OKLAHOMA CITY — Yesterday revealed a side of Sam Presti that we haven’t seen much.
The always prepared, well-groomed and cerebral Presti took to the podium at the Thunder practice facility to discuss a wide range of topics. He knew what was coming.
The obvious: Why are the Oklahoma City Thunder conducting their exit interviews in April for the third consecutive year?
The intriguing: Is Billy Donovan returning for the final year of his contract in 2019-20?
The sexy: Are Russell Westbrook’s media/on-the-floor antics the image the Thunder want from the face of their franchise?
In predictable fashion, Presti was able to command a legion of words against each of the preceding questions. While some garnered more definitive answers than others, the Thunder’s general manager did his best to paint a positive picture on an otherwise disappointing campaign.
One particular point that stood out was Presti’s effort to point out that 2018-19 was not similar to 2017-18. Both seasons ended in similar fashion. The Thunder won 48 and 49 games. OKC had to play through two season-altering injuries — Andre Roberson’s season ending injury last year and Paul George’s nagging shoulder this year. So what was the difference?
“I do think last year we sat here, and there was a clear inflection point,” Presti said yesterday. “We lost Roberson, and at that point things started to really get destabilized. That didn’t happen this year.”
That is good!
In mid-March, I was worried that we would find ourselves during exit interviews hearing Presti lament what might have been had George not been injured. It would have been nice to see OKC with a relatively healthy George. Regardless, George was still out there. An excuse-laden press conference would have been a bad look.
The fans sure don’t want to hear the brains of the outfit play the what-if game.
But did Presti actually believe that there was no “inflection point” this season as he called it? He said those words three times in one answer.
Presti’s opening statement lasted 2146 words or four full pages on my Google Document page. In those statements he bounced from thanking people, to pointing out the 70 percent of the season was a success and then to mentioning Alex Abrines.
“The spot on the roster to me that we didn’t have redundancy and continued support was when we lost Alex,” Presti said. “That’s on me. That’s on me. I thought Alex was going to have a breakout year to be honest with you and be a pretty big part to this team. When we lost him in the end of February, we were 18 games over .500, we were playing really well. Once we got into March we started to feel his absence more, and I didn’t have somebody else that could step in that was sitting on the end of the bench.”
Abrines was mentioned another 14 times by Presti. For reference, Russell Westbrook was mentioned nine times with Paul George’s name dropped three times.
Every time he was mentioned, the feeling seemed to point towards Presti believing that the Spanish shooting guard was in fact the inflection point he previously mentioned didn’t exist for 2018-19.
“I think if we have Alex, I think we’re a better team that way,” Presti mentioned.
Abrines was important to the Thunder’s depth. In fact, OKC trusted him so much for his shooting expertise that they drew up two last second out-of-bounds plays against Minnesota and New Orleans for potential game winners — he missed both. A team with three-point shooting struggles could have used a guy like Abrines in the rotation.
But was Abrines worthy of this many mentions? A streaky shooter who was, at most, a solid contributor? It really felt from Presti’s comments, that Abrines would have been the elixir to cure the Thunder’s woes in March (they went 6-13) or potentially be a difference maker in the postseason.
It was interesting to see the typically well-prepared Sam Presti to say one thing directly but then indirectly hint at an opposing thing during a press conference. There is no doubt that OKC could have been better with Alex Abrines on the roster.
The unfortunate thing is that Abrines had to leave the team for a still undisclosed personal matter.
“All I can tell you is it was a personal issue,” Presti said. “Alex is doing well, and I really believe in Alex as a player, and he really was showing great strides. I thought he was going to have a great year. Unfortunately it didn’t go that way. But I’m just not at liberty to talk more about that other than to say like we support him, and he’s still part of our family. He’s just not part of the team.”
But Abrines does not fix any of the inherent problems the Thunder currently have. Abrines was a role player, not a guy who puts you over the top. Perhaps Abrines would have eventually hit a game-winner, hit a few more three’s in Game 1 against Portland or developed into a more talented two-way player.
OKC’s problems are deeper than Abrines. Presti claiming there is no inflection point this year and then talking about Abrines as if he was a Scottie Pippen-type player — not very Presti-like.