The Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs a lot sooner than expected this year, losing to the Grizzlies in the conference semifinals after just five games. The largest reason for the Thunder falling short of last season's Western Conference title was the loss of Russell Westbrook to a lateral meniscus tear just two games into the 2013 postseason.
Now the Thunder have a longer offseason than expected, which will give general manager Sam Presti more time for this June's draft while he continues to sculpt the direction the Thunder go after their first major setback since moving to Oklahoma City. The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry spoke with Presti about his plans for the team this summer.
On whether the Thunder are prepared to go into luxury tax territory this summer:
We will continue to look at and evaluate all of the opportunities that present themselves to our team. As a result of our commitments to our core players, the organization will ultimately end up as tax payers. However, given that our goal is to have a team capable of contention for a sustained period of years, when to proactively enter the tax and how realistic it is for a team in Oklahoma City to sustain successive taxable seasons will have to be carefully examined.
On using the amnesty clause this summer:
The amnesty clause is not something we have deeply considered as an organization. We understand that there is a lot of misinformation as to its intent, and as a mechanism. The majority of the teams that have used it have done so when they were under the salary cap or when they have exceeded the luxury tax to a degree in which the player's salary is less expensive than that of the luxury tax penalty itself. We do not fall into either dynamic, therefore it has not been something deeply explored by our organization.
On whether the team has a roster spot for the three picks they have this summer:
The draft presents all kinds of opportunities, we will explore all of them. Our decisions will be driven by who is available, and the value we place on them fitting with our team, organization and community. We will remain open-minded about the different ways we can utilize our draft picks but also recognize that teams that sustain success over time are built with a consistent stream of players that were drafted and developed internally.
On evaluating the team without Westbrook during the playoffs:
The team we finished with was of course not the team we are, but that is part of sports. We all face things that are out of our control but we still need to deal with them by coming to work the next day and maintaining our standards to the best of our ability. Given the limited amount of time that our players and coaches had to adjust to the absence of Russell, I think they did an excellent job of working to maximize the group in place and we need to continue to look to do that when the next unforeseen circumstances or situation arises in the future.
On the biggest offseason need this summer:
First and foremost, we need to maintain the efficiency that has been developed on both ends of the floor. From there I think we have made strides in reducing our turnover percentage, while also increasing our assist percentage across the board, but we need to continue to build on the progress of this season because that will only raise the efficiency that we have demonstrated that we are capable of. Whether we do that through outside acquisitions or internally, these will be key aspects to our improvement next season.