewKSchlecht) November 30, 2020
Oklahoma City currently have a roster that is over the NBA’s roster limits. Each team is allowed to have 15 players and 2 two-way contracts on the payroll. Oklahoma City have 21 guys under contract at present. There will be need to be cuts before any additions can be considered.
I would love to keep Andre for his organisational knowledge but Presti’s response suggests that Roberson’s return is unlikely. It seems that the Thunder will be starting the next era with a clean slate.
Aleksej Pokusevski was a left-field draft pick to say the least. There was very little data on him as a player and film was not easily obtainable. His profile before the Draft was relatively brief; he was known to be a lengthy, skilled Serbian forward who had a very high ceiling. Presti’s quotes indicate that the Thunder have been following Poku for a long time.
Presti on Poku: "Last summer, he was playing in an under 18 tournament. He's a player that caught the attention of the group. Basketball IQ, overall skill level. We tracked him from that point on."— Brandon Rahbar (@BrandonRahbar) November 30, 2020
Spoke on needing opportunity, to fail, to get feedback. Sounds like he'll play.
Pokusevski was a risky pick when you consider that there were other talented players left on the board who had a lower risk profile. Desmond Bane, Saddiq Bey and Tyrell Terry were all players who would have made a lot of sense for the Thunder. However, it is quite reassuring to read that the Thunder have been tracking Poku for a long time. OKC clearly have enough knowledge to feel confident about Pokusevski transition to the NBA.
There were reports out of Europe in November of last year that Sam had travelled to Greece to watch Olympiacos B and Poku play. At the time, it was not widely reported on outside of Europe and therefore it was not really acknowledged that the Thunder had concrete interest in Pokusevski. In retrospect, it sounds like Pokusevski has been the Thunder’s draft pick for a while.
There has been a lot of debate in recent weeks about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s role on the Thunder. Last season, he was very effective in a role where he was a score-first guard who handled some of the playmaking burden for the Thunder. Chris Paul and to some extent, Dennis Schroder, were the primary ball-handlers.
Gilgeous-Alexander largely looked calm and assured when he handled the ball which led to an interesting debate; what is the position for Shai going forward? At this point in time, Gilgeous-Alexander can play the 2 or 1 with ease but we do not know which position he excels at.
Sam Presti on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: "We're really kind of clearing the way for him to expand his game, to be on the ball full time. We're putting a lot in faith in him and showing him he's a central figure to a lot of things we ultimately want to be."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) November 30, 2020
Presti’s quote indicates that the Thunder will be giving Shai plenty of opportunities to be the primary shot creator on the team. Gilgeous-Alexander will be the Thunder’s lead ball-handler and starting point guard. In terms of SGA’s development, this move makes a lot of sense.
The Thunder have no real expectations going into the 2020-21 season and there is very little cost attached to the idea of running Gilgeous-Alexander at the point guard position. It is a move with little opportunity cost that could result in huge reward. Gilgeous-Alexander becoming an elite shot creator moves the Thunder’s timeline up and gives Oklahoma City a star to build around.