On Monday morning, the Oklahoma City Thunder kicked off exit interviews with the media, starting with head coach Mark Daigneault followed by players. As these interviews happen throughout the day, we've got you covered here at InsideTheThunder.com with everything you need to know.
Daigneault was the first person to speak to the media on Monday morning, starting the day with a list of people he wanted to thank. From Clay Bennett to the coaching staff, to the players, to the fans, he was very appreciative of everyone who supported him throughout his first season as an NBA coach.
“The most special thing, to be honest with you, is the people I get to work with every day," said Daigneault. "It's the people."
He would go on to talk about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the strides that he has taken since joining the team.
“The most impressive thing about him is every time you give that guy time, he comes back better," said Daigneault. "He will have a full offseason to get better."
Missing the backend of the season with a foot injury, Gilgeous-Alexander is the team's best player and will need to get healthy before the start of next season. However, with the upcoming Olympics, he will have the opportunity to play for Canada. According to Daigneault, this will be something SGA will have to make a decision on his own about, fully knowing the situation with his foot.
“He’s going to prioritize getting healthy. We’re all aligned on that," Daigneault said. "As far as the National team, that’ll be his decision. He’ll make a decision on that shortly.”
It was a unique season, with new protocols and situations that the league has never seem. From COVID testing to restrictions during travel, Daigneault had perhaps the most unique first season for a coach in NBA history.
Having not seen action since March 24, Al Horford said that Gilgeous-Alexander's injury expedited the decision to sit him out for the rest of the season. The move was beneficial to both parties, as Horford is able to help extend his career, and the organization was able to get a look at how younger players could fit into the rotation.
Still, Horford remained an engaged member of the team, and he was very complimentary of how the Thunder continued to fight to get better all year long.
Horford said he was especially impressed with the development of Gilgeous-Alexander.
"The future is bright for Shai. He's somebody that blew me away all year," Horford said. "He's a special talent and I believe he's just going to get better."
Horford also said he was impressed by the job Daigneault did in his first year as an NBA head coach, and that he has a lot of respect for OKC's coach despite not having much knowledge of him before arriving in Oklahoma City.
"I was very impressed with Mark right from the beginning," Horford said. "His poise as a person, as a coach, commanding the locker room... and just leading our group."
Mike Muscala had an excellent season in OKC. A big man who can step out and hit the three at a high rate, he was a player many contenders could use in the playoffs. However, near the trade deadline, Muscala indicated that he would like to stay with the team.
Although he didn’t play down the stretch of the season with a foot injury, he was always on the bench cheering his team on. Muscala was asked whether he would consider coming back next season to play for the Thunder again.
“Yeah, 100 percent,” said Muscala. “I’ll be here working out for a good part of the summer. But yeah, I’d love to be here.”
Muscala has always been extremely complimentary of the Thunder during his time with the team. He mentioned that he was told earlier in the season that he would no longer be in the rotation, but to stay ready. To Muscala, that transparency was much appreciated, as the front office was very open with him on what his role would be down the stretch.
He indicated that this process was not frustrating to him at all. He wanted to find ways to be a leader and impact the team without being on the floor. This was a move by the Thunder that would allow them to evaluate their other young talent and give them Muscala’s minutes.
Muscala also spent some time in his exit interviews talking about his teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who he said is one of the better players he’s ever played with.
“He’s got a complete game,” said Muscala. “He can do it all.”
Overall, Muscala was very happy with how the season went for him. “Super grateful for the opportunity this season,” said Muscala. “Overall, I’m proud of how the season went. I thought it was a season to remember.”
He would go on to talk about why he loves the organization so much, tearing up talking about how special the Thunder is to him as a person and as a player.
“I’m gonna get emotional,” Muscala said. “Coming to OKC, I’m grateful for it. It’s helped me a lot. As a person and as a player. Whatever happens this offseason, I’d love to be back. I’ll always be a Thunder fan.”
