OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 2, 2018
SAM PRESTI: -- First just want to make sure I thank everybody for coming this afternoon -- this morning, excuse me. I've got to run through a few thank yous, then I'll make an opening statement and you guys can ask me any questions that you'd like to ask.
So first, just want to make sure that we thank our fans, not just in Oklahoma City or Oklahoma, but also across the country and for sure all over the world, we're incredibly, incredibly grateful for their support. We're concluding our 10th season and entering our 11th. That journey is impossible without the support that we have from so many different people.
Also want to take the opportunity to thank the many, many people that work for the Thunder. There is a tremendous amount of effort and intention that goes into everything we're able to do to put a basketball team on the floor. That goes for the business side as well as basketball operations.
I also want to thank everybody in the media. You guys have covered us for a decade now. We're really appreciative of the efforts that you guys make to create a positive working environment and also to build relationships with the people around or team and our players. That's been a constant. We hope that continues in the future.
With respect to the season, I'm going to make a couple opening statements on some key points. I'm sure you will be able to hit on anything that I'm leaving out. I'll do my best to answer any questions that you have, then we'll move on from there.
I thought I'd start with just the season in general.
I feel like I kind of look at the season in three different segments, the first being when a team comes together the way that ours did, the first 20 games, if you look historically, we kind of expected that to be a little choppy. We expected our team to shoot the ball a little bit better. Obviously defensively we were really consistent and pretty good through the first 20. Then from there historically that starts to kind of trend forward. You have to work out some kinks.
Once we got into January, I really felt like we were playing at an elite level on both sides of the ball, playing with rhythm. I thought we were at a really, really high level and balanced.
Clearly the reality of the situation is once we took the injury to Roberson, it was really disrupting to us. It disrupted the progress we made. With all that being said, the real key to the season, in the regular season, in my opinion, was just the amount of time it took us to respond and adjust to the loss of him. Therein lies the fact that we have to own that. We didn't do a good enough job with that. I didn't think from that point on we found ourselves.
I felt like once that happened and the amount of time it took for us to adapt, we kind of shifted from kind of the regular approach of, like, pursuing progress, trying to build habits and getting better, to really becoming a little more outcome oriented, trying to find a way to win the next game. I feel like that ultimately caught up with us down the stretch and ultimately in the playoffs. We have to own that.
I'm happy to say we're sitting here in year 10 in Oklahoma City with 48 wins, a team that was one of three or four teams to be in the top 10 in offense and defense, the seventh best net rating in the league, the ninth best record, and we're disappointed, and we should be. We expected more out of the team.
I think universally, I'm speaking more internally, I've sat up here for 10 years. This is my 10th time I've sat in front of you. I felt really good about the performance of the team, the opportunity to capture the opportunity during the regular season, and to hopefully put us in position to make deep playoff runs. I don't feel like we were at that level this year, and that's on us. We got to figure out ways going forward.
As I said earlier, there's a lot of positives to what we were able to do, but the inconsistency of the performance is something clearly our team has to figure out. I'm really optimistic that we'll be able to do that because when I think about the season, I never felt that when we were performing against the upper echelon teams in the league, I felt like we would always perform at a high level. I thought we matched up well, especially when we were fully healthy. But injuries are part of the deal. But it's our responsibility to adapt to those.
I thought our problems were inconsistency against some of the sub .500 teams, and that inability to build habits during that period of time really caught up with us.
Let me move onto a couple other things. With respect to Billy, one of the things that I'm most excited about and excited for him about going forward is the fact that if fortunate enough, he'll be able to work with the same core of a team that, as I said before, has a baseline that we've established, but has some controllable areas we need to improve.
If you think about the last three years for our organization, and the last three years for him, it's been a little bit of a whipsaw in respect to just the team he inherited in 2016, the performance of that team being within a couple minutes of going to the finals, then not being able to capitalize on that. Obviously on the heels of free agency in 2016, we're trying to put together a team on the fly and do the best that we can. We were able to get that team to the post-season.
In his third year, there's a significantly different roster. Again, I think the best thing for him, I think the biggest opportunity for him, is in the continuity.
Additionally, just continuity in general with the type of team that we have assembled, and the way it was assembled, historically continuity is his best friend going forward. That's just empirically proven out. We spent a lot of time studying that. The addition of Dre returning, then hopefully if we're able to bring the whole team back together, the rhythm and the continuity of the roles that have been established should be really important to our improvement.
