Thunder GM Sam Presti sees a bright future with young talent

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder general manager Sam Presti finds wannabe executives amusing.

One of the most common questions he gets involves how the Thunder plan to address depth at point guard behind Russell Westbrook. The Thunder struggled at times, especially in the playoffs, when their MVP candidate went to the bench.

“A lot of people have mentioned that to me, in the grocery store and other places,” he said Monday, drawing laughter from the media. “That’s the great thing about working in Oklahoma City.”

Presti said the backup point guard position will be looked at in the offseason, but he also warned against making too much of specific issues following the 4-1 loss to Houston in the first round of the playoffs.

“I don’t want to place so much weight on five games in the post-season that were decided by the free-throw line and the rebounding margin,” he said. “We found a way to get ourselves to 47 wins throughout the regular season.”

Presti said he is proud of how the Thunder performed this season after losing Kevin Durant to free agency. He noted that many teams fall much further after losing a player of Durant’s caliber. Westbrook set the NBA record for triple-doubles in a season, averaged a triple-double and kept fans energized throughout the season.

Still, the Thunder didn’t reach their usual level. A first-round exit was tough to take for a franchise that reached the Western Conference finals four of the previous five years.

“We still want to be playing basketball right now,” Presti said. “So we weren’t able to advance this year, and we understand that. But we also understand that we accomplished quite a bit with respect to the things that we felt were really important to the season.”

Presti said he’s open to making moves in the offseason to add to the roster, yet he feels that with one of the youngest teams in the league, the Thunder will likely improve significantly from within.

A key will be trying to get Westbrook to sign an extension in the offseason. He signed a new deal last summer, but he has a player option for 2018-19. The new collective bargaining agreement allows for a team to extend a player five years if there is a year remaining on his current deal. Westbrook said last week that he hasn’t thought about it yet. Presti hopes to avoid another Durant situation.

Andre Roberson is a restricted free agent. He has offensive limitations, but should draw attention as one of the best defensive wing players in the league. Presti said the sides had productive conversations in the fall.

“Definitely want to be back,” Roberson said last week. “Definitely want to do anything to work it out. I love the team, love the organization, and love what we’re all about, and I definitely want to stick around. So I’m pretty sure we can work something out.”

Presti said he sees great potential in the young core of Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Victor Oladipo.

Adams averaged career highs of 11.3 points and 7.7 rebounds and ranked among the league leaders in field goal percentage. He struggled in the playoffs at times, but he improved overall.

Kanter averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds on 55 percent shooting and was considered a contender for sixth man of the year before he broke his forearm. His defense improved this season, and Presti said he’d like to see Kanter extend his mid-range shot to 3-point range.

Oladipo averaged 15.9 points last season and had career highs in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Presti said he could handle more of the point guard duties in the future.

Presti believes the core young group, along with emerging players Doug McDermott, Alex Abrines, Domantas Sabonis, Semaj Christon and Jerami Grant, will benefit from their playoff experience this season.

“Now, this team knows what it’s like to be within a couple games of home-court advantage coming down the stretch of a playoff run,” he said. “It knows what it’s like to go through a playoff series where, you know, you’re losing the series on the margins. They know what it’s like to play with one another and understand each other’s tendencies. And I think that’s going to bode well for us.”

 

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

Another Hornets backup PG injured

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Hornets backup point guard Michael Carter-Williamsout.

Nicolas Batum, who handled a lot of playmaking with Charlotte’s second units – out.

Julyan Stone, another Hornets backup point guard – out.

Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that guard Julyan Stone has suffered a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. The injury occurred in practice on Sunday, Oct. 22 and he did not travel with the team to Milwaukee.  Stone is listed as out for tonight’s game against the Bucks and his expected recovery time is estimated at four to six weeks.

The Hornets have been outscored by an astounding 35.8 points per 100 possessions without starter Kemba Walker, producing an offensive rating of just 61.4. That’s in just 23 minutes, but the problem dates back to last season, when Charlotte was outscored by 7.0 points per 100 possessions with a 100.7 offensive rating sans Walker.

Now, the Hornets have little choice but to turn to rookie Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring guard, but his 6-foot-3 size means he has at least worked on playing point guard. Is he ready to play the position full-time for a team eying the playoffs. Probably not, but he’ll just have to do his best to keep Charlotte afloat in the few minutes Walker rests.

Report: Suns also fire three assistant coaches

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The Suns fired Earl Watson just three games into the season – the second-earliest firing in NBA history.

They didn’t stop there.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Firing assistant coaches during the season has become Phoenix’s m.o. I’m just not sure what it accomplishes.

