Next season starts now. The Thunder’s 2016-17 campaign ended on Tuesday night in Houston, and as a part of the wrap-up activities Head Coach Billy Donovan and the players all met with the media on Wednesday to break down the year that just passed and preview their offseason plans.
As the team discussed the resilient season it just completed, they also seemed determined to get their rest and then get right back to work in order to be ready for 2017-18. Below is a running blog of what all of the guys had to say:
Head Coach Billy Donovan
All seasons come to an end, and outside of one team every year each team is left empty handed. As Head Coach Billy Donovan described on Wednesday morning, however, every season has meaning.
From the ownership to the management to the staff to the players, every person involved in the 2016-17 campaign made an impact for the Thunder, and helped propel the team forward through a season of learning and discovery. Through massive, sweeping changes, injuries and adversity, the Thunder stuck together the whole way through.
“I want to personally thank (Thunder Chairman) Mr. (Clayton I.) Bennett, (General Manager) Sam (Presti), (Assistant General Manager) Troy (Weaver) and the front office. As a coach I couldn’t ask for more support,” Donovan said. “I have great appreciation when you’re working with people you can work collectively and cohesively together.”
Watch: Coach Donovan
“My focus now going forward is how do we continue to keep building and continue to keep getting better?” Donovan said.
The Thunder was the youngest team in the playoffs, but just because the team now has one playoff series under its belt doesn’t all of the sudden mean they’ll be a year better next year. This offseason Donovan and his staff will be encouraging the players to continue to be diligent in their work in order to elevate themselves next year.
“Our team, during the course of the season got better and better. We improved,” Donovan said. “Everyone knows the youthfulness of our team, but with that youthfulness we were able to gain an enormous amount of experience.”
“There’s no shortcut to getting better. It’s important that they understand that as well,” Donovan continued. “There’s a process. If you want to be very, very good and continue to get better, there’s no shortcut to that.”
As for himself, Donovan learned quite a lot about each player on the roster, the direction the NBA is heading and how he and his staff can continue to get better. With the leadership of Russell Westbrook and the evolution of some of the Thunder’s young talent, the team has a direction moving forward. This summer, it’ll be about putting in the work required to make that big stride.
It was a season for the ages. No one in history has ever done what Russell Westbrook did statistically in 2016-17. The 42 triple-doubles, the scoring title and all of the incredible late-game heroics.
After spending a large portion of his career having to carry himself with broad shoulders, Westbrook’s unbelievable play earned him praise and accolades from fans all across the league and the world. When the Thunder’s leader looks at his upcoming summer, impending fatherhood and the work he’ll put in with his teammates, he thinks solely about bringing all that he has at a high level every time he steps on the floor.
“It was definitely a blessing for me to see fans all across the world support not just me but our team,” Westbrook said. “Guys rallied around that and people came out to see us.”
Watch: Russell Westbrook
“Consistency is a huge thing for me,” Westbrook said. “People always ask what the hardest thing to do as a player, and I always tell them it’s to be consistent.”
More than the statistics on the court, it was the leadership Westbrook showed throughout the season of change that defined the Thunder’s year. After what the team lost in the summer of 2016 and all of the trades, changes and injuries that occurred could have caused a massive shift in the Thunder organization. Westbrook steadied the ship, empowered his teammates and led by example each and every night. Heading into the offseason, he and the Thunder are confident that good things are ahead.
“There’s different things that I can improve on. Off the top of my head, finding different ways to make my teammates better. There are games where I can look at the film where I can see ways to make my teammates better.”
“We have a lot of great guys that want to get better. They know what it feels like to be in the playoffs and the sacrifice and different things that it takes to move forward,” Westbrook explained. “It’s going to be a good summer for us.”
There have been plenty NBA sixth seeds and teams who have fallen in the first round of the playoffs, but for Nick Collison, the Thunder and its fans in Oklahoma City, this 2016-17 season has to be up there with one of the most exciting.
The Thunder finished the season with only four rotation players who were on the roster during the 2015-16 run to the Western Conference Finals, yet thanks to Collison and Russell Westbrook’s leadership, the team was able to rack up 47 wins and a postseason berth.
Watch: Nick Collison
“It’s not easy to win in the league. It’s a tough league,” Collison said. “For us to come in and have a good year and feel like we were competitive every night, it was a fun challenge. It was different but it ended up being a really satisfying year.”