With respect to Paul George, if you're doing your jobs, you guys that have plenty of questions on that. The thing I'd like to say about that with respect to Paul is, I feel like he's been here longer than one year. I said this to him before he left. The reason why is because I just feel like he's such a tremendous fit for our organization, our community. The way he has embraced the opportunity in Oklahoma City, built strong relationships both with his teammates, with ownership, with staff, I just think he's really, really been exceptional in that respect.
On the floor, I thought that during that two- or three-month stretch where he was shooting the ball like that, I thought he was the best player in the league. And he's an even better defender than we realized. As I said before, with Dre and Paul on the floor on the wings, I think we're holding teams to something ridiculous, I want to say 95 points per 100 possessions, something along those lines. It was just devastating. That was really what we were excited about when we got PG.
With respect to his future, this is what I can tell you. From the day that he arrived, we really made a specific and intentional effort to build a relationship with Paul and his representation built on three things: collaboration, transparency, and trust. Those tenets were followed throughout the year and continued to be. I felt strongly about the relationship. I feel great about the communication and the honesty, about the way we started the relationship.
The fact that PG is extension eligible based on the way his contract is set up, obviously it doesn't make a lot of sense economically for him to look at that. We obviously can't have any conversations with respect to a new contract until July, and obviously haven't done that.
But it opens up opportunity to have conversation about the team, about the future, non-economic, about the opportunity to build something, the opportunity to hear his thoughts of working, to continue to enhance the relationship on and off the floor with Westbrook, which I think has been a real joy to watch those two guys work together and learn each other, especially off the floor, to be honest with you, they've really become close.
The opportunity to look into that, then also have that dialogue, has really encouraged us. It's made us feel good about where he is in his mind about the Thunder, where he is with his approach to things.
Again, we're looking forward to the opportunity in July to have a more official conversation, one that can be more specific with respect to a deal. That window is beneficial for us, I would say. That and I really want to commend all parties for the transparency of those conversations and the relationships that have been built.
Let me talk a little bit about Carmelo. I know that I'll have plenty of questions about him. I just want to be clear about one thing with respect to Carmelo. I don't want his comments at the end of the season to in any way be reshaped by anybody to insinuate that he wasn't a total pro during the season. I don't want that to be insinuated that he didn't put two feet into fulfilling the role that was necessary for him to take on this team.
I think it's important to note that before he chose to come here, because he had the no trade clause, he had to make a conscious decision about coming here. I was just talking to the three man about the potential of him coming here because PG and Russell were in communication with him. But I think he knew it was going to be a big transition.
I give him an enormous amount of credit for the fact that he put both feet in. I personally think he did an excellent job in his first year transitioning his game, working to becoming more of an off-the-ballplayer, being more reliant on other people to generate his offense, and sacrificing a lot.
At the same time I think every player is entitled to take a step back after the season, reflect on the year they had, and in his case have to make a determination about whether or not this is a role that he wants to continue to be functioning in.
I actually think he's being quite honest with us in that respect, and I respect it very much. I think it's incumbent on us as an organization to show the same respect and be honest and transparent, straight with him about what that might look like going forward.
All that stuff, when you're a team like us that's handled a lot of different I would say situations. We've packed a lot into 10 years. I think you learn to carry these things a little bit. For us, that's going to be a form of dialogue. We'll sit down face-to-face and try to get an understanding of what's important to him, what's important to us. We just got to make sure we're on the same page going forward. That will happen. We have a long time before that takes place.
I really think it's important, I certainly don't want to shape the conversation in any way to make it seem as if he wasn't a total pro or wasn't really trying to embrace this role during the season. As I said before, at the end of the day, when healthy, that starting lineup was the best starting lineup in the entire league. When healthy, actually not even when healthy, but even with the injuries, we finished with the seventh best offense and the ninth best defense in the league. He's a part of that.
By the same token, the team as a whole struggled in the playoffs. We all have to own that. That's a universal ownership. I don't think we can take the six games in the post-season and apply that to the 82. We were exceptional on a lot of nights normally against the best teams in the league. We really struggled with consistency in a lot of the other nights. But that's a team issue.
I guess the last thing I'd add just with respect to next season and the way we feel about that, the opportunity to potentially have Westbrook, Paul George and Steven Adams, all three of those players in their prime years with playoff experience, and the fit of those guys both as competitors but also as players, is extremely, extremely exciting for us. That's what I think every team in the league is working towards, is to find players, two-way players, that have size for their positions, and that have accumulated post-season experience, and that are in their prime. That's number one. That for us is an extraordinarily unique opportunity, especially coming off of where we've been.
I also think that we look at the team and we see the addition of Andre. We're not imagining or creating in our mind what the team might look like with Dre. We know what that looks like. We know the impact that he's had. We have a decent amount of data that tells us that, both from our eyes and also objectively. We're excited about that.
