Presti Proud of Thunder’s 2012-13 Season
After the 2012-13 season was cut short when the Thunder fell in the second round of the NBA Playoffs, General Manager Sam Presti met with the media to discuss the season as whole, the state of the team and its future prospects. This was the Thunder’s best season record-wise in its five-year history, and featured reaching the 60-win plateau, a third straight Northwest Division championship and the number one seed in the Western Conference. There’s no doubt, then that Presti was proud of the organization for the year it put together and how it fits in the development of the franchise.
“As we take stock of what this season means to our team, I think it’s as valuable as any other season we’ve had,” Presti said. “It’s going to contribute to the continued evolution of our organization and also as our team going forward. I don’t think we can lose sight of that at all.”
Presti and Head Coach Scott Brooks are charged with the responsibility to put together a competitive squad each season, while looking to the future in order to sustain success for years to come. Fortunately, the Thunder has two players who are helping to shape the identity of the organization with their hard work, dedication to the team as a whole and their competitiveness. Of course that duo is Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the pair of All-Stars who led the Thunder with strength all season.
“They’ve found a unique way as caretakers of the organization and drivers of our culture to push us forward each season,” Presti said. “I also like the fact that they have tremendous respect for one another and how they compete and how they play. They share a lot of the same scars.”
Despite a disappointing and unfortunate injury to Westbrook in the first round of the Playoffs, the Thunder’s relentless point guard helped set the tone in every game with his heart, determination and energy. His counterpart, Durant, had perhaps the best season of his career by reaching the elusive 50-40-90 levels of shooting percentages. All season, but particularly over the past month, Durant displayed fantastic leadership skills. Even in the face of incredible adversity and charged with the responsibility to carry a large load, Durant handled everything with grace, humility and class.
“To have someone like that in our organization, but also in our community is a great, great thing,” Presti said of Durant. “It’s certainly not something to be taken for granted. I think his leadership was in a different classification over the last two weeks. I was really impressed with it, quite honestly.”
“It’s easy to step to the front when you’re winning 60 games in the regular season and assume that position as a leader,” Presti continued. “It’s a different situation when you’re hit with something that is unexpected and have to take that leadership responsibility on and accept it and be accountable for it. I think he did an excellent job of that.”
While Durant and Westbrook are a formidable combination on the floor and the pair that define the internal standards of the organization for current and future players, there are plenty of others in the organization who share similar characteristics. Players like Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson have developed nicely with the help of veterans like Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. Using the growth and development of players like Durant and Westbrook as an example, others on the team improved throughout the course of the year and will continue to do so.
“The thing that has really been our engine for our improvement on a year-to-year basis has been the internal development of our players,” Presti said. “That’s a credit to our coaching staff and the evolution of a player like Durant or Westbrook has really helped stretch the capability of our team and the flexibility of our team.”
Working with the coaching staff and attacking each day of practice, every film session and all games with focus and intensity, Thunder players continue to get better. One of the largest challenges that faces an organization that is currently successful is finding ways to sustain that over time, accounting for inevitable changes in the roster. With young players like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones waiting in the wings, the Thunder has and will continue to utilize its D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, in order to help players in their development.
For a second-year point guard like Jackson, stints with the 66ers were very beneficial in preparing him for his eventual role as the team’s backup point guard. Throughout last season, Lamb and Jones, among others, utilized the 66ers as a tool to implement the things they learned in practice with the Thunder into a real-game situation.
“We’re really appreciative of the fact that (the 66ers) is a resource that we’re afforded,” Presti said. “We’re going to have to continue to find ways to use it, because the elite organizations in sports, they assimilate younger players into their team. That’s part of their ability to sustain as they experience turnover or the unforeseen circumstance. It’s what you do before the storm hits, often.”
This summer, the continued development of the young core of this team, and even veterans will be a critical aspect to next year’s success. Regardless of age, position or role on the team, no player is a finished product. Thanks to the Thunder’s basketball operations staff, the coaches and fellow teammates, each player will utilize their time this off-season to come back better. As the individual skill level and basketball IQ of players improve, so does the team’s overall.
With the NBA Draft, Summer League, off-season workouts and free agency on the horizon, the Thunder will have a busy summer to both get better internally but also to evaluate how it can field a highly competitive team in 2013-14 and in the future. By sticking to its process and the values that the organization holds dear, Presti and his staff hopes to make the best possible decisions with the most complete information available to form a team that Oklahoma City will continue to be proud to call their own on and off the court.
“We’ll look for every way we can to augment the team within the parameters of what we have,” Presti said. “We’re building a franchise and not just a team. The cement is certainly not dry on the identity of the Thunder. Therefore, when people do come here, they have an opportunity to leave a fingerprint on the organization.”