Photo Credits: Zack Beeker/Getty Images
For Thunder fans across the world, Sam Presti has become a household name. From drafting three straight MVP’s in three-consecutive years, to trading one of those MVP’s (James Harden) for almost nothing in comparison — Presti’s manned it all. Now, Presti is drifting through Oklahoma City’s first major rebuild since hoarding MVP’s a decade ago, and the media cannot get enough of his antics.
Here are some of the highlights from Sam Presti’s exit interview:
SGA will be here to stay
Sam Presti took a lot of questions surrounding a barrage of players, but none of his answers stood out more than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Gilgeous-Alexander, age 22, took his game to new heights this season averaging a career-high 23.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists. Presti took note of his progression, “I thought Shai took a tremendous jump this season,” later mentioning with Shai healthy, he felt confident Oklahoma City could defeat anybody. Presti does have some merit on that statement as before SGA’s injury — the Thunder sat at 19-24 on the season.
“I thought he helped a lot of our guys improve and put them in position to be successful, and that got much tougher when he wasn’t on the court, which is an indicator that he’s a good player,” noted Presti, “That’s what you want.”
Shai’s trajectory treaded on a one-way path to young stardom, but a severe case of plantar fasciitis held the guard out for the last two months of play. Presti stood firm with the teams stance on holding Gilgeous-Alexander from competing, and even with his “progressing” injury, his future status with team Canada still sits unclear. One thing has made made evident though — Presti wants SGA for the long run.
Presti noted that over this summer, he’ll be sitting down with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. This time, it’s not going to be about his injuries or potential load management — it’ll be surrounding a long-term contract.
Oklahoma City wants to make a statement
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been a premier team since relocating in 2008. This sentiment only fortifies itself when you take into account, during Oklahoma City’s streak (2009-10 to 2019-20), the team has ranked second league-wide in win percentage at .638% — San Antonio is the only outlier, edging the Thunder with a .675% clip.
Having that laid out on the table, coupled with the franchise making ten-consecutive playoffs had Anthony Davis not drilled a buzzer-beater — Oklahoma City sat on top of the throne for the past decade.
Presti does not want to hand to reigns over just yet.
“When we do get back in the postseason, we want it to be an arrival, not an appearance.”– Sam Presti
This one-liner from Presti made the whole presser, but their is some dissecting to be made. Oklahoma City has the biggest war chest in the NBA, wielding 17 first-round picks and 17 second-round selections over the next seven drafts — Presti can control the board for a very long time. On the same token however; that also means packaging future picks for a run now is in the equation.
Presti gave zero insight on where Oklahoma City would like to approach this draft, but one thing can be made certain from the quote — they want to hit the postseason with a bang.
Eleven years ago, the budding trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden captivated the NBA world as they entered the Coliseum versus the defending champion Lakers. Meeting the minds against Kobe Bryant and company, the Thunder kept the Lakers up at night to extend the series to six games. Even after being ousted by the champs, it was an all-out dogfight, losing two of their four games by one possession.
That is how Sam Presti wants to reach playoff contention.
As it stands now, the Thunder’s future rests solely into lottery balls. Yes, the team carries a rising star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and yes, players in Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Theo Maledon are on the up-and-up, but more will be needed for a Larry O’ Brien trophy.
This quote tells me to expect the unexpected. If Oklahoma City lucks out with a top 5 pick this draft, watch out for Presti to move up for one more. If the water is calm this draft, check next year’s selection process for a bang. With recent history on the books, and a stockpile of picks, Presti’s pile may clean house in one or two seasons.
Looking towards the future
Presti headlined his talks with his “playoff arrival” spiel, but his talks on the future ran much further.
In his remarks, Presti noted that unless the Thunder sit number one at draft night, he’ll be looking to get it, “We always try to move up. Unless we’re number one.” Counteracting this quote of stargazing — moving down also is not out of the equation.
Oklahoma City will partake in a pivotal coin flip with the Cleveland Cavaliers for draft odds, but regardless of the result, they enter Mark Tatum’s labyrinth with a 45.1% chance at a top-four pick, and an 11.5% shot at number one. Even without their selection they hold a 47.9% shot to steal Houston’s selection if it falls to no. 5 — if not they will nab Miami’s choice at 18.
Oklahoma City’s representative for the lottery has yet to be chosen.
In balancing out Presti’s “trading down” remarks, his crosshairs are still locked on progression, with or without the draft. Oklahoma City raised some eyebrows this season in benching SGA, Al Horford, and Mike Muscala for the last two months, but the opportunity outsourced major chances for their role players — they delivered. After panning for gold the Thunder hit big with players in Kenrich Williams, Moses Brown, and Isaiah Roby amongst others coming out of the darkest crevices in the league to now being solidified bench pieces for the future. Whether Oklahoma City’s bench depth continues on in a Thunder uniform in not certain, but a lot of jobs sprouted from Sam Presti’s shenanigans, and it’d be foolish the imagine that game stops.