Yes, that’s right. Sam Presti was gracious enough to give me a few minutes to ask him a bunch of questions ranging from free agency, next year’s expectations, what he does in his free time and whether he’s decided on OU or OSU. It’s all really great. At least his part of it is. (You can also listen to the interview in full if you so please. Also, I realize I said Earl Watson instead of Chucky Atkins in the first question, so no need to point that out. I was a little nervous, all right?)
Talk a little about bringing in Etan Thomas and trading away Damien Wilkins and Earl Watson Chucky Atkins.
We’re really excited to have Etan. He’s a guy we feel than can contribute to what we’re trying to do as a basketball team. He brings a defensive mentality and physical nature to our and adds more depth to our frontline.
One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems the Thunder has all high-character guys. Is that something high on your priority list? Will you sacrifice a really good player if he has character issues?
We’re looking for guys that we think are going to fit with our team. It’s not necessarily for us to be judge and jury on other people, but we are looking for people that are going to contribute to the kind of environment on and off the floor that we strive to have. And we feel good about the type of guys that we have on our roster in terms of their fit together – on the court, also their fit off the court and their commitment to the organization. We’re looking for guys that feel we can be successful in our system.
Does it factor in at all being in Oklahoma, a conservative state? Does that mean anything in looking for players or trying to find players the fanbase can relate to?
You know, one of the things I said when I first arrived in Oklahoma City about a year ago was that we felt like we as an organization had arrived in a wonderful place because the values that we’re trying to build our team and our franchise with are consistent with the values you find in this state. Resiliency, work ethic, team and commitment to one another. Those are things that we as a basketball are focused on a daily basis and I also feel that those things are in the fabric of the community that we all live in.
You talk a lot about the process and the plan and you refer to the organization as a “program.” Is there any specific reason for that?
I wish I could tell you that there’s a real deep, philosophical, scientific reason as to why we refer to it like that. But I think certainly what we’re trying to do is build a team and an organization that’s sustainable and not necessarily just looking at our work from a year-to-year basis. Certainly we want to be successful every night we take the floor and that’s the goal of our basketball team. But I also have a job to be looking not only at today, but also two, three, four, fives years down the line and balancing those things are important and developing a vision for the team and a direction. I think that kind of rolls into the concept of having a program and having a way of which we’re going to try and see this thing through.
Is there any time whether it be this year or next where you have stop and say, “This isn’t working”?
You’re always evaluating a team and your process. We’ll always be doing that. I feel like we should continue to take steps forward. We like the group that we have and think that is has the potential to continue to grow. Most importantly it has the potential to grow together. We’ve invested in a group of players that are like-minded in terms of their commitment to improving and developing, commitment to being consistent in Oklahoma City, committed to one another. We like that direction. But we have to stay focused on improving those things and staying committed to those things everyday and not necessarily worrying about where the outcome is before we can keep our focus on the daily improvement and the process of getting better.
Kevin Durant recently said the playoffs are a possibility. How are you managing all the building hype and expectation for this team?
Every team wants to make the playoffs. That’s not different. For us, we’ve always said internally, we’re going to focus on the things we think are important for us to be successful. Continuing to play winning basketball, team basketball. Staying committed to playing both ends of the floor. And bringing great commitment and energy to the floor every day, for each other and for our fans. If we can continue to focus on those things we think that good things will happen. In terms of expectations and things of that nature, those are things we can’t control. It’s flattering that people would say those things and feel that way about our team. I wouldn’t place any limitations about our players but at the same time we have a lot of work to do. And we have a lot of areas that we need to improve. The only way that we’ll ultimately be successful is if we maintain our focus in those areas and not let ourselves be distracted or brought off balance by focusing on things that are external.
You got such a reputation around the league for being a genius and whatnot. Do you read that or notice that type of stuff?
You know it’s certainly humbling when people have nice things to say about you but by the same token we have jobs to do here. We can’t allow ourselves to start looking at things like that. I think to me, I think when somebody has something positive to say about the organization I think it’s really a credit to so many different people that work here. We have a great ownership group that is really supportive. We’ve got a great coaching staff. I have a great group of people that I work with every day that I truly enjoy being around. I really look at it as a group of people that understand that we have a lot of work ahead of us but are committed to the organization and we’re just going to do our jobs every day. We hope that we’re able to put a product on the floor that the fans and the people of Oklahoma City can get behind and relate to and continue to support for many, many years.
I know a couple franchises like in Houston with Daryl Morey have embraced advanced statistics? Do you employ anyone that keeps up with those type of specific stats?
I think if you look in the league now, I think the majority of teams are certainly retaining people that specialize in that area. I think some teams probably use them more than others. But I think everybody now is starting to look to any area to gain an advantage, just given the limitations of the salary cap and the other things that come into play when you’re trying to put a roster together. I think everybody is looking for ways that they can improve their team. You mentioned Daryl Morey in Houston and I think those guys are obviously far ahead of the rest of the league in that area and continue to do great work. And we as a basketball team, we like information. We value different kinds of information. I don’t think just based on one objective piece of information or subjective information. We’re going to try and figure out a balance and apply the information that we think is most impactful for a positive outcome. We’ve looked at those areas, but still we’re trying to balance everything.
The cap dropped this year and is set to drop even more next year. What are your thoughts on that and how does that affect a small market club like OKC?
I think every team certainly is affected when the cap or the tax go down. Every team is trying to manage their payroll in an effective way so they retain some level of mobility and flexibility. For us specifically, we’ve worked very hard to try and create flexibility for ourselves. Now that’s not an easy road in today’s NBA, but those are the realities of being in a league that has a salary cap. We’re in a position where we feel like we have some flexibility to add and grow the basketball team, in addition to the internal and organic development of our players. But we’re also going to be very diligent as we evaluate how we want to use that flexibility and not just look at it and feel that we have to engage in a spending spree right now.
I saw on your Wikipedia page you once took six charges in one game. Is that true?
Yes. I think my college coach would tell you that he didn’t want me to do much else. And that particular night I happened to be in the right place a few different times. I knew my limitations as a player, as a Division III player and tried to find the best way that I could to help the team. A lot of times that meant not trying to do too much.
You don’t strike me as a Twitter kind of guy. Would you ever consider using it?
Not really. To tell you that I know a whole lot about it wouldn’t be accurate. I know that it’s kind of caught fire, but it’s just not something that I’d be interested, at least right now.
Do you have any final words for Daily Thunder readers and Thunder fans in general?
Absolutely. Our experience in Oklahoma has been incredibly overwhelming. Just given the support the passion from our fans, has been just tremendous. Our players and our staff are grateful that we get to represent the city and represent the state, both home and on the road. We’re excited about the upcoming year and we feel that we’ve taken some positive steps this summer. I think having Scott Brooks leading our team on the floor is going to help us a great deal. He’s someone that really coaches towards our values and his identity as a player. I think our fans will be excited to see the improvements that we’ve made. We’re just thrilled to have the opportunity to grow our team and our organization in a place like Oklahoma City. They’ve made us feel so welcome and you really just have to be here for a short amount of time to understand that this is a special place and a special community.
Again, so much thanks to Sam Presti for talking to me and let me tell you people, he’s awesome. Such a gracious, nice person. Which kind of sucks because the team could win four games over the next five years and I might not be able to bring myself to say anything bad about him. Not that they will or anything because as always, I Believe In Sam Presti.