Thunder: Former coach P.J. Carlesimo speaks
A transcript of former Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo’s interview with The Oklahoman on May 13:
Thoughts on the Thunder going 50-32 this season and advancing to the playoffs:
“I don’t think anybody saw this coming, except the (Thunder) players and the coaches. In my opinion, they’re certainly ahead of schedule. People believed how talented and young they were and that eventually they would become a good team. When they got (Serge) Ibaka and (Thabo) Sefolosha is what really jump-started the whole thing. Thabo in particular gave them a perimeter defender, which helped a lot. It also made the defensive matchups a lot better for Kevin (Durant) and Jeff (Green). The trades and acquisitions helped tremendously. The rest was just natural.”
Did you envision this much success coming this soon?
“I really believed they were going to be that good eventually. Would I have said were going to win 50 games in the third year? No. I think that was because of the players and the staff there this year doing an exceptional job.
“The feeling was there was going to be light at the end of the tunnel, but you also didn’t think you would struggle as much as we did the year before when we started out 2-14. You didn’t think it would be to that extreme. In some of the games you play well, and in some of the games you don’t. But there was just no reward whatsoever, so that’s when you’ve got to wonder. To me, that’s when all the hard work pays because in retrospect you didn’t expect the level of struggling early. You knew it wasn’t going to go well because you had road games against tough people. You’re like, ‘Uh-oh,’ but you didn’t expect it to be 2-14 and 1-12, nor do you expect it to turn the way it turned.
“Looking back, you could see where the numbers were starting to get pretty good at the end of last year (2008-09). You could say, ‘Looks like we’re starting to turn the corner. Looks like we’re starting to become a better team.’ But, boy, few people would have thought it would have turned so dramatically and then take the current NBA champs to the wall. It was just so unfortunate we got off to the start we did because we could tell the city wanted to win so badly. Obviously, the product on the floor is one they’re really proud of now.”
On Kevin Durant, a first-team All-NBA and All-Star selection who become the youngest scoring champion in NBA history:
“You didn’t have to watch Kevin for more than five seconds to say, ‘This kid is going to end up being one of the best players in the league.’ To be first-team All-NBA, you have to be on a successful team. I didn’t think there was a question Kevin would get there. The question was how quick could the team get good enough for him to get that personal recognition.”
How can the Thunder get better?
“Scottie (Brooks) and the coaches have a very good handle on what they need to take the next step. They certainly would like to shoot the 3 better and they could be better in their defensive rebounding. Offensive rebounding, they were pretty good. They also could take a little better care of the all, but you’re really nitpicking there. They did everything else so well.
“They were a very solid team. It wasn’t like they did it with mirrors. It’s not just the 50 wins, it’s how close they were in so many other games. It wasn’t like there were peaks and valleys. They were pretty consistent. These guys have settled into their roles, and they’re going to continue to get even better.
“Scottie has put them in positions where they can be successful. Having a good work ethic has always been the trademark of these guys from Day 1. Not only are they getting talented players, they’re also really good people. The coaches work hard, too. It’s a very, very positive situation there. They’ve got young talent that doesn’t think they have all the answers and they’re not afraid to work. Four starters played all 82 games. That’s a trademark of having a young team, but you’re also very fortunate. That’s also great for your continuity. This was a horrible year for injuries for a lot of teams.
“The league is fragile. Nobody talks about it, but every year only one team wins and the other 29 are asking, ‘What do we need to do to get better?’ There’s still a ton of work to do, but in terms of where they were at and where they are now, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing better than the Thunder. It just goes back to the people.”
The Thunder’s roster now compared to when he was coach:
“It wasn’t like our (2007-09) teams were divided. It wasn’t like they didn’t get along. There were good people on the team, but the team wasn’t nearly as talented then as it is now. They’ve done even a better job of getting good people. When they add a piece, they’re very mindful of what type of person they’re bringing into the mix.
“Kevin and Jeff were in a very difficult situation that first year because they were such high draft picks and they were going to be the face of the franchise going forward. There was all the normal rookie-veteran stuff on that team, but the way Kevin and Jeff handled themselves really made it work. That could have been a very difficult situation with a lot of resentment, but it wasn’t because of the type of guys they’ve got. The feeling from the beginning was all it was going to take was time because the pieces were so good. The work ethic, that’s the thing that gets lost in the shuffle.”
The importance of having a good practice facility when the team arrived:
“That’s one of the better practice facilities (14701 N. Lincoln Blvd.) in the league right now. It’s not in the top 10, but it’s one of the better ones. That to me was a reflection of the commitment they had. It was going to take a lot of hard work. Everything in that organization has gotten better since Day 1 — the team, the practice facility, the (Ford Center) arena.
“They could have said, ‘Let’s just use a gym that we don’t have access to 24/7, that doesn’t have extra baskets, that doesn’t have the weight room right there for you. But they said, ‘No, no, no. This stuff is important. We need this today.’ There are a lot of owners who wouldn’t have done it that way when they have a brand new facility on the way (due for completion late this year).
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