While his season ended early with his foot injury, Gilgeous-Alexander said he was pleased with how the entire team grew throughout the season.
“I think myself and the rest of the guys and the rest of the world have seen so many guys on this team develop all year long,” he said. “In the beginning of the year, that’s one of the biggest things we tried to focus on as a team. Developing and trying to get better every day, and wherever that takes us, we’ll be satisfied because we know that’s all we can do.”
As far as personal growth this offseason, Gilgeous-Alexander said he didn’t have one specific thing he wanted to improve on, but just his game as a whole.
“(I’ll) always continue to get stronger and try to get more athletic, faster conditioning-wise, really just work on my body,” he said. “In terms of skills, just getting better the same way I did. You can always improve. I don’t shoot 100 percent from the field, I don’t shoot 100 percent from the free throw line and I certainly don’t shoot 100 percent from three, so I’ve got a lot of improvement I need to do.”
Managing his health will be key this offseason though, as plantar fasciitis can be serious if not taken care of properly.
“The foot’s progressing. I feel a lot better than I did a month ago, two months ago. I feel like I’m getting better every day.”
Gilgeous-Aexander didn’t rule out playing for Team Canada this summer in the Olympics, but he would only represent his country if his foot is 100 percent healthy.
But despite all the development, Gilgeous-Alexander said the achievement he’s most proud of is how the team continued to have a ton of fun all year long, no matter how many new pieces were added to the fold.
“Obviously the NBA is a business. Guys come and go a lot and it’s hard to find that,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “I think I found that this year and it was something I’m proud of.”
Luguentz Dort made leaps and bounds this year on both ends of the court, becoming a key piece to Oklahoma City's future in the process.
A rollercoaster of a season for Oklahoma City, there were time periods of over and underachievement for the team.
“I feel like every single guy got better,” Dort said. “That was our main focus. Guys are going to be in the gym and come back stronger.”
Dort saw his status as a face in the NBA rise drastically this season. Following a 30-point Game 7 in last year's playoffs, he added several more moments to his highlight reel this season, including a 40-point performance and a buzzer beater.
"It's the work that I put in and that was one of my goals -- Always trying to compete really hard, and that's just me,” He said.
Defensively, Dort had a spectacular season. Statistically, he matched up with more No. 1 scoring options than any other defender in the NBA. He's sure to have earned some league-wide respect and a few All-Defense nods.
“It's definitely a goal,” Dort said of making an All-Defense team. ”I play hard to be rewarded one day,”
Dort has previously voiced he’d like to be an addition to Team Canada this summer, along with his co-star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
“It’ll be a grind for sure,” Dort said. “I definitely want to play for Team Canada. I hope it happens."
Darius Bazley turned it on down the stretch, and he said it was a credit to how much he’s grown in his approach to the game this past season.
“I’ve learned so much with a lot of things. Skill-wise, just understanding the game more,” he said. “But the biggest thing, the biggest takeaway, is the stuff I strive for, the stuff the team strives for is founding the details.
“So just to keep working those little things. It could be as simple as talking on defense, talking in transition, watching film.”
Focusing on the details, Bazley said he hopes to improve all aspects of this game this summer.
“I’ll really be focused on getting stronger and just stay consistent, keep building good habits,” Bazley said. “It’s not really one specific area, my whole game needs work. From shooting to jetting strong, dribbling, passing, the whole nine.”
Despite the losses, Bazley said he felt the team did a good job of competing each night.
“We were a competitive team I think the whole year,” he said. “We were trying to get better. As far as the losing, I feel like because of the group of guys we had, that really didn’t impact us. We, no matter what, we came in the next day. We were ready to get to work.
“We were ready to learn from losses.”
Tony Bradley was acquired by the Thunder from the Sixers at the March trade deadline. Although he didn’t spend much time with the team, his impact was felt in the final months of the season. Primarily a backup big for OKC, his rebounding and defense was impressive for being such a young player.