I also think there's a lot of room and growth for Abrines. There's a lot of room and growth for Patterson. I think he's a guy that we certainly can get more from. That's something we have to look to going forward. Then Ferguson I think showed us some glimpses. We think he's a really nice young player, a type of player that over time we've had success developing.
Jerami Grant, you guys will be asking me about him. We take a lot of pride in his development, the fact when we got him from Philadelphia, he wasn't playing. Jerami is such a great kid. The way he put the work in, he's progressed a little bit at a time, and now he's become a pretty effective back up five for us, with some unique skills. Really excited if we're able to bring him back to the team.
The continuity of the team is probably going to be our best friend given historically these teams generally in year one, if you're fortunate, they're pretty good. Last year we were about a zero net rating, just with this particular team, even without Dre for a large portion of the season. We made a jump to three plus. The only other playoff teams that took jumps like that from last year to this year are Toronto and Houston. We feel good about the position we're in to capitalize.
Again, I want to make it very clear. Based on the history of the Thunder and the way that we have conducted ourselves and performed over time, some teams are better than others, some teams perform and exceed, some teams meet. In this case we have to own the fact that I don't think we capitalized on some of the opportunity that we had this season.
Now it's our job to keep moving forward, to identify it, not just identify issues, but bring solutions. I'm confident that we're going to do that because that's what we've done for 10 years. And we compete. That's what we do here. We stand in the arena and we compete. We find ways to get better. We have to own the fact that for our standards, 48 wins, a home-court advantage, and seventh best net rating for this particular team, we felt like that wasn't where we wanted to be.
At the same time, we're pretty confident, and I'm confident in the people that we have, that we'll be able to continue to be better and find ways to improve. So we're unhappy. We're not pleased with where we're at. But part of competing, part of being with the organization and the Thunder is being realistic, but also optimistic about your ability to impact change. That's how we feel. That's the approach we're taking to the off-season.
I'm happy to take any questions.
Q. Sam, what ultimately gives you the confidence, whether or not you can build this continuity, that Billy is the guy to coach it?
SAM PRESTI: When we hired Billy, if you go back and look at the press conference we held at that point in time, we talked about three different buckets that we identified as being what we wanted in a head coach.
The first was a basketball coach that could adapt, evolve, and that had shown the ability tactically to play several different ways with different types of personnel, big, small, system. The different adaptations to changing game and changing personnel.
I wish I could say I was as prophetic to know we would be having the amount of changes that we have had or had to have had. In some ways it's great and in some ways it's unfortunate because continuity has always been a very big part of any team's success in the NBA.
We've struggled to grasp that over the last three years. Some within our control, some out of our control. Billy's ability to do that was a big factor.
The second bucket was organizational alignment, the ability for somebody to get behind the values of the organization, to understand the vision of the Thunder, and what it means to Oklahoma, and really connect with that.
Then the last thing was the qualities of a high-potential individual. So curiosity, adaptability, humility, work capacity, and resilience. Those are the things we really felt like were important.
Now, for those of you that cover the team on a daily basis, are around Billy every day, I feel confident that with respect to his qualities as a human being and as a worker, I think you see that every single day. I think his adaptability as a coach has been recognized by the fact that in his first year from college to the NBA, he had us within two minutes of going to the finals. Unfortunately that didn't work out.
As I said earlier, he's had several different teams. So it's those three things in concert together as well as the fact that he has an intense passion for the team and for the organization. I think he comes in guns blazing every day looking for ways to get better, looking for ways to continue to build relationships with his players. I think he's done an excellent job of that, as well, based on just the fact that this season, with some of the adversities we faced relative to expectations, relative to some injury, the newness of the team, the chemistry of the team, the strength of the team. I think he has a big hand in that, as well.
Q. Sounds like Billy is coming back. I want to confirm.
SAM PRESTI: Yes, based on the way I'm talking about him. But yes. Context is important, but yes.
Q. If Paul leaves, do you have a Plan B? Where do you go from there?
SAM PRESTI: Sure. Well, what I would say to you is, one, let's live in the present. This is more of a human nature thing, in my opinion. A lot of people will say, Okay, we've heard this before, this has happened in the past. I think it's just natural for people to take instances and apply those to other people, okay?
The difference here is that people are different. Human beings are different. What's right for one person may not be right for the other. The fact that Russell signed for five years is a significant, significant thing for us. He's the last person to make a significant decision for this organization.