“Russell was great in giving us direction. It was like, here we go, let’s get this thing rolling,” Collison added. “We didn’t look back.”
Collison has had a long and incredible career thus far with the Thunder organization. He’s the longest tenured player on the roster and one of the few long-time veterans in the NBA who have spent their entire career with one franchise. While his contract is up after this season and his future is unknown, Collison believes that he has plenty to contribute to a team on the floor.
“I’ve always had a positive effect on my team when I’ve been in the game,”
Collison said. “I realize that there are certain matchups in the league that are really hard for me. I still think there’s a place for what I do. I understand the game and over the years consistently, when I’ve been in the game, the team’s done well. It’s a little bit more of an art than a science.”
As Donovan mentioned during his time at the podium, this was a season of firsts for the entire Thunder team, including Steven Adams. The fourth-year center was in a completely new role as one of the central, featured offensive threats for the Thunder on a nightly basis. Unlike last season where he had much more room to play, Adams was a focal point for the oppositions’ defensive gameplans. This offseason, he’ll have a chance to adjust to that new level of attention.
“It was just different. On the basketball side of things, they were taking stuff away, rolls and the paint. That was different. I had to adjust to that,” Adams said.
Watch: Steven Adams
Still, the Thunder season was a successful one, and a year in which the group bonded in different ways. From the ‘Stache Brothers videos with Adams and Kanter to the way the team rallied around one another through hard times, the team worked together to make things as smooth as possible for one another. New teammates like Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and Norris Cole were welcomed with open arms, and the group had the chance to maximize itself down the stretch because of that positive atmosphere.
“The team chemistry was amazing. With everything that happened and what we had, to be able to make it this far was incredible in itself,” Adams said. “Everyone in the facility is a good person. Whoever comes in, the environment around us, there’s immediate trust.”
Outside of a month-long stretch that he missed with a broken arm, Enes Kanter had a wonderful regular season, putting himself squarely into the conversation for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award. Matchups are key, just like in any playoff series, which meant Kanter didn’t see as many minutes as normal against the Houston Rockets.
Against a different first round opponent, that might have been drastically different. Either way, it doesn’t chance the massive impact Kanter had on the season, which included being a vital finisher on offense during Russell Westbrook’s historic year.
Watch: Enes Kanter
“Everybody was focused during the season, and everybody gave 100 percent and played with the edge. That was the most important thing, and then everybody had fun.”
In his spare time, Kanter was intent on making an impact with the local youth in Oklahoma. Whether it was visiting hospitals, surprising youth basketball teams or simply stopping to talk to fans at the store, Kanter wanted to make sure the Oklahoma locals knew how much their support meant to him and the team.
“Some teams, some cities, when you start losing, they don’t even come to games. But when you look at Thunder fans, Thunder Nation, sometimes if you lost some games, sometimes we win some games — we have good games, bad games, but they’re always there to support us. They’re always there to cheer for us,” Kanter said. “I just feel like whenever I have free time, I just want to give back to the community, give back to them.”
Coming into the season, Andre Roberson knew his role would be the same, but in many ways completely different than the first three years he spent in the NBA.
While technically slotted over at the small forward position instead of shooting guard, Roberson still defended the opposition’s best perimeter scorer each night and managed to put himself in contention for the NBA’s All-Defensive Team. In every game played this season, and especially in the postseason against James Harden and the Houston Rockets, Roberson showed the impact he can have on his assignment.
“I always told myself to be a star in your role and master your craft,” Roberson said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. Be one heck of a defender and then work around that.”
Watch: Andre Roberson
In addition to playing a slightly different position on offense at small forward, Roberson also went from being one of the youngest guys on a veteran-laden team to one of the Thunder players with the most playoff experience. In the postseason, it showed. He was the Thunder’s second-leading scorer in the playoffs because of the way he and Donovan worked together to utilize his cutting, screening and driving ability to manufacture points in a creative and unconventional way.
“I love it man,” Roberson said. “It shows how great of a coach he is to manipulate a defense like that and use the way they’re guarding certain actions and stuff to manipulate it to our advantage. It gave me more confidence to go out and play.”
Roberson is a restricted free agent this summer, so it remains to be seen what his future holds, but if he returns to the Thunder the team knows it has one of the most unique players in the league at its disposal.