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Nuggets from my notebook from Thunder exit interviews

by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 2, 2014

The morning after.

Reality set in Sunday, when player after player was paraded into the media workroom inside the Thunder’s practice facility, where they answered question after question about what went wrong , what went right and what the team can be build on.

The season is officially over.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks and eight players addressed the media Sunday before darting off into what could be the most important offseason in team history.  The rest of the roster is scheduled to met with the Monday morning. But the heavy hitters went today.

Videos of most, if not all, of the exit interviews will be posted online soon. For now, here’s what I heard and took away from Sunday’s session.

  • Scott Brooks was asked a couple of different ways about his job security, and he beat around the bush both of the first two times he was politely questioned. Then he was asked directly. He still didn’t provide much in the way of an insightful answer about the situation. But that’s Scott Brooks. “It’s something I don’t even consider,” Brooks said. “I just do my job every day. I’ve had a lot of valuable lessons in my life from my mother, and she’s always told me this – do your job every day, and you live with the results.”
  • Brooks: “We had a great year. We won 59 games, won our division, improved in a lot of areas. There’s no question last night was a disappointing finish to our season, but it’s something that we will look back and know that we had a great year. We had a lot of good things that took place this past season. That being said, there are lots of things that we have to get better with, myself included.”
  • Asked specifically what he needs to improve, Brooks dodged the question. He said he needs more time to reflect since the season just ended and then declined to go into details. “We want to get better on both ends of the court,” Brooks said. “But as the days go by, a few weeks go by, I will be able to identify those things that I want to get better at myself.”
  • Brooks on shortening his rotation in Game 6: “As the playoffs go, a lot of times your better players will play more minutes, and that was the case. Playing against San Antonio, we knew we had to have an extra attacker on the floor. We had to have as many two-way players on the floor. You saw in six games, this team has the ability to score in bunches. We had to have the ability to put our best two-way players on the floor to be able to counter their offensive ball movement, plus we had to be able to score some points with them. So, we probably played a few guys extra minutes because of that, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have lost trust and confidence in our team. It’s just the way the playoffs and this series, in particular, have gone.”
  • Brooks on Jeremy Lamb: “He has the ability to be a really terrific offensive player. Defensively, we have to continue to develop that part of his game. As he puts work into his body to get stronger, he’s going to be able to be a much better player. But it’s a player that I feel confident going forward with. I like what he does, and his future is very bright because of the work he puts in.”
  • This is going to surprise you. But Brooks was again non-committal on whether Steven Adams would start for Kendrick Perkins next season. “That remains to be seen. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done this summer. Obviously, he’s been a big part of what we’ve done over the years. We have a good group of guys that all have to come back better, and I expect that to happen with all of our guys, Perk, Kevin, Russell, all the guys have to come back better. Steven has definitely improved as the season has gone one, but he’s another guy that we’re going to continue to challenge and work. We have four months before the next season starts. We expect all of our guys to come back better in four months.”
  • Brooks was back at it when asked about Reggie Jackson possibly starting alongside Russell Westbrook next year. “I hate to put myself in that position because who knows what will happen over the summer. I know with Reggie, he’s a very good player. He has the ability to play both positions just like Russell does, so they can play together. That’s been proven during this series. Don’t know. It’s so early. We have a lot of basketball to be talked about. A lot of things that need to be worked on. Then we have a whole month of training camp. Who will fight for those positions? There’s obviously some positions are available. I can say that.”
  • By now we were roughly 10 minutes into exit interviews and, as you can see, the day can be filled with a lot of non-answer answers, which are a big waste of everyone’s time.
  • Brooks did defend the team’s bench, which came under fire after scoring just five points in the closeout Game 6 loss and struggled for much of the West Finals. “I hate to look at last night. If you look at last night, the bench minutes weren’t the same. They rotate their bench differently… So, we’re different teams. That being said, I feel confident in our group moving forward knowing that this summer is a big summer for all of our guys, myself included, to keep getting better and work on ways to tweak how we play but focus on being committed to one another and continue to sacrifice. If you don’t have those two things, you’re not going to be a good team.”
  • Most of the eight players that followed Brooks, however, were surprisingly candid. There was some talk about how a few went off the reservation, either throwing teammates under the bus or speaking selfishly. But as I saw it, it was a sign of these guys simply being real and sharing their honest feelings as opposed to bland quotes and trite clichés. Showed maturity to me, that these guys are growing up and, one by one, understanding that to win it all they’d have to look themselves in the mirror.