Were Watson, Nate Bjorkgren, Mehmet Okur and Jason Fraser all so bad at their jobs? If so, why did the Suns figure that out simultaneously?

Were the firings designed to shake up a losing team? If so, wouldn’t ousting Watson have been enough?

Will Phoenix replace those assistants? If not, will the team have the resources to properly train its players?

The Suns are filled with young players who need coaching, particularly skill development. This move looks like it will put them further behind.

Watch Andre Roberson airball back-to-back free throws

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Andre Roberson is not a good free throw shooter, a career 48.9 percent from the stripe.

But even for him, this is ugly. Heck, for DeAndre Jordan would think this was ugly.  Against the Timberwolves Sunday night, Roberson airballed two free throws. In a row. You can see it above.

This game went on to have the most dramatic ending of any NBA game this season, with Carmelo Anthony and Andrew Wiggins trading big buckets but the Twolves getting the win on the road.

 

NBA Three Things to Know: Sun sets on Earl Watson in Phoenix

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. This is what you missed on Sunday while wondering if oyster vending machines are a good idea. (They’re not.)

1) Eric Bledsoe Tweets he wants out, hours later it’s Earl Watson who is out, fired as Suns coach. The Suns are a bad team, one that lacked offensive cohesion and defensive effort. Phoenix was blown out by 48 points by the Trail Blazers in their first game, the worst opening night loss in NBA history. It was an ugly start to the season. How could things possibly get worse from there?

Well, how about the Suns get blown out by 42 points in the third game of the season, have their best player Tweet he “doesn’t want to be here” then turn around and fire the coach? That’s what happened, and Earl Watson is out in Phoenix.

Watson was 33-85 as the Suns head coach, but that record isn’t a fair way to judge him — Suns management made him sit Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler to tank at the end of last season, much to Watson’s frustration. This is a young team this season that is not going to be good no matter who coached it. But Watson’s Suns didn’t seem to have a strong offensive identity, didn’t play hard on defense, and there were doubts about his ability to develop young talent. Watson took over as an interim coach after the Suns fired Jeff Hornacek, then he went an unimpressive 9-24 in that role. However, he preached love and togetherness at a time the franchise needed it, and the players loved him, so despite the record management decided to give him a shot as a guy who could develop talent. Watson and GM Ryan McDonough were notoriously rarely on the same page, but Robert Sarver is not the kind of owner who will pay a couple of coaches at once, and the players loved Watson, so he stayed. Then, Eric Bledsoe tweeted this.

I’m not saying the two things are directly related, but if Watson was losing the players, he had little left.

The only question about this move is “why did they wait three games into the season?” Why not make their move over the summer, allowing a new coach to have a training camp to change the tenor of the team? Former Raptor coach (and Canadian national team coach) Jay Triano gets the job in the short term.

The Suns are a young, developing team but with some good pieces already in place — Devin Booker, Josh Jackson — and some guys who need to be brought along (Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss). They need a strong developmental head coach, someone who can install a mindset and get the young guys playing hard. The Suns are going to lose a lot of games this season, and end up with a high draft pick, they are building for the future. They need their process, and they need a coach who can lead it.

2) Carmelo Anthony drains game-winning three… wait, no it’s Andrew Wiggins who drains game-winner for Timberwolves. For a couple of games (this one and the previous one against the Jazz) the Thunder have struggled with their offensive rhythm. Or, more accurately, they just missed shots. Through three quarters the Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony trio was 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) and 3-of-10 from three.

But after the Thunder second unit made it a game again, Westbrook found his groove late — he took over the offense, attacking, and going 6-of-9 in the fourth. Then came the big finish. Karl-Anthony Towns — who was a beast again with 27 points and 12 boards (but needs to take fewer threes if he keeps missing like this) — put the Timberwolves up two. With 8.9 seconds left Westbrook drove, drew two defenders, then shared the rock, found Anthony… and just watch for yourself.

Underrated on that last play: Towns set a massive screen to free up Wiggins and get him that look. Wiggins did not call bank, but as Paul Pierce said last season he did call game.

3) Clippers’ Milos Teodosic out indefinitely. The NBA just got a little less fun to watch. The Clippers brought the passing wizard over from Serbia as a 30-year-old rookie, and he was dishing.

Unfortunately, Teodosic is out indefinitely with a plantar fascia injury. The concern with the Clippers this season was not the talent but the health of a team leaning on Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, and others with long injury histories. Hopefully for Los Angeles, the Teodosic injury is not the start of a trend.