I think naturally, and I think some of you guys sitting in the seats probably had your mind going to somebody else. The reality is that each one of those decisions is singular and different. Every single person is different.
We have to wait to see what Paul does. I can sit here and tell you to this point the conversation we've had throughout the year, February, March, April, has been transparent, truthful, honest. I believe in people, and I believe in letting the process play out before we make any rash decisions.
I also think that you know us well enough. We'll be prepared for everything. At the end of the day, we'll be prepared for all the different directions that could potentially go. The opportunity to trade for PG has elevated us. We were sitting here last year at the end of the year, and I think there were a lot of questions about, Okay, that was fun, but Westbrook is in his prime, how are we going to maximize that? And I agreed with you.
I didn't know exactly at that point what the solution to that would be, but we understood that. We were a zero net rating team. Keeping that team together, although I really liked it, just wasn't aligned with where Russell was in his career, quite frankly.
Small footnote, he was going to be a free agent. We also had to take that into account. The team that we have now, albeit disappointing with respect to expectations coming into the season, is much further along to where we ultimately want to be within Russell's best years, and Paul's best years, quite frankly, because they're so aligned from an age standpoint, and with Steven accumulating the amount of experience he's accumulated.
I think Paul used the term year one. In year one for us to jump to where we are now, understanding that I wish we were still playing, part of me feels like we really had the capacity to still be playing, but we're not. But we also have to understand that we're in a very good position if PG does return to continue to build on a foundation of Paul George, Steven Adams, Russell Westbrook, and then also the surrounding cast we like as well.
Our issues are in the controllable areas, and those are fundamental things that I think we have to address, but I don't think if that team comes back together, with the addition of Dre, I don't think we're addressing whether or not we can match up with the best teams in the league. We demonstrated that. We have to be able to establish a standard of play day in and day out, regardless of where we're playing or who we're playing or when we're playing, and be able to rely on that. If we do that, I believe that we have a chance to be a special team. But that's on us to do.
Q. Is it your belief that if Melo is here, he has to be in the same role he was this past year? He indicated he couldn't do what you guys were asking him to do.
SAM PRESTI: This is what I would say. I'm going to reiterate one thing because it's important to me. His comments at the end of the year are not reflective of his approach during the year. This is the NBA of 2018. You guys probably know that was not the case, you know pretty much everything. He put both feet into that.
He has to decide whether or not he wants to do another year of trying to make this transition as a stretch player. That's the first thing. I think he's being very candid and very honest. I respect that. I respect the fact he's being open about that.
Now, we have the same responsibility. We have to be candid and honest with him. One of the things I really like about Carmelo is he's a mature person. You can talk to him. He listens. He's been professional with us within the building. I'm sure there are nights he was frustrated because it's a big transition that he's trying to make, was trying to make, this season. We have to figure out, again, we don't know exactly how our team is going to look.
What I can promise you is, one, the method of this takes time because these are dialogues and conversations. You got to be straight with people. You got to be honest with people. You got to tell them where you stand. If he is back with the team, if he feels like this is something he wants to continue to do, we all just got to be on the same page. I don't want to lead it any different direction.
Carmelo was great for us this year in the role he was playing. Made more threes than he's ever made in his career. Changed his shot distribution. Lowest turnover year. As I said before, that lineup was the best starting lineup in the league.
But we also don't know what our team is going to look like. Once that stuff starts to clarify, we can have some more detailed conversations, do some more listening. What's the right word, we'll have some more information as well. We're looking forward to that. That's the best I can answer right now because there's so much time.
Q. If he doesn't want to make that adjustment, he has a $27 million plus player option that's his choice, what then becomes the ultimate solution for you guys? What direction would you have to go?
SAM PRESTI: I think the first thing is that dialogue has to happen with respect to where he is in his career, what he sees relative to the role that's here, whatever that is, and what he wants out of that. I think, again, I understand the question. Before we even get to the finance component, to me you got to get to kind of like the open communication, transparency of communication. That's one of the things that I don't know that everyone here -- it's not anyone's thoughts, but I don't know how those things happen.
You have relationships with players. You have relationships with agents. You sit down, you work through these things. You have to do a lot of listening. You have to do a lot of asking questions, and vice versa. Then that stuff, the stuff you're talking about, the decision on the option, role, those types of things, those things work themselves out. We'll sort it out, figure it out. That's always the way we've operated.
Q. How is Andre's rehab going? At what point do you see him being 100%?
SAM PRESTI: He's doing well. It's a tedious rehab. It's a frustrating rehab. But one of the things about Dre, I appreciate you asking that question, because it gives me a chance to speak, the injury was a bit of an inflection point. As I said before, there's no excuse for our inability to fundamentally adapt to that. I don't want that Dre piece to come across like, If we had Dre.
