If the season were to end today, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the winners of the Northwest Division. However, where exactly would they go from there? The Thunder are 28-15 and have three division foes within four games right now, which should create an exciting second half of the season. But the problem thus far, for Oklahoma City, has come in the fact that they really haven’t been able to beat the top-tier contenders up to this point.The Thunder are 0-2 against top Western team San Antonio, are 1-2 against Dallas with their lone victory a squeaker after Dallas suffered its critical injuries and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers a week ago. I think Oklahoma City is a nice team and a fun one to watch, but I can’t start taking them seriously until they prove they can beat the best.
Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti joined The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City with Al Eschbachto assess the team at the season’s midway point, discuss the development of point guard Russell Westbrook, if he’s surprised that the Spurs are atop the conference, if the possibility of a work stoppage affects what he does and to give his thoughts on the upcoming trade deadline.
His assessment of the team just past the midway point in the season:
“Our record is certainly on the positive side and team-wise, I think there’s a pretty good appreciation for how hard it is for us to win a game in the NBA because we haven’t exactly had the yellow brick road laid out for us over the last several years that we’ve been in town. At the same time, we feel like there’s areas we can improve on and we expect to.”
On the development of point guard Russell Westbrook:
“I don’t think any of us can stand up and say we knew that Russell would develop into the player that he is. I think the things that really attracted us to him … we were in certainly a beginning or in the midst of a pretty serious transition phase, we were trying to create an identity for the team. And what we saw in Russell was, first, a person that we wanted to try and bring into the program because he has great character. … Like anything else, we’re betting on the fact that this person, the fiber of the kid, was going to allow him to maximize his potential.”
If he’s surprised that the Spurs have the best record in the Western Conference:
“One thing that’s probably surprising to most people is this is just about the time right now where they really start to pick up momentum. … They’re notoriously kind of slow starters, but they kind of came out of the gates clicking. I think they’re a great example. They’ve been together for quite a while, they’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs.”
How the possibility of a work stoppage has affected his job:
“We can’t really control that. The things that we can control are continuing to focus on building our team, building our quality of play, continuing to not lose sight of the fact that, in addition to building a basketball team and a roster, we’re building a franchise.”
His thoughts on the upcoming trade deadline:
“Part of my job is to constantly be looking at how we can improve the team and we do that every day. At the same time, it takes a lot of work to put a deal together in the league. We’ll make our calls and we’re going to take a lot of calls, too. We’re fortunate to have a group of players that people do value, so we get a lot of calls on our team.”