  • Jackson stepped furthest outside the company line. He didn’t pull any punches about his desired role. “I’d like to be a starter. I’m not going to lie,” he said.
  • Jackson then elaborated: “Everybody thinks point guard is kind of a quirky thing. People that like to run the show. That’s kind of our nature, feeling in control. I definitely enjoy that.”
  • I asked Jackson if he’s content being a sixth man. I was shocked at his answer. “It’s tough. Like I said, I’m really a control freak so I like to be in control. That’s kind of how I am. I think that’s how point guards tend to be, quirky. I like to feel in control, a guy kind of running the show.”
  • Uh, we might want to remember that this summer.
  • Here’s the thing about Jackson, though. I can respect what he said today. He didn’t pull any of that crap James Harden pulled two years ago about sacrifice. He told it straight. The man wants to be a starter. He wants to run a team. Nothing at all wrong with that. I wonder about his long-term fit with the Thunder because of that and other reasons I have detailed throughout the season. Contrary to what some think after seeing Jackson struggle at times defensively, he is in fact a starting caliber point guard in this league. Tons of teams would love to have him. He’s that skilled. But for as long as he’s with the Thunder, he’ll have to accept a lesser role. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. Jackson is eligible for an extension to his rookie deal this summer. Between the money he could command, the role he’ll be required to embrace and a fit that is far anything but ideal, it’s far from a guarantee that a deal will be reached this summer.
  • Jackson on whether he’ll continue to start at shooting guard next season: “I don’t know. I get paid to play, not coach. I don’t really have to make that decision. I just was doing what was asked of me. I was thrown in the starting role and did my best to try to scrounge up four wins before they did. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
  • Of course, the biggest issue with Jackson is his defense. While he did struggle at times this season, I think he was unfairly criticized. Not wrongly criticized but unfairly. Because he wasn’t the only one that struggled. Kevin Durant and Westbrook are in years six and seven and still display maddening inconsistency on that end. But few want to pick them apart because of how much they do on offense. But my thing is in order for this team to get to where it wants to go, everybody must be held accountable.
  • Jackson on his issues defensively and how he intends on addressing them: “Poor closeouts. I’ve definitely got to improve on that. I think it’s more mental than anything. When I lock in, I feel like I can pick anybody up for 94 feet. It’s not a problem. It’s just a mental task of doing it and pushing myself beyond the limit, knowing that I can do it on both ends of the floor each and every night, each and every possession. I think that’s somewhere where I’ve got to get better at, just tap into my mental and tell myself I can do it. Maybe the body feels tired, but if the mind’s all right the body will follow. So I’ve got to get better on closeouts, especially when I feel a little fatigued. Too many guys have blown by me so I feel like I was kind of a detriment at times with that when I know the team relies on me to lock in no matter who’s in front of me to get a stop.”
  • Jackson on why locking in defensively for 48 minutes is so difficult for him, Durant and Westbrook: “We probably get lost in thinking about what we have to do offensively for the team at times that we don’t necessarily pay as much detail to defense because we know we can go fill up the stat sheet on the offensive end. So it’s somewhere we just got to get hungrier. Got to get better. All of us just got to be more determined to just get it done. To be the best. Not just one end of the ball. I think we got to come out with the mindset that we’re going to humiliate whoever’s in front of us each and every possession. No mercy. I think that’s what I’m going to work on, just try and abuse whoever’s in front of me night in and night out starting next season.”
  • Thabo Sefolosha sounded like a goner. Of course, he can’t come out and say that. It’d be foolish. You never know what can happen, and burning a bridge is always a boneheaded move. He spoke glowing of his time with the Thunder, but repeatedly spoke in the past tense and never said he wanted to be back. When asked if he expects to be back, Sefolosha skirted around the question. “I have no clue,” he said. “I’m going to have to take some time to think about a lot of things and see the options and take it from there.”
  • Thabo on the frustration of being benched after Game 2: “It was very frustrating, very frustrating. It’s never easy. I would say the last month has been a little frustrating. I’m happy to see the team win, but obviously it’s definitely not the way we wanted to end the season. It’s just tough. You’ve got a lot of questions, like, why and what is the thought process necessarily behind it? Things like that. You just stick with the plan, stick with your teammates. But definitely it’s frustrating at times.”