If we had Dre, we saw what that would look like. Without Dre, we should be better and found ways to get better. But without Dre I think one of the things that we saw was Dre is what I would call a fiber player. He brings in an immense amount of competitiveness. He does the stuff that most people don't want to do. Historically people have opted to look at the things that maybe he doesn't do really well, like shoot the ball. But he was shooting 55%. He did shoot 55% for the year this year because he was taking shots that were fastballs down the middle for him. He played really well off of the other starters. He really keyed our defense, got a lot of our transition going.
We played in I think I want to say -- I'll be guessing. I think within the 20s, about 20 maybe close games by definition. Offensively our ratings were really good under two minutes. Our breakdowns and the reason why we came up short in a lot of our games this year, our defensive rating was not good enough in close games. We really struggled in close games defensively. That's a matter of a lot of different things. One, we fouled like it's nobody's business in those situations. You can probably have flashbacks about how many times in close games the other team's on the line, down the stretch I mean.
People shot the ball really well against us down the stretch in close games. Some of that's on us, some of that's credit to them. I think Dre makes a difference in those situations because he's the guy that comes up with the deflection, he's the guy that comes up with a defensive rebound, he's the guy that blows up the pick'n roll. When you have him and Paul on the floor together at 6'8" plus, both of them, it's a problem, it's a problem. The numbers bear that out. We're not, like, imagining that in our head. We saw that.
Once we got our feet underneath us after the gauntlet of change after the first 20, he had some possessions this year that were works of art. There was one in the Detroit game against Tobias Harris that was like a change. He just got better and better. We miss him.
With that said, sometimes you're going to have injuries, sometimes they'll are season-ending, and we have to fundamentally adjust for that as a unit, and we weren't able to do that.
Q. (Indiscernible) Paul leaves, does that affect how willing the organization is to pay?
SAM PRESTI: A couple things in that. I'm glad you asked the question, I think it's an important question.
The only way that our team becomes a really expensive team is if Paul George chooses to stay with the Thunder. So if you're asking me if we would like to keep Paul George if he wants to keep his talents in Oklahoma City, at the cost that it takes to resign him, the answer to that would be affirmative, yes. Paul George is a very unique player. So that's how our team gets extremely expensive.
The other way I think you have to look at that is over the course of a 10-year period, over the course of 10 years, our team has had about the 12th or 13th highest payroll in the league. So we're in the top half. Teams around us in terms of total dollars over that 10-year period of time, San Antonio, Orlando, the Clippers, are kind of in that bookending us. We're about $6 million less than San Antonio in total payment over 10 years.
With respect to efficiency of that spending or wins per percentage of the cap that's spent, we're in the top three. San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City, with respect to efficiency of the winning versus the percentage of the cap you're using, we're in the top three.
I'd like to think over that 10-year period of time, we've been in the middle of the pack with respect to payroll, and we are in one of the smallest markets in the league. I think we've also been economical in that spending.
Now, you also have cycles of your team. Russell Westbrook is in the prime of his career. The opportunity to extend what has been a 10-year run, to further that, potentially could come at a great cost. But that cost is not a cost that's going to be going in perpetuity. It could be a one-year significant spend in order to retain a player like George in the best years of Westbrook's career. It's also not historically something that we've been doing.
So you kind of come to these points in time, and the alternative would be to rebuild the team and go in a different direction. On the heels of the '16 free agency, we had that choice. We chose to keep competing. We chose to keep going, to see if we could find a way to stay at an elite level.
I understand, we're disappointed the year did not go to the level that we want. But the foundation that we have, and the ability to keep a player like Paul George, given the fact that we were 11 or 12 over the course of 10 years, it could take that for a year in order to continue the 10-year run. It has been something we've been doing for a long time.
So the answer is, that's how we get expensive.
The other part of your question was, does the performance of this particular year's team... Again, I don't know you can really look at it that way only for this reason. I don't think that's a reflection on whether or not Paul George is a good player. Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams is a good player in terms of foundationally. I don't think we saw the team, because of the lack of continuity that empirically teams take bumps with regard to their net just by keeping the group together. We went from a zero to a three. We can expect, based on history, a little bit of a bump there. Factor in Roberson, a little bit of a bump there. I think we'll be a better team.
I also think that continuity-wise for Billy, I think there's a lot of things that line up to say you should probably run this back and give it an opportunity. From there, then you might have to make some tough decisions, but I don't think it's a tough decision if Paul George wants to stay with the Thunder given the fact of how he fits with our core.
