OKLAHOMA CITY — Thunder general manager Sam Presti spent his 2017 exit interview preaching one anticipated theme for the upcoming offseason: continuity.
The Thunder had just gone from a Western Conference Finals appearance behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to a first-round playoff exit with Westbrook’s solo act and eventual MVP campaign leading the way. But Presti didn’t follow through with roster consistency.
The Thunder revamped the team, bringing in not just Paul George and Carmelo Anthony but also Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson. And with Presti sitting in the same seat Wednesday as he did just about a year ago following another first-round playoff exit, he dropped a familiar word over and over again.
He said "continuity" 11 times during an hour-long press conference to wrap up the season. He included coach Billy Donovan in those sentiments. He referred to Westbrook, George and Steven Adams as setting a “foundation” for Oklahoma City.
“Paul used the term year one...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,” he said.
He included Donovan as part of that core, confirming the coach would be back for a fourth season with the Thunder. Donovan has two more years remaining on his deal, including 2018-19.
“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,” Presti remembered. “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…Billy’s ability to do that was a big factor.”
The name unsurprisingly missing from Presti’s core of prime players, of course, was Anthony, who let it be known during his exit interview Saturday that he didn’t see himself staying in the same role the Thunder have wanted him in heading into next season.
Anthony churned out his worst performance ever (in just about every way) during his first try with the Thunder, who relegated him to mostly spot-up shooting duties, though he reverted to his isolation ways at times, including during the first-round playoff loss to Utah.
He is on the books for $27.9 million for next season but has an early-termination option he would have to exercise by June 23. If he doesn’t choose to do so, the Thunder could conceivably negotiate a buyout with him at any point over the next year.
“I don't think I can be effective as that type of player,” Anthony said Saturday. “I think I was willing to accept that challenge in that role, but I think I bring a little bit more to the game.”
Presti said Wednesday he, at the very least, appreciated the honestly.
“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-ball player, being more reliant on other people to generate his offense, and sacrificing a lot,” Presti said. “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.”
Plans change over the summer, as everyone saw last year. When Presti spoke to reporters at the 2017 season’s conclusion, he didn't know he would be dealing for George just before the start of free agency. And George, the five-time All-Star who will be deciding between OKC, Los Angeles and wherever else come July 1, could be the one to throw hopes for continuity off once again.
Westbrook has five more years on his contract. Adams has three. Donovan has two. This all starts with George. If the Thunder can bring him back, they have the core they want — even if Presti admits the results of this season were “disappointing.”
“Our issues are in the controllable areas,” Presti said. “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 [injured guard Andre Roberson], 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.”
Fred Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the postgame show, Thunder After Dark, and the OKC Dream Team, a weekly Thunder podcast that runs every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.