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

James Dolan’s MSG threatens to sue Steve Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers

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This story requires a little background.

The Forum in Inglewood was best known for decades as being both fabulous and the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, back from the Jerry West era and through Magic’s “Showtime” teams. Then in 2001 the Lakers moved downtown to Staples Center, and after that the Forum went through some rough times. It was a number of things, including a mega church for a while, but mostly it was empty. Then several years ago the Madison Square Garden company (owned by Knicks owner James Dolan) bought the Forum, fixed it up, and started booking it again. Now the Forum is one of the hot major concert/event spaces in Los Angeles again, and it’s about to get a boost because it’s adjacent to where Stan Kroenke is building the new Los Angeles Rams stadium. Hello gentrification!

Now enter Steve Ballmer. The Clippers’ owner wants out of Staples Center and the Lakers’ shadow, so he has proposed to build his new arena in Inglewood in another space adjacent to the Rams stadium — land that MSG used to lease. As you might imagine, Dolan’s MSG is not thrilled — they are already battling with Staples to fill their space, now a state-of-the-art arena is moving in down the street.

In a proxy Knicks/Clippers battle, MSG may sue to Clippers and Inglewood in an attempt to block the new building. Here is what Dolan’s attorney in the case, Marvin Putnam, told the Daily Breeze in Los Angeles.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” said Marvin Putnam, a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the damage claim that serves as a precursor to a lawsuit. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

(Inglewood Mayor James) Butts declined to comment, and there is no proof that he made those statements. But when Madison Square Garden Co. relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract states that the land would not be used for anything that would hurt the Forum’s business, according to documents.

Right now the Clippers and Inglewood are in an exclusive negotiating agreement to come to terms on the sale and plans for the property. Putnam told the paper — and the Inglewood City Council — that if the deal goes forward they will sue to block it.

It’s impossible to say how this will turn out, although as a former government reporter I will say these cases tend to be decided in favor of the side about to spend a ton of money on a new building.

 

Jaylen Brown’s #drivebydunkchallenge video is awesome

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I love the drive by dunk challenge (if you prefer, the #drivebydunkchallenge), it would be the best thing on NBA Twitter this summer, if it wasn’t for Kyrie Irving.

But the best one yet comes from Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

He steals the ball, and the best part is the guy who comes over like he’s going to stop Brown from throwing it down.

Nets’ Jeremy Lin: ‘We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says’

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The Nets went 20-62 then traded their best player (Brook Lopez) for a worse player (D'Angelo Russell). Brooklyn’s biggest free-agent signing this summer (Otto Porter) plays for the Wizards. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert are nice developmental pieces but hardly seem on the verge of breakthroughs.

Still, Nets guard Jeremy Lin expects big things next season.

He set expectations in an Instagram Live video (hat tip: AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today):

We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says.

The Nets are on the right track given their asset constraints. Though worse than Lopez now, Russell – eight years younger and on a low-paying rookie-scale deal – is more valuable. Brooklyn made the favorable swap by absorbing Timofey Mozgov‘s awful contract, a wise use of assets considering the difficulty of attracting free agents. An aggressive offer sheet for Porter was a reasonable swing in that situation, as well.

But that’s all helpful in the long run. In the short term, the Nets are almost certainly stuck as lousy. Maybe they can sneak into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, but even that is a huge longshot.

Not that Lin cares what I say.

Check out Top 10 blocks from Summer League (VIDEO)

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When you think of Summer League basketball, sharp defensive rotations is not the first thing that comes to mind. Defense, in general, tends to be an after thought.

But there were some great blocks.

Here are the top 10 blocks from the Las Vegas Summer League. Enjoy the flashes of defense from Vegas.