OKLAHOMA CITY - Thunder general manager Sam Presti is aware of coach Scott Brooks' critics.
An NBA Finals appearance in 2012 fueled expectations, so when San Antonio beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City this season to close out the Western Conference finals, it didn't go over well with some locals in this era of winning coaches getting fired. Naysayers also believe Brooks' offensive strategy gives point guard Russell Westbrook too much freedom at the expense of MVP Kevin Durant.
Presti did his best to squelch the talk on Thursday. After all, he said, the Thunder finished with the second-best record in the NBA this season, despite numerous injuries to key players.
"Scotty, I think, did an excellent job," Presti said. "I understand, we all have a tendency to look at the last game and the last series. I respect it. That's part of sports. I can't do that."
Brooks took over for P.J. Carlesimo during the 2008-09 season and led the team to a 22-47 record. The team has won at least 61 per cent of its games each season since. Brooks has a 293-170 record with the Thunder.
"He's stacking successful seasons on top of each other, increasing our odds to take a really unique amount of time that we've been successful and extend it to a very, very unique amount of time," Presti said.
Durant said this week that he feels Brooks is the man to keep things moving.
"That's our guy," Durant said. "I'm riding with him."
Brooks has praised Westbrook while often publicly pointing out his three-time All-Star's need to find a balance between shooting and passing when he attacks. Westbrook also spoke highly of Brooks this week.
"He's done a great job of having confidence in me personally," Westbrook said. "There's times when things have gone south and he's the only one that always — regardless of what happened — always had my back. Regardless if people were saying I was doing this or doing that, I was being selfish, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what's going on."
Brooks will have plenty to work with. Durant is signed through 2015-16, and Westbrook and defensive ace Serge Ibaka are signed through 2016-17.
Backup centre Steven Adams figures to be a prominent part of the future. The 20-year-old from New Zealand improved dramatically late in the regular season while Kendrick Perkins was out with an injury, then continued to get better in the playoffs. Presti sees Adams' talent, but says he has work ahead.
Perkins is still a solid defender, but his offensive limitations allow defences to pay more attention to Durant and Westbrook.
When Presti was asked about the amnesty clause, which allows a team to waive one player without his salary counting against the cap or luxury tax, he hesitated before offering perspective. He said though Adams was solid against the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio, Perkins played a key role in the grueling seven-game series against Memphis.
Presti said he wouldn't consider waiving or trading Perkins unless it could help the team strategically long term.
Shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha is an unrestricted free agent who lost his starting job during the playoffs. Caron Butler, a mid-season pickup, is an unrestricted free agent. He had his moments, but was out of the rotation by the end of the playoffs. The team has the option to keep Hasheem Thabeet, a 7-foot-3 backup centre. Thabeet played little, even while Perkins was injured. Presti was non-committal in each case.
Presti seemed uncertain what unrestricted free agent Derek Fisher will do, but said he will be successful whatever he decides. The 39-year-old guard has been connected to the New York Knicks' head coaching job.
"We have absolutely no reason to expect Derek to keep us informed of his plans," Presti said. "The only thing we have a right to do is to support him because he's left an impact here in a positive way."
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