Q. Consider you have Russell locked up for the next few years, he's had multiple roles as a leader, the MVP season last year, this year, if Paul George is able to return, how pivotal is this off-season in terms of his development as a leader with the team? Are there ways you feel he can still improve?
SAM PRESTI: You mean more like game oriented?
SAM PRESTI: Okay. Want to make sure I understand the question.
Listen, one thing I can tell you about Westbrook is he's driven, okay? He's going to keep coming. He's not going to kick his feet up and expect to come back next year and have things just all of a sudden be a little bit different. I think, based on every competitor -- whether he'll tell you this or not, he's going to spend a lot of time thinking about the things can he do to get better. For our team, one of the things that I think he's focused on trying to do is become a better three-point shooter. I see him late at night in this gym working on that.
His ability to continue to catch and shoot, knock shots down, I think is a big part of his continued evolution as a player. With all that being said, you're talking about a guy that is amongst the best players, if not the best players, in the league. It would be easy for him to rely on what he's done, but he's not going to do that.
The areas for him to continue to improve, those are things that structural how can we continue to find ways to put him in position to enhance his effectiveness, I wouldn't say make him effective, because he's highly, highly effective. One thing about him is over the last 10 years, we have the second most total wins of any team in the league, including the playoffs, other than San Antonio, and Russell has been here for all of that.
He's not perfect. He'll tell you that. I think shooting the ball at the free-throw line this year, what we experienced, we were 29th in the league shooting the free throw. How in the world you can be that bad at the free-throw line and still end up seventh in offensive efficiency is beyond me. But we've had guys underperform shooting the ball from places on the floor that they've notoriously shot the ball well from.
Ferguson we're feeling out. We don't know. But a lot of other guys didn't have the year shooting the ball that they normally would or have. We have to figure out how much of that's random and how much of that is systematic that we can do to help.
But Patterson, high 30s, three-point shooter. Abrines, high 30s three-point shooter. PG was running close to 40. Melo in the 37 area. Felton had a 35 plus shooting year. Dre obviously, that's not the strength of his game, but he was efficient from the spots on the stories. Steven's always going to be up there in an area in which he shoots the ball. Russell is just devastating at the rim in midrange. I think everybody can come back a little bit better. I think Russell will do the same, there's no question.
But the free-throw line will help us all. I mean, that's one of those fundamental areas, I wish I had an answer for you. We had guys not shoot free throws well collectively. We were leaving five, six points a game on the line, and losing a lot of close games. Again, that's a reality. It's not an excuse. We have to be better at the line. We have to knock shots down at the line. We're not imagining guys to shoot better at the free-throw line. They've done that for a long period of time. It just didn't happen.
Q. You talk about Russell not kicking his feet up. How do you get more out of him?
SAM PRESTI: I think that's a fair question. I think that's something, again, for us to be where we were defensively with Dre, which is I think one or two in the league, uniformly the group as a whole I think we can get more out of defensively. That's saying something because we were ninth in the leg defensively. With our team, with Westbrook, Paul George, Roberson, Adams, obviously Carmelo on that team is not going to be the best defender of that group. I do think when Roberson dropped out of that group, it made everybody else's job harder. I don't think we adapted to that effectively. That's everybody, not just Russell.
A lot of times we think about defense. We think about it being glamorous, you know what I mean? We think about Dre pinning a ball on the backboard, or Russell running through a pass and taking it like a pick-six to the other end of the floor. But the best defenses are the ones that force the most inefficient shots. We as a unit didn't do a great job of that.
Now, we turned people over at an alarming rate. We defensive rebounded okay. We knew that would be a bit of an adjustment for us because we had a smaller team this year because we were playing with more space, trying to add more shooting with Patterson, et cetera. We were hurt a little bit on the boards, but we were good enough. We got better in the deep paint. But that's a universal approach.
Now, I also think that speaks to the continuity, which is if we were able -- this is without Dre. If we're able to bring the same group back, that's where role definition, the anticipation, especially with all the switching schemes that we're using, that Billy likes to use, there's a rhythm to that, there's a repetition to that, that I do think can get better.
If you look at the best teams defensively, a lot of them do have a lot of continuity. There's a cerebral nature to defense as much as there is to offense. Uniformly that could be better. I don't disagree.
A lot of teams would be happy to be in the top 10 defensively. We would like to be better. We'd like to be in the top five if we could. That's what we're going to try to focus on.
