Horning: Thunder's offseason of discontent leaves much to address

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard watches his game-winning three-pointer as Oklahoma City Thunder' Paul George defends, to beat the Thunder 118-115 in Game 5 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Lillard finished with a franchise playoff-record 50 points and Portland eliminated Oklahoma City from the postseason. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP)

Damian Lillard hit a 37-footer over a lunging Paul George just after midnight, Oklahoma time, and the Thunder’s offseason of discontent officially began.

“It was a bad shot,” George said after the game, as though Lillard wasn’t supposed to take it.

Since, Lillard has pointed out that he made 8 of 12 from beyond 30 feet in the series, while others have pointed out, you know, the shot went in.

This morning, Thunder exit interviews commence at the team’s practice facility in northwest Oklahoma City.

In the note dispersed to media covering the team, it was expressed coach Billy Donovan would go first and players would follow.

It is not clear when general manager Sam Presti will hold court on the season.

It is is his custom to take his postseason media turn a few days after his coach and players.

What appears clear is that anything the Thunder might do to cure what ails them, should they do anything at all, internally or externally, will ultimately reside with Presti.

What’s spoken and heard today should be wildly interesting if the Thunder are in a soul-searching mood, yet could also be deeply unsatisfying if they're not.

Organizationally, OKC is a tight and buttoned-down ship, rarely saying much, even more rarely saying much that’s particularly telling or interesting and almost never making real news with the words coming out of their coach’s or players’ mouths. Often, more is gleaned by what is not spoken and not addressed.

Today, though nobody may address it, the Thunder can’t run away from is another disappointing season, its third straight to be bounced out of the playoffs in the first round, its third straight to fail to win 50 regular season games and its third straight to incidentally include a season-long triple double from Russell Westbrook.

A year ago, Carmelo Anthony was the culprit. After being benched as a defensive liability in the playoffs, he was the lone member of the team to make news in his exit interview, saying he’d already sacrificed plenty and had no intention of accepting a bench role.

He played 10 games in Houston this season before appearing to ride into the sunset.

There are scapegoat candidates this season, too.

Alex Abrines suffered illness and personal issues and was eventually waived. Andre Roberson is still waiting to come back from the patellar tendon injury that has kept him off the court more more than 15 months. The Thunder thought they’d eventually have both available.

Paul George was not himself after suffering soreness in both of his shoulders the latter third of the season.

Indeed, after making 17 of 31 shots on Feb. 22 against Utah, George made at least half his attempts just six times in the remaining 25 games he played, two of them in the playoffs.

Still, the bigger on-court issue would seem to be Westbrook, who has accomplished things that may never be repeated as a statistical tour de force, yet has not played efficiently and has been plagued by poor and selfish decisions on the court.

For good or ill, while George played slightly more postseason minutes than he, Westbrook still more shots (112 to 101) and made less of them (40 to 44).

Beyond players, there is Donovan, who had his option for the 2019-20 campaign picked up mid-season by the Thunder.

That fact, however, does not necessarily mean his job is safe after again failing to win a playoff series and only garnering the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference after an All-Star break collapse and only doing that thanks to five straight victories to end the regular season.

If the players are ultimately judged to no longer be responding to him, it's hard to imagine how he stays.

Who knows what Donovan may say about that? Who knows if this will be the last time he meets the media en mass as the Thunder head coach.

Given the dough OKC has spent on salary and luxury taxes, second in the league only to Golden State, the past 87 games has to be considered a failed campaign.

What’s not clear is why the Thunder think it happened.

Were they victims of circumstance, poor front office decisions, poor play from players who should be better, the unintended consequences of their famous culture or some combination thereof?

There are no guarantees anybody will have an answer to that today. But the questions, at least, will be asked.

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