OKLAHOMA CITY — Responding to recent critical comments made by Kevin Durant about the Oklahoma City Thunder organization, general manager Sam Presti pushed back against the idea that there’s lingering animosity.
“If there is anything that Kevin Durant ever, ever needed from me or from anyone here, it would be a moment’s notice for that to happen,” Presti said Thursday. “I also think if you work with people for eight years like we did, he and I — he was 19 when he came into the NBA, I was 29. We both went through a lot of changes together, and I have nothing but positive things to say about him and his tenure here.
“You’ve asked me that in the past. You’ve asked me that today. You can ask me that in the future if something like this comes up again. I’m never going to change that tune because that’s how I feel.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Durant singled out Presti while criticizing team staffers and the fan base about how he was treated during his first return game to Oklahoma City with the Golden State Warriors.
“I eventually wanted to come back to that city and be part of that community and organization, but I don’t trust nobody there,” Durant said. “That s— must have been fake, what they was doing. The organization, the GM, I ain’t talked to none of those people, even had a nice exchange with those people, since I left.”
Durant, now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, has gone back and forth regarding his feelings about the Thunder since his 2016 departure, calling OKC “home” in one interview and also saying he had fun during the return game. But his most recent comments were directed more specifically at Presti and the organization.
“I would always be there if he needed anything from me, and I truthfully believe … it would be reciprocated, as well,” Presti said of Durant.
Asked about Durant’s claim he hasn’t had a “positive conversation” with anyone in the organization, Presti, who called Durant’s contributions to the Thunder “monumental,” deferred.
“I’ve never made it a habit of getting into my personal conversations with our former players, other than to say I feel really good about those relationships, and I think you can hear in my voice the way I feel about him,” Presti said. “That hasn’t changed, and it won’t change.”
Presti also addressed recent comments from Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who claimed there was knowledge the Thunder wanted to “break up their team,” which prompted Los Angeles’ move to trade for Paul George.
“No,” Presti said when asked if Rivers’ claim was true. “I mean, again, I don’t know the context in which that comment was made, and obviously no one asked us our opinion about it. But no. … We all know that players like Paul George and Russell Westbrook are extremely hard to acquire in cities, in the smaller cities in the league, and when you have those players, you try to do everything you can to retain them.”
George was traded nearly a week into free agency — not exactly an ideal time to begin a roster teardown — after the Thunder had agreed to deals with veterans Mike Muscala and Alec Burks, anticipating them as additions to a contending-level team.
“I think the thought pattern just doesn’t really line up if you just look at it logically,” Presti said. “Probably that type of thing would have been done much earlier and it wouldn’t have resulted from a trade request from one of your best players.”
After George was traded and the outlook for the Thunder had shifted, they allowed Muscala and Burks to reevaluate their options. (Muscala stayed; Burks signed with the Warriors.)
In the wake of George’s trade, Presti was very candid in saying the Thunder were approaching the upcoming season with the possibility of it being the last for their core group. The pivot to a possible teardown wasn’t coming until at least the following summer, but following George’s trade request, the Thunder enacted a new plan. They traded Westbrook to Houston soon after the George deal.
“There’s nothing illegal about what took place,” Presti said. “PG handled that like a pro with us. It wasn’t the conversation I wanted to be having in the middle of free agency, but it was handled professionally and in a way that was respectful, and we were able to make it work for us.”