Q. What did you think of what Sabonis (indiscernible) to do in Indiana?
SAM PRESTI: I wasn't drastically surprised. We gave Victor that contract. A lot of people made fun of us when we did that. We also traded a significant player to get (indiscernible). I couldn't be happier for those guys. What those guys are doing doesn't have a reflection on, like, what our eye on the ball is what's happening here, putting ourselves in position to be closer to our goal.
Last year we were a zero net rating team based on the composition of that team, just on the fit. It's not because of those players. I mean, you can see that. Those guys, I don't want to get in trouble, those guys should stay in Indiana the rest of their careers. They're great players, great guys, hard workers. We wish them nothing but the best.
We want players that are from Oklahoma to go on and have success other places. We're not, like, five-year-olds, rooting against people. This is a business. You want people to know that you generally have a good feel for players so that when they come to make deals with you, they feel like they're going to get somebody that is going to perform well. We have a certain style of play. Indiana has a certain style of play. I think the fit for Victor specifically is fantastic. I also think Victor is a great competitor. We want those guys to do great, everybody that leaves here.
Listen, I'm proud of the fact that a player like Taj was here. He wasn't here for very long, but Gibson is back with Thibs, he should stay there in Minnesota for a long time. I'm proud that Gibson was here. He's a competitor. But we want those guys to do well. They should do well in those places because those places fit them exceptionally well.
We're also happy with the position we're in relative to the situation we were faced with last year coming into Russell's free agency, the age of the team relative to his age, and quite frankly just the upside of what a player like Paul George can mean to our franchise and our community.
Q. When Westbrook and Durant, both in the franchise a long time. Paul has been here a year. How could you handle things in terms of selling points or whatever when you talk to him compared to those two guys?
SAM PRESTI: You're hitting on something that I think is pretty important. That's the reason we traded for Paul George. We weren't going to have access to a player like that in any other way, especially not at that age or with the type of fit next to our core players, meaning Adams, Westbrook. You can't get access to those players.
Now, there's a significant amount of risk that comes with that. But with where we are in the juncture of our timeline as an organization, where we were with Russell at that point in time, you're going to have to get comfortable with that. We talked about that at the time.
We also think although it was a disappointing year, in our first year together, there were some really positive things that took place. Wasn't enough. We feel like maybe should be a little bit better. But the foundation in year one is certainly in an optimistic framework. But we traded for him because we get to be around him, we get to build a relationship with him, build a relationship with his representation, we get to answer questions. You get to have dialogue. As I said before, we're able to talk about those things openly, if you're fortunate enough to get an hour-long free agent meeting, it's not going to be here, it's not going to be in front of our fans, it's not going to be in the environment.
I personally think this is a wonderful environment to play basketball as a professional athlete. A big part of it is the universal and unwavering support our fans provide the team. I think it's a great quality of life. I think we're resourced exceptionally well by ownership to provide the players an environment to amplify their talents. I'd like to show that to anybody.
I think what we've learned over time is you just have to be yourself. That is probably the most important thing. The best way to be yourself is I also think when you go through some adversity, you learn a lot about people. When things weren't going the way we wanted them to go this season, especially the first 20 games, because that was a rough melding or molding, which we kind of expected, but it was tough because we weren't even making shots that were open. Everyone just kept plugging. Everyone just kept coming, kept competing, kept working together. The intention was good. The brotherhood was being built. The coaching staff and the players were working together trying to sort it out. PG was a huge part of that because he was interacting. I think by the end of the season the dialogue between him and Billy and Russell and Carmelo, Steven, was growing. That doesn't happen unless he's here. I think you just have to go through things.
Sometimes it's not just the wins at Golden State, the wins in Toronto, the wins in Houston. Sometimes it's the tough stuff, too, like a tough flight back from Salt Lake City in a series that you feel like we could have performed a little better and responded to that. How do you dictate what happens next? That's has to happen collectively. But I think PG is a part of that.
Q. You had an opportunity to choose between Jerami being restricted last summer versus unrestricted now. How do you feel about that in hindsight?
SAM PRESTI: With respect to that, I don't know how much I can say on it other than you have to have two people that are cooperating with respect to an extension, right? You didn't mention the fact he's potentially extension eligible. With respect to restricted free agency, you don't know what the market could potentially be. We didn't know what was coming at us. We knew we were going to have an expensive team. Sometimes people forget Carmelo's deal is roughly -- was painful the equivalent of McDermott and Kanter. What we saw there was a chance for Carmelo to start and play as a stretch player next to these other players. Doug and Enis, based on their time here, were more situational players for us. We had a hard time sometimes. The backup five can sometimes suffer.
