New-look Thunder on tap for 2019-20

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — In preparation for the upcoming 2019-20 NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti took a little vacation. The only GM the organization has ever known traveled back East to Vermont to spend time with his family, clear his head, write in his journal and grow a beard.

But the time away also seemingly gave Presti a chance to look over the 11 years the Thunder have been in Oklahoma City and let him appreciate what the franchise has been through. But also appreciate just how monumental of a job the Thunder have in front of them.

“I feel humbled about the fact that we have a really big task in front of us after 11 years in Oklahoma City,” Presti said Thursday. “We have the second-best record in the NBA, we have the second-best net rating over that same period of time, and we’ve had a lot of success. I’m humbled about the fact that now we have to look at how we’re going to continue to chart a path that’s going to be able to meet those long-term standards, and that can be energizing but it also makes you realize, like it’s hard to do that in the NBA. So I’d say those three things are the things that I’ve thought about the most, and you can thank Vermont for that, as well.”

When Oklahoma City starts training camp next week, it will be the first time the roster will not feature the name Russell Westbrook, who was traded in the offseason to Houston.

Gone also is Paul George, who asked to be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers after just two years with the Thunder and one year into his max deal four-year contract.

Replacing Westbrook, George and Jerami Grant are veteran point guard Chris Paul, forward Danilo Gallinari and guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Along with Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams, they will make up the core of an entirely different looking Oklahoma City squad than the fans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena have seen before.

“Relative to the season, I think we’ve got a really interesting mix of not just new players and returning players but also veteran players and young players,” Presti said. “I’m excited and I think everybody is excited to watch and see how the team comes together through the year. I think this team has a significant amount of discovery within it in terms of just learning about the new players that we have and how they fit with the existing group. And I think it should be really exciting to see.”

Rebuilding wasn’t the original plan

Two weeks ago, Clippers coach Doc Rivers announced that it was known throughout the NBA that the Thunder were looking to tear down its team and start rebuilding after they were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs.

Presti refuted that statement.

“I don’t know the context in which that comment was made, and obviously no one asked us our opinion about it But no, I mean, I think at the end of the day, we all know that players like Paul George and Russell Westbrook are extremely hard to acquire in cities, in the smaller cities in the league, and when you have those players, you try to do everything you can to retain them,” Presti said. “But once Paul asked for the trade, I felt like we made the most of the situation to work for everybody, which allowed us to do it. I think the thought pattern just doesn’t really line up if you just look at it logically, probably that type of thing would have been done much earlier and it wouldn’t have resulted from a trade request from one of your best players.”

Thunder still stand by KD

Former Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was once again critical of his former team in an article in the Wall Street Journal. He said the place felt venomous and he would never be associated with it.

Presti was asked about the comments, but wouldn’t take the bait.

“I would just say this: If there is anything that Kevin Durant ever, ever needed from me or from anyone here, it would be moment’s notice for that to happen,” Presti said. “I also think if you work with people for eight years like we did, he and I — he was 19 when he came into the NBA, I was 29. We both went through a lot of changes together, and I have nothing but positive things to say about him and his tenure here.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelanmce Content Provider

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