Thunder GM Sam Presti sees a bright future with young talent

Leave a comment

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

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safty

Getty Images
4 Comments

LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

Getty Images
1 Comment

If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

Getty Images
9 Comments

When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.