/articleid/3461711/1/pictures/945449"> P.J. Carlesimo Former Thunder coach
Thabo in particular gave them a perimeter defender, which helped a lot. It also made the defensive matchups a lot better for Kevin and Jeff. The trades and acquisitions helped tremendously. The rest was just natural."
Under Carlesimo, the Thunder had a wide-ranging roster in terms of age. Now the Thunder’s key elements are in their 20s, with roughly half still in their low 20s.
"It wasn’t like our (2007-09) teams were divided. It wasn’t like they didn’t get along," Carlesimo said. "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."
Carlesimo said he is happy for players and coaches who were with the Thunder during his tenure, and particularly for veteran forward Nick Collison, who played for five coaches in a span of five seasons.
Another key to the Thunder’s rapid ascent has been Russell Westbrook, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 draft, whom Carlesimo didn’t feel should play point guard.
"Then again, I don’t know what (position) Dwyane Wade plays, either," Carlesimo said with a laugh. "I believe in him (Westbrook) as a talent. Russell reminded me of (Boston’s) Rajon Rondo from Day 1. The thing that stuck out with me was the anticipation and the steals. But the ability they have that no other point guards have is the rebounding. They distort a game with their rebounding. Russell totally disrupts you with his quickness, his steals, his anticipation and then his rebounding is off the charts.
"To me, Russell is always going to be a wild card, in a good sense. A wild card because of all the positions he could play. There’s going to be games and series where it’s an enormous advantage. Russell might not have been a classic point guard, but he was too damn good not to draft. (General manager) Sam Presti felt he was too special to not draft, and he was right. ‘Don’t worry about what position he is. Let’s just get him and play him because he’s going to be really good.’
"A lot of people were saying ‘Yeah, but’ about Russell being a true point guard. A lot of wins from now, people are going to still be saying, ‘Yeah, but.’ "
A native of Scranton, Pa., Carlesimo will turn 61 two weeks from today. He still lives in Seattle with wife Carolyn and their two sons, Kyle and Casey.
Carlesimo was a college head coach for 20 seasons and an NBA head coach for eight. He hopes to return to coaching someday, preferably at the pro level.
For the past two years, Carlesimo has worked as a college basketball television analyst and this season did 13 games on the San Antonio Spurs network while filling in for Sean Elliott.
Carlesimo said it’s important for the Thunder to remember all the work it took to make last season possible. It’s also important to remember the greatness of the achievement.
"By them doing it so confidently and making it look like they belonged, to me it almost detracted from it they did a little bit," Carlesimo said. "Believe me, there are a lot of other franchises out there scratching their heads and saying, ‘How in hell did they do that? We can’t even get in the playoffs.’ "
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