Sam Presti on Friday looked and felt as comfortable as he's ever been.
His signature wrinkle-free blue shirt nattily hugged his torso beneath his tightly-knotted navy blue tie. Those designer eyeglasses fit more snugly, slipping down his still face far less frequently than before. Before he even took his seat — armed with answers to any and all questions — the Oklahoma City Thunder general manager opened his pre-training camp news conference by noting how much cooler the film room at the team's practice facility was compared to the last time he met the media following the team's first-round loss to the Lakers.
As he enters his fourth season at the helm, Presti's demeanor, everything from his attitude from his attire, seemingly reflected the type of quiet confidence Thunder players will display at their own media day on Monday.
But for all the talk of development, both from physical and skillful standpoints, it's whether this Thunder team, the talk of the league throughout the summer, has matured enough mentally to handle lofty expectations heading into 2010-11.
If the players do indeed take their cues from the top, get ready to hear an ironic answer to that question.
As Presti said Friday, the biggest reason for optimism going forward was created by the most ghastly of seasons two years ago. Once a 3-29 outfit, the Thunder is now a 50-win club ready to continue to climb the ranks of the NBA's elite. But the further the Thunder moves away from its 23-win season of two years ago, the more the club is drawing on that campaign to steer it through any potential struggles this season.
"There's been some struggle over the last few years," Presti said. "I think there's a genuine humility with how fragile this is. You can't take anything for granted in the NBA. You have to respect how difficult it is to win and you have to continue to stay focused on the things that you can control because so many things are out of your control at the end of the day. So I think our guys will benefit from their experiences. Some of them have been positive and some of them haven't been."
Presti stopped short of labeling this year's team a top-five caliber team as many pundits see it. But he called this summer's flattery over the franchise "nice" and "humbling."
"By the same token, I don't think anyone in our building expects that any of those things are going to translate into production on the court," Presti said. "It's really up to us to stay focused and disciplined to our core principles."
And Presti maintains that the team's philosophy has not changed or wavered in the least. The focus again will be on building a sound defensive team that plays hard and collectively every night while striving to become a team that sustains success in the Western Conference.
Presti, as he has in years past, declined to predict a win total for this season or limit in any way what the Thunder could accomplish. But the GM sounded cautiously optimistic entering this season given last year's breaks that included extremely good health and a few other teams' misfortune.
"We had a lot of things go our way last year; I think everyone can see that," Presti said. "We also enjoyed some real big strides developmentally with some of our guys. With all that being said, we were still the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
"So overall, I think that lends itself to the overall understanding and humility of the group that we still have a long way to go given a lot of the things that fell in line for us last year."