OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder general manager Sam Presti is banking on something rare to keep his team among the NBA's elite.
Oklahoma City boasts a core of stars - reigning MVP Kevin Durant, electric point guard Russell Westbrook and defensive dynamo Serge Ibaka - that has played together for the past five years. The trio has reached the Western Conference Finals three times and the NBA Finals once. As other teams bring in high-priced free agents, piece squads together and hope they build chemistry, Presti hopes the collective experience of his best players finally gets the Thunder to the top.
''Continuity has become a lost currency,'' Presti said Thursday. ''It's very hard to maintain that, given the rules. You're going to lose players, there's going to be changes. I think how you adapt to that, how you're able to absorb loss, but also add without having to lose players, is important.''
The Thunder lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals last season, but Presti is excited about the future because his stars are just moving into their prime. Durant will be 26 on Sept. 29, Westbrook turns 26 in November and Ibaka just turned 25 on Sept. 18.
''I think their best basketball is in front of them,'' Presti said. ''But we've been saying that for seven years, and I think we'll keep saying that for a little while because there's a few attributes that those guys possess that I think are the foundational DNA of an organization. One, work ethic. Two, competitive will. Three, humility and an understanding there's always work to be done. I admire that in any person.''
Presti said the trio has set the tone for work ethic and professionalism. They understand that getting ready for the playoffs is a season-long process.
''We are not focused on the postseason,'' Presti said. ''We're focused on doing things on a day-to-day basis that help build our habits so that if we do get to the postseason, it transfers and we're playing our best basketball at that point in time. I think the way that happens is that you don't focus on the postseason. You focus on the things that are in front of you and making those decisions on a daily basis that help build your standard of play.''
The Thunder appear to have another on the rise. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson emerged last season while Westbrook sat out with a knee injury, and he joined Westbrook as a starter during the playoffs. Jackson becomes a restricted free agent after the season. Presti would like to re-sign Jackson early, but if it doesn't happen, the Thunder still want him around.
''We want to invest in Reggie,'' Presti said. ''There's not a lack of clarity in that respect.''
Another rising star is Steven Adams. The 7-foot center made a name for himself in the second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers last season. Presti feels the second-year player needs to overcome adversity and deal with added responsibility before he deserves high praise.
''Until he has those setbacks and he's able to build a body of work that shows us that he's going to be able to continue to grow through those things, we have to reserve our expectations,'' Presti said. ''But we couldn't be happier to have him as a part of the organization.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.