  • Thabo on how that benching might impact his free agency decision: “I mean, I like winning. I like winning. I want to be in a good place with a chance to win something, and that’s definitely something that we have here. So definitely the system is a big part of it. You want to be happy and be able to play to your strengths. But at the same time, it’s going to be a lot of questions going on in the summer and (we’ll) see where it takes me.”
  • Thabo on looking back at his time with the Thunder now that his contract is ending: “It was a great time. The organization, the teammates, the friendships that I’ve built here with the guys, it’s nothing but positive things. Looking back, we did some amazing things, going from winning 20-something games to more than 50 games. Just being able to have the opportunity that Sam (Presti) gave me to be part of this group, it’s been a great time here in Oklahoma City. Obviously the fans and the city is something that’s very special. It was a great time, and I’m happy about the time here and we’ll see what the future holds.”
  • To my point earlier, Thabo talked about defense and everyone needing to be held accountable. I’ll write about that in the days and weeks to come. But one of the most interesting things he talked about was how the Thunder’s style of play hurt him. It’s something I’ve written about extensively when calling for Brooks to develop a more structured system. Role players like Sefolosha would thrive under more structure. Instead, they’re never sure when they’re next shot, their next touch, is coming. It prevents players like Sefolosha from feeling comfortable and never allows them to get into a rhythm. Role players have to understand that and play better. But when certain guys struggle, I can’t pin the blame solely on them. They have to be put in positions to succeed going forward. I think we’d see better performances from not just Sefolosha, but also Perkins, Lamb, Jackson, Caron Butler and Derek Fisher.
  • Here’s Thabo’s take: “Looking back, it’s kind of hard to get into a rhythm when you get in and have to sit down for extended minutes like this and not really knowing if you’re going to get any shots or anything, any kind of rhythm. The system at that time and the way we play didn’t really favor for me to get the opportunity to get into some sort of groove at that point. It was tough, and then coach had to make decisions at that point.”
  • Fisher sounded like a goner, too. Officially, he said the Game 6 loss was too soon and he hasn’t had time to think things over and talk them out with his family to figure out his next move. But he grew emotional during his interview, never coming to tears but perhaps getting a lump in his throat a time or two and coming close. He was his usual patient, introspective and insightful self, giving thought to every question and replying thoroughly with each answer. But this time, it felt as if he knew this chapter of his career is likely over. And so he graciously thanked pretty much everyone for pretty much everything. I’m not kidding when I say he challenged Durant for speech of the year — and this wasn’t even a speech.
  • Fish: “like I tried to say last night, and like I tried to say to Scotty and to Sam today, if that was it, I’m beyond thankful that it was here and it was with these group of guys and this people and this community. After getting traded from the Lakers, I was spinning. I didn’t know what would be left in terms of basketball, whether or not I’d have another chance to play for a championship and be around a group of guys I’d enjoy being around. I’m just thankful that it was here. They took me in when a lot of other people didn’t think I had much left. Hopefully I was able to be a positive and leave something behind. Just thank you to everybody.”
  • The moment I pretty much figured Fish would hang ‘em up came when he began profusely thanking the media and wishing writers and broadcasters well. He started talking about how he knows we have a job to do and how he enjoyed his media obligations during his career. When a player starts thanking the media and expressing respect for us, you know something’s up. “This part of it has been a pleasure as well,” Fisher said. “This comes with the job, having to answer the tough questions and find the right thing to say even when it’s the wrong time. It’s a challenge but it’s a part of the job. It’s a part of being professional. And you guys have helped me and helped to shape who I am as a player and as a person, because this comes with the territory. When we sign the contract, this comes with it.”
  • Fish on the Thunder: “We’re not as far off as it seems in terms of how bad it hurts. But to get across that finish line, it’s a long stride there at the end. But this group, they have it, they want it. You just have to do it, though. There’s no shortcuts. There’s no group of guys that want to experience it more than this group, though. If this is it for me, that’ll be the saddest part. One day, this team’s going to have a championship trophy. If I’m there, great. If I’m not, I’m still going to be just as happy, because they all deserve it, man. You’re talking about not just some of the greatest basketball players in the world, but some of the best people in the world, some of the best young men in the world. It’s been a pleasure to play basketball with these guys.
