OKLAHOMA CITY — General manager Sam Presti dismissed reports that 11-time NBA champion Phil Jackson or former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy could be the next coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, saying an extension with Scott Brooks is a top priority.
“To me, it’s rubbish,” Presti said Sunday when asked about an ESPN report that Jackson and Van Gundy were being considered as options if Brooks couldn’t be re-signed.
Brooks led Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals last season, but his current contract runs out at the end of the month. He has overseen a steady development since taking over the Thunder early in the 2008-09 season.
After winning 23 games that first season, Brooks took Oklahoma City to the playoffs in 2010, then to the Western Conference finals in 2011 before this season’s five-game loss to the Miami Heat in the finals.
Jackson is retired but has left the door open to returning in the right circumstances. Van Gundy is now a commentator for ESPN and ABC.
“Scotty is an integral part of our organization and critical to our success,” Presti said. “We value him greatly and we’re looking forward to having those (contract) conversations, as he said, in the coming days.
“He’s been integral to our success. We wouldn’t be the situation that we’re in without him and his commitment to our organization and our players.”
While Presti put Brooks’ contract negotiations at the top of his list, it’s an expansive list of issues to tackle after coming within three wins of a championship.
Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka and backup point guard Eric Maynor are eligible for contract extensions this July, although all are already signed for next season. Veteran contributors Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed are set to become unrestricted free agents, along with reserve Royal Ivey.
That’s a lot of pieces to try and fit into a financial puzzle that already includes the high-dollar, long-term contracts of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“We’ve got to be able to build a team that can win year in and year out, and those are the challenges that have to be balanced,” Presti said. “We love the group we have and we’re going to work tirelessly to see if we can make it work here but we understand that there are some inherent challenges and that’s part of the new (collective bargaining) system.”
Presti wouldn’t say if the franchise was open to exceeding the salary cap and paying the league’s luxury tax in order to keep the roster together.
“What I can tell you is that we’re going to do everything we can to make it work. We’re going to put everything toward it,” Presti said.
Each of the players facing contract decisions expressed an interest in returning to the Thunder. A day earlier, Maynor openly discussed the potential that the players would need to “sacrifice” to make it work. Harden said he loved playing for Oklahoma City and suggested the possibility of a dynasty being built by the Thunder.
“Those guys obviously care a lot about the organization, they care a lot about playing here and, I think, very much about winning. But at the end of the day, those are personal decisions,” Presti said.
“We’re not ones to judge anyone in those respects. We’re going to do what we can to try to make it work for them and to make it work for us.”
Since relocating from Seattle in 2008, the Thunder have largely been able to grow with young talent playing on less expensive rookie contracts. As the team has grown older and more successful, the cost of doing business has grown.
“The challenges of that, quite frankly, are the challenges you have when you’re a good team,” Presti said, “and the decisions that you have to make, especially under a new system, as we try to learn that system and understand it and ultimately make some decisions about what we feel like is the best way to build a team in Oklahoma City that’s capable of competing year in and year out and giving ourselves a chance to win both in the in short and long term.”