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    Thunder boss sees team getting competitive again — eventually

    Oct 12, 2021
    PHOTO: AP

    OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder aren't talking about the NBA playoffs, wins or losses.

    A franchise that had missed the playoffs just once in the previous 11 seasons ended last season in the draft lottery with a 22-50 record. General manager Sam Presti's focus is on helping a group of talented young players led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander flourish so the Thunder can be competitive again — eventually.

    "This year for us is as much about anything as getting a baseline of where we're at, now that we have a grouping of young players that will compete to figure out who will be here for the long term and who can help us cultivate the next era of Thunder basketball," Presti said. "I think that's incredibly exciting, but I also think it's necessary."

    Presti said fans need to be patient because Oklahoma City is not a prime free agent destination, and there are no quick fixes for medium- and small-market teams. He said immediately recreating the glory days with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that included an NBA Finals appearance and four trips to the Western Conference Finals is unrealistic.

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    "If you want to lower your expectations, you can change the way you build and be a little bit more short-term oriented," he said. "But if you want to have high aspirations and high-performing teams of years upon years, you can't do that and think you can do it quickly or with shortcuts."

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    There is potential.

    Gilgeous-Alexander led the team last season with 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game. He shot 51% from the field and 42% on 3-pointers. He is healed from the torn plantar fascia that kept him out the final two months of last season. He signed a max deal in the offseason, and he's ready to show he deserves it.

    "It was a dream come true," he said. "Super proud of it, super happy about it, obviously. But I know for me, the job is not done, work is not done. It's just one milestone I get to cross off my list, but I still have 90% of my list, so I won't stop."

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    Forward Darius Bazley averaged 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season. Guard Luguentz Dort is a shutdown defender who emerged as an offensive player late last season and averaged 24.4 points and 5.3 rebounds on 46% shooting from the field in April.

    Presti believes things are heading in the right direction.

    "I think ultimately, when we are playing really high level basketball in Oklahoma City and the arena is on fire and we're in the postseason and fans have witnessed the come-up and understand the time, they're going to look back on a few things," he said.

    Joshua Giddey

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    GIDDY FOR GIDDEY

    Australian guard Josh Giddey, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft, is a 6-foot-8 point guard who looked ready for the league in his debut. He scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting and had seven rebounds and three assists in the preseason opener Oct. 4 against Charlotte.

    "The stats tonight didn't really worry me," he said after the game. "It was more about just getting a feel for the NBA league, getting adjusted to the pace and physicality of the game."

    DERRICK FAVORS

    Favors, a 6-foot-10 big man, arrives wit a chance to provide leadership and steady play. The 12-year NBA veteran has career averages of 10.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. The Thunder acquired him and a future first-round draft pick from the Jazz in July in exchange for a 2027 second-round draft pick and cash considerations. Favors gets a look at his immediate past right away: The Thunder season opener is Oct. 20 at Utah.

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      Bazley said he's been focused on adding strength in the offseason. He was slender his first two seasons, but now, he has some power to go with his exceptional leaping ability.

      "I took, like, two weeks off after the season ended and then got straight to it," he said. "Me and the strength coaches, we had a plan, and we stuck to it. ... It makes me feel good that the work is paying off. I definitely was in the weight room trying to get bigger and get stronger for this upcoming season."

      YEAR TWO

      Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski, who played significant minutes as rookies last year, are back.

      Maledon, a point guard from France, started 49 games at point guard and averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 assists. Pokusevski, a 7-foot wing player from Serbia, averaged 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds. He scored 29 points in his final regular-season game last season against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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      DECK'S OLYMPICS

      Forward Gabriel Deck played for Argentina at the Olympics. He averaged 11.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists for a squad that lost to Australia in the quarterfinals.

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      PHOTO: AP
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