The Oklahoma City Thunder’s rise as one of the Western Conference’s best teams and arguably one of the top three teams in the entire NBA has coincided with General Manager Sam Presti’s tenure with the club.
Presti was hired away from the San Antonio Spurs after the 2007 season and has since then done one of the more remarkable jobs that the NBA has ever witnessed. Presti got a little help from the way the ping pong balls fell in 2007 but as history has shown us, you need more than one superstar to build a championship contender.
Presti’s draft history speaks for itself. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden to name a few. Presti didn’t technically draft Jeff Green but he orchestrated a draft day trade with the Celtics to bring him to the franchise. Durant was a no brainer but the others, all great college players, were lower on everyone’s draft boards coming out of school.
He has also orchestrated numerous trades over the years that have helped this team tremendously. Sending Ray Allen to Boston netted Jeff Green, Rashard Lewis to Orlando created cap space and a pick. In 2011, realizing the team needed big bodies to hang with the Lakers, he used Jeff Green to land Kendrick Perkins. Thabo Sefolosha, Kurt Thomas, Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook, the list goes on and on for players that he has brought in to surround Durant with enough talent to become and elite team.
This weekend’s trade of James Harden to the Rockets is just icing on the cake in my opinion. The Thunder came out of the deal, deeper, more talented and stocked full of future assets. Like it or not, Oklahoma City, at the moment, is a small market team. They can’t spend like the Lakers, Knicks or Heat. It is just the reality of it all. With extensions already handed out to Durant, Westbrook, Perkins, Ibaka and Collison, the Thunder had to be careful about how much they offered the reigning 6th man of the year.
Harden wanted max money and the Thunder weren’t willing to offer it. Not because they didn’t want him but because it wouldn’t make sense given their cap situation. The result? Harden declined the extension and the team dealt him to the Rockets.
What makes this trade so good for both the Thunder and Presti is the fact that they sold high on Harden and got a load of assets in return. The Thunder could have let Harden play out this season, let him become a restricted free agent this summer and deal with his contract then. But in that scenario, Harden still would have been given a max contract, the Thunder wouldn’t have been able to match and he would have left without OKC getting anything in return.
Presti decided to deal Harden to a team that had been stockpiling assets in hopes of landing Dwight Howard. What he got in return more than makes up for the loss of Harden’s on the court contributions and at the same time gives the Thunder more flexibility going forward. Kevin Martin is one of the more underrated players in the league and Jeremy Lamb is a lottery pick with tremendous upside. Not to mention the draft picks, two of which are first rounders which are always valuable come trade deadline time when teams are looking to unload veterans that can help a team down the stretch.
On the surface, the average NBA fan only sees that the names in the deal which are essentially Harden for Martin and think that the Thunder just got worse. But if you look at the trade from every different angle you will see that the Thunder came out of this deal smelling like a rose.
They are still every bit the threat to unseat the Heat as NBA Champions but are also set up well for the future and in the NBA, one injury or disgruntled player can send you into the future quicker than you ever realized. Just ask the Chicago Bulls or Orlando Magic.