In his exit interview, Bradley called the Thunder organization “first class” and says he’s felt welcome from the beginning. This is becoming a common theme among new players with the Thunder, as the franchise typically has a great first impression with their family mentality.
Bradley has bounced around quite a bit early in his NBA career and hasn’t always gotten consistent playing time. With the Thunder, he got solid minutes for the most part and a real opportunity to show what he is able to do.
“Getting the opportunity to play is always good,” said Bradley. “I feel like some of the things I got to show was my ball-handling and passing ability. It felt good to have the ball in my hands and make a decision with it.”
Although he doesn’t have the jump shot that teams want from the modern day center, Bradley is indeed pretty crafty with the ball in his hands.
Set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, there will be extensive conversations with Bradley and the Thunder on what his future with the team looks like. While Oklahoma City will likely want to keep him around for the right price, it needs to be a mutual decision.
Bradley was asked in his exit interview about how he’s enjoyed his time with the team thus far and whether or not he thinks he will be back with the Thunder next season.
“I love it here in OKC with the Thunder,” Bradley said. “But I don’t know what the next move will be for me.”
Either way, Bradley has once again said positive things about his time in OKC and was especially impressed with first-year head coach Mark Daigneault. When Bradley first met Daigneault, his first impression was excellent.
“Playing for Mark [Daigneault] has been great. Just the chemistry,” said Bradley. “We chatted it up a lot. It was actually just surprising that he knew a lot about me as a player. It brings confidence in me.”
While the Thunder pivot to the offseason, Tony Bradley says he will be working out in Florida this summer. In the coming months, we will find out whether he is wearing a Thunder uniform again next season or takes his talents elsewhere.
One of the most surprising contributors to the Thunder squad was Kenrich Williams, who earned every bit of his nickname, “Kenny Hustle,” with his all-out play.
At 26-years-old, Williams is one of the oldest players on the team, leaving him in a leadership role that head coach Daigneault believes he fully embraced.
“It meant a lot coming from the head coach of the team, meant a lot, it made me smile,” Williams said. “I think building that reputation kind just being yourself, if you try to be someone you're not I don't think guys will respect that as much.”
Daigneault joked in his end of season presser that Williams would deal with any bad attitudes.
“I’m not snatching anybody by their collar,” Williams said laughing, “Me being older and kind’ve having some years in the league, I definitely try to let the young guys know right from wrong.”
Williams said he knows he'll be back next year.
"I’m very blessed and very grateful to be here with the Thunder. I know it’s a rebuilding year but being around those young guys, it helped me be happy every day coming to work.”
Williams said two of his main areas of improvement for the upcoming offseason were ball handling and shooting.
Settling into a new team midway through the season is never easy, but Svi Mykhailiuk made the best of his limited time in Oklahoma City.
Moving from Detroit over to the Thunder, Mykhailiuk improved in almost every statistical category. Jumping from 6.9 to 10.3 points per game, Mykhailiuk shot six percent better from the floor and racked up 0.9 more rebounds per game, while also seeing his minutes increase in OKC.
The former Kansas standout said the organization did a great job of helping him get acclimated quickly.
“Everybody make it easier for the organization, coaching staff, players, everybody around us,” he said. “Made it a lot easier for me to adjust and just come home and play basketball and be part of a team.”
With the offseason now in full swing, Mykhailiuk now enters free agency, but he said returning to Oklahoma City is absolutely an option he would consider.
“Definitely love being here,” he said. “I love the team, the city, the organization, but everybody knows business and we’ll see.”
Isaiah Roby took a huge leap for the Thunder this year in what was essentially his rookie season. After playing very limited minutes last year, Roby saw a major increase in his role with OKC. He even mentioned in his exit interview that he was very thankful for the opportunity he got with the Thunder.
“I was definitely very appreciative of their opportunity this season.”