  • Durant talked a lot about the team’s growth this year. He refused to call this season a failure, just like he refused to do last year. “Everybody thinks it’s championship or bust here. That’s what we feel like,” Durant said. “Our main goal is to win a championship. But we don’t feel like our season is totally wasted because we didn’t win one. But it was good to set our goals on being a champion. It didn’t happen so we got to use that as fuel to get better in the summer and come back even better as a group.”
  • Durant on his postseason. “I always can be better. But I left everything out there. Every game, I sacrificed for my teammates so I can live with the results.”
  • Another from KD: “I’m at peace with myself. I’m at peace with everything that’s happened, because I know the work that these guys put in here. I know the work that I put in. The preparation , the tough nights, the good nights. You go through those throughout a season, the long, long season that we’ve been through. It hurts. It hurts not being able to be in the Finals and competing for a championship. But I’m always grateful, and I never take the moment for granted. You could easily say we lost a season because we didn’t win a championship. But I don’t look at it that way because we learn so much throughout these years, throughout these last few months, especially I think it’s going to help us toward the future. So when you put it that way, it stings a little bit not playing, but you also know that you’re just building the journey up and hopefully one day you can look back at it and just enjoy what we went through.”
  • KD on what he wants to add to his game: “Some different type of move that I’m going to figure out and try to master. But I’m just going to overall just try to get better, work on every single part of my game and bring it back to the team.”
  • Durant with a public endorsement of Brooks (because what else is he going to do?): “That’s our guy. I’m riding with him. It’s easy for everybody on the outside to criticize. But once you’re in the fire, once you’re in that arena, those are the guys that matter. The guys that shed the blood, sweat and tears and sleepless nights, those are the guys that count. Those are the guys that matter in our book. Everybody on the outside really doesn’t.”
  • Durant played 3,937 minutes this season. That’s one minute more than the total of a regular season with no overtimes. According to someone on my Twitter timeline, that equals two days and 18 hours. I know Durant is looked at as a machine who doesn’t get tired. But he was run into the ground this season. Some of it was necessary with Westbrook out. But some of it was not. And you could make the argument that Brooks should have had the postseason in mind more anyway and monitored Durant’s minutes better as opposed to essentially approaching every regular season game as a must-win. It’ll be interesting to see how Brooks manages Durant’s minutes next year, because the way he performed this postseason was not like him. And there’s a glaring stat for everyone to see that seems like it played a pretty big factor.
  • Perkins admitted that KD seemed fatigued at times. “Seems like there was possessions he was tired,” Perk said. “But like I said, I think that’s what comes from getting in the weight room plays a factor. Cause then you could let your body take over. I think he’ll be all right.” Some people tried to say Perk threw KD under the bus there. I disagree. Most of us have said the same thing. Multiple times. Why can’t Perk? Especially when it’s true.
  • Westbrook was perhaps the best he’s ever been in an interview session when healthy. It’s clear how much he’s matured in how he now expresses himself. He’s taken to his leadership role on this team, and he’s displaying that in more and more ways.
  • Asked if he has to do any sort of special regiment on his surgically-repaired right knee this summer, Westbrook said rest. “Rest is good for me,” he said. “Taking some rest could be great. I’m gonna sit down and relax and get my mind and body right for next year.”
  • Allow me to just say that my respect for Russell Westbrook went through the roof this postseason. I have always admired his passion and relentlessness. But the way he performed in these playoffs was phenomenal. I tweeted this last night but I feel I should say it again here. Anyone who is still ripping him after this postseason is an idiot. I’ll continue to provide critical analysis, and because of his style that sometimes won’t be positive. But if you’re just ripping him just because, still blindly blaming him for losses these days, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Period. He carried this team this postseason.
  • Westbrook also endorsing Brooks: “Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally. There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one, regardless of what happened, has had my back. Regardless if people were saying I was doing this, doing that, being selfish, he always was the first person to step up and have my back, support me regardless of what was going on. I just think he does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys, trusting in our organization.”
  • Don’t tell Russ the clock is ticking on this team. He isn’t trying to hear it. “What clock? What clock? There’s no clock. Saying the time is closing, I mean, we have a lot of guys on this team capable of making things happen. The organization has done a great job of putting us in a great position of winning a championship. And once we get to that point, it’s up to us to make it happen.”