Jerami fortunately can play a couple different positions, so that's helped him a great deal. But we knew that we were going to check in pretty high anyway. Adding more to that, you know, at that point in time could have been preventive to other things. We still have the opportunity to use rights at the appropriate time to have conversations with Jerami. He also is one of those players that is extension eligible. At the end of the day we'll have those conversations, and we're excited about his development. We hope he's excited about his development, the track he's on.
But it's a marketplace. You have to see where that goes.
Q. You said you wouldn't have access to a player like Paul George any other way than trade. When you reach out to agents, what are the biggest objections you hear about coming to Oklahoma?
SAM PRESTI: That's not really the context of the comment. Essentially it's respect to team building. You only have so much space available. When you have a player like Westbrook or Adams, that's going to take up a significant amount of that space. Those players are generally drafted. They're generally drafted toward the top, but there's also the occasion in which a player can get picked out of the needle in a haystack, can get picked somewhere else within the draft. Generally higher draft picks have the higher projection to become those types of players.
We had a team that wasn't declining itself and opening some salary caps because we won 47 games last year on the heels of free agency. We could have pulled the cord at that point and gone a different direction. Some teams would have done that that would have opened up plenty of pace. With that you need to have elite players to attract other elite players in today's NBA. For us it became more of a trade conversation in order to get a player like that. In order to do that, you have to give up good players to do that. It's more systemic in terms of how can you add those types of pieces to your team based on where the timeline of your team is.
We're still working off the canvas of 2008. We arrived here and haven't turned the page because we haven't rebuilt the team since 2008. I'm happy about that. At the same time we're trying to make it work as long as we can. Ultimately us, like every other team, is going to have to find ourselves in a position where we'll have to rebuild. The ability to get Paul George prior to Russell's contract opportunity I think was the best way for us to have a chance to continue to stay on that track and not take a different turn because I think the fans in Oklahoma City have been so great, so supportive, we want to try to keep an elite team on the floor as long as we can. As was asked earlier, that could come with a big expense. Fortunately for us that expense hasn't been longitudinal. It's certainly not permanent. But that's where we're at after 10 years, hopefully going on 11.
Q. Does Carmelo's status at all have anything tied to what Paul does, stay or go?
SAM PRESTI: I don't know the answer to that. I think all the guys have great relationships. As I said earlier, I don't think you make it through a year that was as up and down as ours this season without really good chemistry, without the coaching staff keeping the group focused. I don't want to speak to the relationships of the guys because they all have their personal relationships and their playing relationships.
Not everybody has to hold hands and go to dinner every night to have great chemistry. There's guys that could have a hard time with each other on the floor that are best friends off the floor. I mean, I don't know the status of that. My experience is generally that players want other players to do what's best for them. In Carmelo's case, as I said earlier, he's simply being honest about whether or not he feels like he can commit another year to playing this role.
I appreciate the candor. I respect it. Those are the conversations we have to have. There will be a method to that. We'll sort it out. He's a pro. He's been nothing but a pro since he's been here. I don't know what effect that has on other people. But we'll all work together. That's one of the things about us that we've tried to continue to foster, which is let's work through these things, it's pro sports, it's in a caldron of people focusing on every word and every tweet, all that stuff. I think at the end of the day you got to sit down to just human beings trying to understand what everyone is trying to accomplish and see if we can bring ourselves all together to do that.
I personally really like the foundation that we have on a human level. I do. I think that the group is really connected. We've got to get ourselves stronger in the controllable areas and the consistent areas. We own that. With that being said, we're going to do what we always do here in Oklahoma City. We're going to take where we are and we're going to compete. We're going to keep coming. We're going to keep our eye on the ball and figure out the ways we can get better and we're going to keep standing up and finding ways that we can take this group and get it to another level. That's collective. That's everybody. From myself to every single person that's in the building.
Q. You had the comment yesterday about PG made up his mind. What is your reaction to that?
SAM PRESTI: I talked to PG. I would say why don't we listen to Paul. He has had a lot of comments also. I'm not trying to dissuade anybody or say that what someone says someone told them is inaccurate. I'd rather listen to the man himself. I'd also reflect on the fact that PG really keeps his business, like, pretty in-house. We've gone through the whole year, we haven't heard a whole lot of stuff since he's been here. He's been pretty straight down the middle. I can't do anything but trust the things I'm being told. And I do because if you can't do that, when I say trust, I mean trust the fact that he said positive things about the organization. If you can't trust other people or if you're going to live in a world of skepticism and cynicism, I can't help you. I don't know where that leaves us. Good luck. I'll see you down the line. I'm not going to let myself go there.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports