Sam Presti sat down with the media on Monday and carried out his exit interview. It was an illuminating session and gave an insight into how Presti views the Thunder at present. The main takeaway is that the Thunder’s rebuild will continue slowly and that there are no plans to accelerate the team’s growth.
When the Thunder first embarked on their rebuild, Presti focused on the idea of replenishing the team’s assets and then enacting the rise of the Thunder. His article penned in The Oklahoman was designed to reassure fans and make clear that the Thunder are in pursuit of long-term, sustainable success.
His comments on Monday made clear that the Thunder’s rebuild will be taken slowly and the development of the roster will be explored in full. Next season will likely be the season when the front office decides on the core of talent who can take the Thunder forward.
Presti’s approach is uncommon and has led to detractors around the league criticising his ability to manage an NBA team effectively. The term ‘black eye’ has been thrown about with growing frequency and comparisons with Sam Hinkie, the former Sixers’ GM, have been drawn.
The difference between the two executives is that Presti has credit in the bank from the Thunder’s previous successes. He built a core of players that could have won championships if injuries did not curtail the Thunder’s rise. Conversely, Hinkie was a rank outsider who had no real background as a lead decision-maker in a front office. Hinkie was on the hot seat for a good portion of his tenure.
Presti is playing the long game as he is aware that it is the only way for small markets team to contend over an extended duration of time. His approach is unchanged and will continue for the foreseeable future.
Presti also noted that he was impressed by the team’s defense. The Thunder’s defense was surprisingly good for an injury-ravaged young team and did not fall into the usual pitfalls the young teams do.
Mark Schindler of Basketball News had a fantastic article earlier in the year which summed up the Thunder’s defensive identity. Oklahoma City have bought in on being a tough, diligent team that takes away all of the easy looks.
The Thunder have characteristics to build around on the less glamorous end of the floor which will allow Coach Daigneault to tailor his coverages more effectively and for Presti to better identify players who fit the Thunder’s style of play.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement is effectively the document that governs the NBA. It is a document that outlines the rules regarding the salary cap, the Draft, players’ contracts and trades. Every seven years, the NBPA and the NBA hammer out an agreement that establishes the operation of the league.
It is a wieldy, complex document laden with clauses and sub-clauses that often has a way of changing how teams operate. It is a process which has affected the Thunder in the past. The 2011 CBA meant the introduction of the repeater tax which was designed to control the spending of big market teams.
The opposite occurred, the repeater tax meant that small market teams became more risk-averse and were reluctant to go into the tax to fund a winner. Oklahoma City fell into this category in 2012 when they traded James Harden with the aim of ensuring financial sustainability.
The 2011 CBA also introduced the ‘Rose Rule’ and retroactively applied the new rule to Durant’s contract. The ‘Rose Rule’ allowed teams to re-sign their star players on a maximum deal worth 30% of the salary cap rather than the standard 25%.
Kevin Durant signed a contract in July 2010 before the lockout came into effect at the standard maximum contract value. His agent at the time argued that Durant qualified for a ‘Rose Rule’ contract and therefore the increase should be retroactively applied. After deliberation, the NBA raised Durant’s salary.
The salary raise meant that the Thunder were constrained against the cap and had to make difficult decisions regarding the roster. Without that 5% increase, the Thunder would have had the cap room to keep Harden.
Oklahoma City were stung in the past and Presti noted in his interview that the new CBA discussions have influenced his thoughts regarding the long-term planning of the team. With this context in mind, it could explain why Presti is happy to slow play the rebuilding process.
Over the last few years, we have heard the NBA float the idea of a midseason tournament as a way of improving the quality of their product. At the moment, the regular season is too long and fans lose interest. For a team like the Thunder, there was nothing to really play for from February onwards.
Oklahoma City were cemented at the bottom of the standings and we had to sit through months of meaningless basketball. The NBA only has one trophy to be won and there are only a few teams who can feasibly win this trophy.
Adam Silver has brought up the idea of a midseason tournament as a way of repurposing some of the pointless regular season games into being something entertaining. In his interview, Presti stated that he was a big fan of a midseason tournament and believed that it would have a long-term impact on the NBA.
These are only a few talking points from what was a brilliant interview. You can find the whole interview on the Thunder’s Youtube channel if you would like to see all of the talking points Presti got into.