Sam Presti has always been an astute general manager. The moves he makes haven’t always struck gold. For instance, he let go of James Harden in 2012 even though a little financial creativity and, yes, a handful of hard choices could have allowed the Thunder to keep him. Then again, nobody bats a hundred percent, and he has arguably come closest out of all the front-office honchos in the National Basketball Association despite otherwise-debilitating small-market constraints. And what he hasn’t seen in stability of late, he more than makes up for with reputation, resiliency, and resourcefulness.
The last few years have been far from smooth for the Thunder. They’ve seen Kevin Durant leave to chase titles with the Warriors, Paul George to nix their royal treatment for the Clippers, and Russell Westbrook to chuck an elevated hero status in what looked to be a sinking ship for the better-situated Rockets. Yet, Presti has taken every negative development and harnessed the energy of what should have been knockout blows to create bright future after bright future. And this is precisely how he’s viewing the current offseason; he refuses to wallow in pity, instead seeing opportunity in crisis.
Already, Presti has assembled an enviable stock of draft assets that should help the Thunder as they go through a requisite rebuilding process. The pandemic-hit season should have been Year One of the elaborate plan that acknowledged the prospect of getting worse before getting better. That they didn’t get worse — and, in fact, got better — with a supposedly inferior roster is a tribute to his astute skills at the negotiating table, not to mention as a purveyor of talent. He hasn’t let that stop him from casting a moist eye on the ultimate goal, however.
Indeed, claiming the Larry O’Brien Trophy remains Presti’s primary — and, perhaps, only — consideration as he stockpiles draft assets en route. He struck a deal with the Lakers to snag a first-round pick vice Dennis Schroder. And he’s not done in this regard; dealing new acquisition Danny Green figures to net another pick. He did the same in sending Chris Paul to the Suns. The single-campaign rental of the point god has paid off handsomely, with picks upon arrival and picks in departure. Meanwhile, it’s not as if he has committed to a full-scale tanking. The players he has received in return figure to be competitive, should they not be flipped anew.
When Presti’s endgame will be is anybody’s guess. Uncertainty comes in dealing with futures. What has been clear for a while now, however, is his ascendancy in taking insurance against the attendant risks. Which is why the Thunder can never be written off. In the final analysis, he’s their best bet.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.