  • Westbrook on whether he thinks about All-Defensive Team: “ I mean, yeah, I do. But the way the all-defensive team is made now, it’s based on I guess if you steal the ball. I don’t know how it’s made up. Because to me, there should be guys on the defensive team that should be on it and guys who should not be on it. If people watch the games, they should know those things.”
  • Someone asked Nick Collison if he wanted to incorporate the corner 3 into his game more next season. Upon hearing the question, my immediate reaction was something along the lines of ‘Great. Just what the Thunder needs, another 6-foot-10 player shooting 3s.” But Collison’s answer made a lot of sense. “I’m probably never going to be a Ryan Anderson or a guy that’s really just a knock-down shooter,” Collison said. “But I think that with the way that the game’s played, with the way Coach wants to play, he wants to spread the floor, and if you’re not rolling to the rim, he wants you to be spaced to the three-point line. He feels like that’s the best way to play offensive basketball.
  • I think it’s something I’m capable of. We have a lot of sets where the four man is set in the corner, and … Coach talked to me about it and it made sense, instead of setting up a foot or two inside the line like I had in the past, I worked on moving it back. It is a different shot, but I felt more comfortable as it went on.”
  • Collison attempted 22 3-pointers this year, including a career-high 17 in the regular season. Of those 22 attempts, 20 came from the corners. He was 5-for-20 on those shots.
  • Collison will watch the Finals. He just won’t listen to pre, post and halftime shows. “I’m either or,” Collison said of watching the Finals. “If I’m at home and the game’s on, I’ll watch. I’ll be interested to see who wins. But I don’t make it a priority to sit and watch. I definitely don’t watch people talk about basketball. It’s something I gave up a long time ago. I think that’s for fans. It’s great for the game. But it’s not for players. It’s not meant for players. It’s meant for other people. So, I don’t watch that stuff. I don’t watch the pregame shows. But I watch the games.”
  • I asked Collison why he doesn’t listen to the talking heads and he said he feels like a lot of them are just personalities. That they don’t believe some of the stuff they say.
  • Perkins says the Thunder has to be better, and to do that it needs to be smarter, sharper and more selfless: “In my opinion, we have more than enough talent to win a championship this year. I thought we just fell short because of the mental things that we did wrong. I think that just comes from extra studying the game, watching film, going get knowledge from other people that’s around.”
  • Perk wasn’t asked directly about Adams as the potential starter next year. He instead was asked about splitting time with Adams next year. Perk kind of danced around the question, but he did reveal that he feels this is a big off-season for him, which could mean that he’s not quite ready to pass the starting torch. “Yeah, I mean, you just take it one game at a time,” Perkins said. “Next season is going to be what it’s going to be. I feel like he’s a competitor, and I’m a competitor. Just knowing myself, I know this off-season is going be the biggest off-season of my career, it’s my first time ever going be approaching a time when I’m going to be an unrestricted free agent. So definitely got to come back in better shape and try to get back to the basketball that I played in Boston. So that’s my goal.”
  • And unlike last year, no one asked Perk about potentially being amnestied.
  • Serge Ibaka with a shocking revelation about his calf: “Like I always say, it’s a miracle. Today, I was talking with the team doctor and he said I was almost about to get surgery. So I was close, about to get surgery, but it did not happen.”
  • Ibaka on how it healed: “When it’s a miracle, you don’t know, only God knows. So if you gonna ask him what happened, because I don’t know. Doctor I talked to him today, he don’t know. He was thinking I was about to get surgery. If he don’t know, I don’t know.”
  • Ibaka opened up about how much pain he was in. “The first game when I get back, I was very hurt,” he said. “I was playing with pain. If you saw, because I saw the video, I was saw myself, it was not really me. I was dragging playing defense, almost using one leg. All the time, using my right leg. But I felt, being on the court, my presence was going to help my teammates. Gonna help them. So I wanted to just do whatever it takes to give my teammates confidence.”
  • Despite his injury, Ibaka said he wants to play in this summer’s FIBA Basketball World Cup. “Yeah, I’m sure I’m going to feel better soon,” Ibaka said. “I’m going to keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing in the playoff and see. My hope is to play with the Spanish National Team, but let’s see how my leg is going to feel the next couple weeks.”
  • Ibaka said he’ll decide within two weeks based on how he feels.
  • More to come Monday.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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