By Mack Burke
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Thunder GM Sam Presti delicately brushed aside questions regarding the performance of starting center Kendrick Perkins. He said he expects Perkins to remain an elite post defender that will help them contend with big bodies in the Western Conference.
“He’s going to impact our team in other ways as well. You know, it’s always hard to answer those questions without sounding defensive other than to say that Perk’s a part of the success we’ve had here. He’s an important member of the team. We expect him to fulfill the role that he’s given and contribute.”
The soon-to-be 29-year-old center averaged 4.2 points and 6 rebounds a game last season, down from his previous season averages of 5.1 and 6.6, respectively.
“Obviously, he has high standards for himself and he expressed that at the end of last season. He makes up part of the group, part of that continuity that’s been around for quite some time and been a part of some of the best teams that we’ve had here.
Time to grind: Without the burden of U.S.A. basketball this summer, Kevin Durant was able to spend more time in the offseason focusing on his game and meshing with the team, Presti said.
“Kevin having the time to devote to individual development, I think is a big thing for us, in addition to having some time to recover physically. And I expect him to continue to get better for many years, not only because of his age, but also because of who he is,” Presti said.
“You know, Serge is the same way. Those guys are incredible workers, both of them. And then Russell, I believe that once he gets back on the floor, I think he’ll be better as a result of going through what he went through, as difficult as it’s been. He’s as competitive as they come.”
Basketball without borders: Oklahoma City will open its preseason schedule on Oct. 5 with an eight-game overseas trip starting in Istanbul where the Thunder will face the Turkish team Fenerbache Ulker.
Presti said it’s a good chance to grow the franchise abroad.
“We’re five years in, but you don’t build the finality of an identity for a franchise in five years. That being said, I do think there are some pillars in place. So, when you do go overseas, people follow the team. I think we’re very fortunate we have some very identifiable players. We’ve been very fortunate to play in some high profile games and play deep into the season and that always helps over there,” he said.
“I think the other thing is having international players. We’ve really embraced international players. We see no bounds to basketball. International or domestic, it’s all basketball. I think we’re getting to that point in time where there’s no delineation and I think that’s a good thing.”
Acknowledging that the situation in Syria does raise fair questions about playing in neighboring Turkey, Presti said the NBA is really in charge of the operation and he doesn’t anticipate there being any issues.
With the exception of Westbrook, Presti said he expects the whole team to make the trip.
“I would anticipate that (everyone will play). Years ago I might have said that and someone sprain their ankle playing pick up or something like that. So, if you ask me today, the answer is ‘yes,’ but hopefully that doesn’t change.”
Thunder U: Oklahoma City’s model of in-house development for young players has yielded strong results from prospects, but Presti doesn’t think it stops there.
“Development is an ongoing process for every player. It’s not just younger players. I don’t think development is something that is age-based. We think we have a responsibility to try and improve every player that we have.”
He credited coach Scott Brooks and the staff with helping institute that culture.
“I think it’s a combination of things, but at the end of the day, the players have to do the work and we’re fortunate to have some workers.”
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