For him, it felt like the first season in which he really was a productive NBA player that was able to help his team. He said he could tell that he was starting to gain respect around the league when opposing players would mention his name throughout the game saying to watch out for him.
While Roby is a player that doesn’t play one position at an elite level, he is versatile enough to play multiple positions at a solid level. Standing at 6-foot-8, he was asked to do everything this season, from starting at center to bringing the ball up the floor. To him, playing point-center is what makes him so unique both offensively and defensively.
“Defensively, I think I’m able to defend any position in the NBA,” said Roby on Monday. “I think I started a game guarding every position.”
With all that in mind, there are still a handful of things he thinks he can work on. When asked what his main goals to improve upon were this summer, Roby mentioned taking care of the ball, building more strength and getting better at blocking out bigger players.
These are all things that will only continue to make him a more versatile player across the board. With his ability to shoot the three at a respectable rate, these three goals of his will allow him to play the true small forward position in bigger lineups.
In his first real season playing significant minutes, Roby exceeded expectations in a big way.
A standout off the bench all season long for the Thunder, Ty Jerome blossomed in his role in Oklahoma City.
One of OKC’s best shooters and playmakers, Jerome talked about expanding his game even more in his exit interview.
“I think I have a whole other level that I can get to,” Jerome said. “Some of it is just gonna come with getting stronger, more experience and playing more — some of it is opportunity, too.”
As the season went on, Jerome got more and more comfortable, leading him further and further past the 3-point line. By seasons end, he was taking shots that few players in the league take.
“I want to expand my range even more to be honest,” Jerome said. “Those shots I didn’t even think about taking last year,”
Jerome talked in length about modeling his shot after players like Damian Lillard and Steph Curry.
Jerome had high praise for Curry, who on Sunday grabbed his second league scoring title.
“In my opinion, the most entertaining guy to watch of all time,” Jerome said.
Perhaps no player matured more this season for the Thunder than rookie Aleksej Pokusevski.
After a rocky start, Pokusevski found his rhythm in the G-League Bubble, and returned to be a key contributor for OKC.
With a year of learning under his belt, he said he has a pretty clear focus heading into this offseason.
“I was gonna take a few weeks off, then come back here and work hard,” he said. “Get ready for next season, get stronger and get faster.”
He said getting stronger could help him grow on the defensive end of the floor specifically.
“I’ve learned that I can use my size pretty good on defense,” he said. “Just got to get stronger and be able to take those punches from the strong players and get faster so I can defend guards.”
As the season went on, Pokusevski said he was able to settle in off the court as well as he got more familiar with life in Oklahoma City.
“It was pretty tough at the beginning, being alone,” he said. “But right now it’s much easier. I know great restaurants, great people, so it’s much better now after a whole season.”
Despite being one of the youngest players on the tea, rookie Theo Maledon played a massive role for the Thunder this season.
Starting at guard for most of the season, Maledon performed well above his expectations coming in. The rookie led Oklahoma City in minutes played this season.
"I felt like I did a pretty good job,” Maldeon said. "Didn't get injured and was always out there as much as possible. Did not take one day for granted, one game for granted."
Maledon played professionally in France before being drafted to the NBA. Despite a big move to the United States, Maledon explained he had an easier time making the transition than others.
"I was there the past summer for pre-draft, so I already had a glimpse of what it would look like," He said. "I was not feeling lonely so it helped a lot too.”
Despite a strong rookie showing, Maledon said he still has much to work on.
"Working on my consistency is one of my goals -- I want to still be able to improve in every aspect of my game and be more consistent."
Oklahoma City now begins the offseason.
Important dates to note are the NBA Draft Lottery held on June 22, the NBA Draft Combine, which takes place from June 21-27 and the NBA Draft on July 29.
Oklahoma City finished the regular season tied for the fourth-best odds in the 2021 draft, and will be hoping for some lottery luck moving forward.