By Mack Burke
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — After five years in Oklahoma City, Thunder general manager Sam Presti kicked off Wednesday’s preseason press conference with his familiar brand of optimism, sticking by his mantra of competitiveness now and in-house development for the future.
“We want to get better on a daily basis. We want to be in a position where we’re playing our best basketball at the end of the season and we’re focused on building those habits early on and finding ways throughout the year to maximize the group that we have, to optimize the group that we have. And if we’re fortunate enough to get to the postseason, be in a position to really impact the postseason,” Presti said. “And we’re excited about taking that mentality. It has worked well for us in the past and we’re going to continue to subscribe to that.”
Westbrook’s recovery should’ve been another reason for Presti to be excited, but he was cautious about doling out details on his return.
“He’s on pace to this point in the recovery process, but we’re not going to put a specific timetable on his return, simply because it’s too big a decision. His health is most important, not just for this season but for many, many years to come. He’s done an excellent job, showed unbelievable discipline and rigor through the process. We expect him to come back full strength, but he’s got to finish the rest of the benchmarks and once he does, it will be a medical decision and we’ll be happy to have him back on the floor.”
On paper Oklahoma City looks like pretty much the same team, less Kevin Martin and DeAndre Liggins, plus draft additions Steven Adams and Andre Robinson, who may have little pressing impact this season.
That didn’t dissuade Presti’s outlook.
“For us, we’re focused on how we grow, how we improve. We’ve never been a huge free agency team. With that being said, I think that group that we have is proven. They’ve been together. They’ve been through some ups and downs, but the core of the team is pre-prime players. So I think it’s safe to assume that when we made our commitments, when we designed the infrastructure of the team, we want to be in a position where we’re capable of playing at an extremely high level year in and year out, but also with the opportunity to add to the team. I think more than anything, we’re sticking to that approach.”
Will that translate to a championship run, or in Presti speak, ‘a high level of success?’
He wouldn’t make any guarantees beyond assuring that he’s confident in the team.
“In terms of the team itself, we’re excited about the fact that we have a nice mix of players. We have some veterans on this team that are going to help us. We’re also excited about some young, emerging players,” Presti said.
Even without adding too much to the mix, bright young spots like point guard Reggie Jackson and shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could play an increased role this season. Jackson saw more time on the court when Russell Westbrook suffered a torn meniscus during last season’s Western Conference quarterfinal series against Houston. He couldn’t quite fill Westbrook’s shoes (few could), but showed flashes of brilliance, as did Jeremy Lamb during extensive runs with Thunder D-League affiliate Tulsa 66ers.
“Then, we have a very unique blend of pre-prime players with an inordinate and unique amount of experience in the postseason, and most of all, one of the things that we really enjoy about this team and looking forward to is the fact that they’ve been together for a while. Obviously, they’ve enjoyed a bunch of high performance, a lot of winning, but they’ve also gone through some valleys as well and had to live through some adversity together,” he said.
“We really value the fact that a lot of these guys share the same scars. So, continuity, experience and the fact that these guys have been together for a while are all things that have us excited about the year.”
For a team with few new faces and experience beyond its years, the same question remains the burning one.
Will this be their year?
Presti won’t say, but time will.
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