Presti: 'We're not competing with our past'
Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti has hope for the new look team as they head into a new season.
During a preseason press conference Sept. 21, Presti said he could feel the buzz for basketball building around the city. The Thunder will look a lot different than the team that was one win away from the NBA Finals last season. After trading Serge Ibaka and losing Kevin Durant to free agency, the team signed Russell Westbrook to a multi-year contract.
"Understand that we will be going through a process of learning and discovery about our team," Presti said. "The path will be different, the journey will be different, but the mindset is the same."
Presti said his young team has a commitment to collaboration and working together and that they strive to embody the values that Oklahomans represent but that they are "not competing with our past".
"Everyone is part of Loud City. It's not just confined to the upper part of our arena," Presti said. "We see the Thunder as one continuous experience. We have the opportunity to grow and develop players that will become fixtures."
In August, the team announced Westbrook signed a contract extension. Presti said Westbrook is a lunch pail player who is ready to work.
"Russell has been a person and player who's evolved every step of the way," Presti said.
Victor Oladipo, a former number two pick in the NBA Draft, came to the team in the Ibaka trade. Presti said he thinks fans will take to the guard quickly.
"It's exciting to think about the quickness of a Westbrook, Oladipo back court," Presti said.
The Thunder have also signed Spanish guard Alex Albrines to a contract. The team claimed rights to Albrines in the 2013 draft.
"It's like adding another draft pick. He shoots the basketball at a high level...he's a quiet competitor," Presti said.
The Thunder have turned towards big men, recently trading for Denver center Joffrey Lauvergne, in a time when smaller lineups are popular across the NBA.
"If everyone is trying to win the same way, I think it's the quickest path to the middle," Presti said. "A year ago people would have said you can't play with size anymore...that goes back to Billy Donovan's approach, he's constantly looking for a way to build a competitive difference."
Presti said the team wants to be really good on the defensive end and that he believes they have a physicality and athleticism to them.
"I'm really, really excited about the group we have. They have a tremendous opportunity to become a cohesive team and a team that is really connected on an emotional level," Presti said.
When asked if the team would make any more moves prior to the season, Presti said only time will tell.
"Until we see the team and the style of play...it's going to be hard to sit back and say 'We need this...and we need that'," Presti said.
Backup point guard Cameron Payne underwent surgery on his foot in the off-season. Presti says Payne has been playing five on five and will be able to undergo whatever the team's training staff thinks he is capable of.
"For me, I'm disappointed in the fact that he's in that situation," Presti said.
Despite the suspension, Presti said McGary will competing for a spot on the team. Enes Kanter had a tumultuous off-season and was reportedly disowned by his family. Presti said his staff will be "available and supportive to him as a person."
When asked about recent national anthem protests in the NFL and how the team will handle the situation, Presti differed to the NBA league office.
"We've had players and staff stand for the national anthem for eight years. At the same time, our players have the ability to express themselves...we respect that."