Sam Presti on Sunday likened Derek Fisher to a stone that's been dropped in water.
“The ripple effect is going to be felt for years to come,” said Presti, the Thunder general manager, when asked about the impact the veteran point guard had on the team's roster.
“I think all of our players will carry something with them from the way he handled himself.”
They'll need to.
Fisher is one of three Thunder players whose contracts expire Saturday. The other two are Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey.
That's three players with a combined 38 years of NBA experience potentially preparing to part ways with Oklahoma City. Of the Thunder's remaining 12 members, only Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison have at least eight NBA seasons under their belts.
Add it up and it becomes clear that the Thunder could be in dire need of some veteran leadership next season — unless Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant are ready to grow into leaders in the locker room as quickly as they have improved on the court.
“I think they're continuing to grow,” Presti said. “They've taken ownership, very much so, of the standards that are in place, that they've helped cultivate. And they understand that what we have is special, but it needs to be enhanced. It needs to be maintained. And a lot of that comes down to their approach and their leadership.”
Veteran leadership always sounds overrated. Paying customers want guys that can play not preach. But much of the Thunder's success has been a result of players like Fisher, Mohammed and Ivey, Desmond Mason, Joe Smith and Kevin Ollie, instilling good habits. Those are the men who have helped show the younger players how to be professionals. They've shown them the way, keeping them straight when they wanted to veer left or right.
“Those guys are veterans, but they're players with accumulated experience,” Presti said. “We've been fortunate to have some really good people come through…I think the thing that really ties all those guys together…is that they understood the vision of the organization, and they were fully committed to that. They were able to help us build some of our identity, yet our identity is still evolving.”
Presti said it's too early to know whether the team's upcoming unrestricted free agents will return. But it looks unlikely that the Thunder retains all three.
Fisher will turn 38 in August, and with Eric Maynor coming back from a knee injury, the backup point guard role is on its way to its old stability.
Mohammed will turn 35 in September, and rising third-year center Cole Aldrich is chomping at the bit for a chance to prove himself as the full-time backup to Perkins.
Ivey, only 30, seemingly is the most likely to return. But that's assuming he doesn't get a better opportunity elsewhere.
If all three depart, it'll be up to Westbrook, Harden and Durant to take the torch.
“They've continued to grow,” Presti said, “and understand their teammates and how to help them improve.”
It's the ripple effect.