Frankly, the big-time, long-term contracts that the Thunder gave Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka limit the team's flexibility in free agency. But you won't see anyone at Thunder World Headquarters complaining about that. That's because they signed those guys — Presti termed them “pre-prime players” — knowing that they had the ability and the willingness to improve.
With the Thunder's strong track record of developing players, there's little reason to believe Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka won't improve.
Durant had an offseason where he could focus on his game since this was a summer void of USA Basketball duties. He could improve individual skills. His moves to the basket. His passing. His creating shots off the dribble.
Ibaka had a similar opportunity, having an offseason without international duties for Spain. For a guy who's shown significant improvement every season he's been in Oklahoma City, the chance to work on his game the entire offseason could pay dramatic dividends.
Developing consistency and balance on both ends of the court could be where Serge makes his big leap this season.
As for Westbrook, his improvement is a little more unknown. He'll be coming off the knee injury that knocked him out of the playoffs last spring, so physically, he hasn't had the chance to work on skills the way he has in the past.
But that injury forced him to step back and watch his team. He had a chance to really study his teammates.
When Westbrook gets back on the court, he will have a better understanding of his teammates, and that should make him more effective.
By the way, thinking that Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka should be better isn't some sort of pipe dream. Making players better, even the really good ones, is what the Thunder does.
This is a franchise that has decided to build a winner instead of buying one.
“More than anything, we're sticking to that approach,” Presti said.
“Will that translate into a high level of success this year? We don't know. But we feel very confident about our team and our approach.”