Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams remains firmly in the Oklahoma City Thunder's plans for the future, but he needs to improve areas of his game if he's to make an impact on the league.
That was the message from Thunder general manager Sam Presti following calls for the centre to be traded after what began as a season of promise ended in familiar disappointment.
For the third year running the Thunder were booted from the playoffs in the first round, and Presti admitted they had their "ass kicked" by the Portland Trailblazers this time around, falling to a 4-1 series loss.
Calls for Adams to be traded grew out of the frustration of another failed season, with the Kiwi big man failing to make a statistical impact on the series.
In what turned out to be the final match of the best-of-seven series, Adams was benched late in the game with the match in the balance due to foul trouble and match-up issues against the floor-spreading Trailblazers.
But while fans took to social media to voice their concerns, Presti maintained his faith in the 25-year-old but challenged him to work on his game, particularly his free throws, ahead of next season.
Much like Adams did in his own exit interview, Presti highlighted where the Kiwi centre needed to improve going forward, challenging Adams to improve his free throws.
While Adams posted career-high numbers in most statistical categories this season, his ability at the charity stripe left a lot to be desired. The 25-year-old shot just 50 per cent from the line during the Thunder's regular season campaign and below 40 per cent during the playoffs.
The Thunder as a whole attempted 25 free throws on average per game, the sixth most in the league. They converted those at just a 71 per cent rate, the third worst hit rate in the 30-team competition.
"If our free-throw shooting just gets to the league average it would have a significant impact on our offensive rating and net rating as result," Presti said.
"Our free-throw shooting is like leading the league in walks and pick offs. We're there, we're doing the hardest thing, but we're not capitalising and that's a team thing."
Presti also highlighted Adams' ability to score, which came under fire from Thunder fans as they watched the team be bundled out of the playoffs early for the third straight year.
In the Thunder's system, Adams has not been asked to shoot the ball away from the basket.
However, in a league that is moving more and more toward accommodating big men who can shoot from mid-range and beyond the three-point line, Presti said it could be something the team looks at going forward.
"Maybe we can push Steven into a development phase where we can have him look at that. He can shoot the ball, and we've all seen it for years in the practice gym. Internal development is a lot of creativity and imagination and you've got to stick with that through the year."
Adams personified the Thunder's season.
For three-quarters of the campaign, he was a dominant force in the paint and on the boards. But toward the end of the season and into the playoffs, his level of play declined.
It wasn't just a feature of his season, however. Throughout the Thunder's roster, players stumbled into the end of the season.
Presti said the side showed plenty of promise for 70 per cent of the season before failing to meet their own standards for the final 30 per cent – which was reflected by his Kiwi centre's play.
"He's a great encapsulation of this 70-30 concept which is that in the beginning of the year he was dominant and a big reason we were 18 games over .500 and playing so well," Presti said.
"He was calling for the ball in the post, he was really effective down there, he was putting people in the basket, he was rolling hard, he was doing the Steven Adams things that help you win games that don't always show up … those effort plays, physical plays.
"Then towards the end of the year, he didn't play as well. But that's not just him, that's a group thing."