Sam Presti has been an NBA general manager since 2007. Presti started as a GM in the front office of the Seattle Supersonics before they became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. Presti’s first season saw the Sonics finish with a record of 20-62 which was the second worst record in the NBA, but they did have a building block that year in small forward Kevin Durant who would average 20.3 points per game and would be named the NBA’s Rookie of The Year. Presti would give Durant a running mate in 2008 when he selected guard Russell Westbrook with the fourth overall selection of the NBA Draft as the team was set to transition to Oklahoma City. With a young Durant and an even younger Westbrook, the Thunder would go 23-59 in their first season in Oklahoma City. The Thunder would use the third overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft on guard James Harden and Presti now had his core to build around. The following season would see the Thunder win 50 games and make the 2010 NBA Playoffs. And in 2012, the Thunder would win the Western Conference Championship. After the Thunder’s run to the NBA Finals in 2012, Presti would then begin to show even more of his savvy as a general manager.
With Harden up for a contract extension, the Thunder could not afford to give him, Durant and Westbrook maximum deals; especially after signing power forward Serge Ibaka to a four-year, $48 million extension in August 2012. And after failing to sign Harden to a team friendly contract, Presti traded him to the Houston Rockets in a six-player deal that also saw the Thunder receive three draft picks just prior to the start of the 2012-2013 NBA season. Two of those picks would work out for the Thunder as they used them on center Steven Adams and power forward Mitch McGary who are growing into solid role players in Oklahoma City. Since trading Harden, the Thunder haven’t skipped a beat as they won 60 games during the 2012-2013 NBA season for the first time since 1997-1998 when they still called Seattle home. In the past five years the Thunder have become a consistent title contender as they also advanced to the Western Conference Finals last season.
Things would be tougher for the Thunder this season as Durant began the season in street clothes as he was recovering from a fractured foot. And it would become more complicated for the Thunder in their second game of the season when Westbrook suffered a fracture in his hand versus the Los Angeles Clippers that would sideline him for nearly a month.
The Thunder were without their two stars in Durant and Westbrook and it showed in their record as they began the season at 3-12. But the slow climb back to respectability has seen them get back above the .500 mark as they’re back in the playoff hunt.
Ever since returning to returning the Thunder lineup, Westbrook has been a one-man wrecking crew as he has scored in double figures in every contest. In Westbrook’s first game back he went for 32 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds in a 105-78 victory over the New York Knicks on November 28 and earlier this month he scored for 45 points in a 102-91 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. In the past Westbrook developed a reputation as being a bit of a ball hog, but this season he is averaging 8.1 assists per game which is fifth in the NBA. On the season Westbrook has three triple-doubles to his credit including one this past Tuesday night in the Thunder’s 105-92 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the victory over the Pacers, Westbrook went for 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. For the month of February, Westbrook is averaging 10.1 assists per game and on the season he is averaging 26.2 points, 8.1 assists and 6.6 rebounds as he is in the discussion to be the NBA’s MVP.
Westbrook’s emergence as a better all-around player has been able to somewhat offset Durant’s absence. Durant missed the first month of the season as he was recovering from a fractured foot. That same foot has caused Durant to miss some time here and there after initially returning to the Thunder’s lineup, but he has been shutdown since February 19 after undergoing a minor procedure to reduce the pain in his foot and he will be re-evaluated soon. Durant is the reigning NBA MVP and on the season he is averaging 25.4 points. But at this point Durant is just trying to stay fresh for the stretch run and the postseason.
But aside from Durant and Westbrook, Presti has given Thunder head coach Scott Brooks a talented team to work with. Last month the Thunder acquired shooting guard Dion Waiters from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team deal that included the Knicks. Waiters was fourth overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft by the Cavs, but during his time in Cleveland he and point guard Kyrie Irving were never on the same page. Waiters came to the Thunder and he has been a valuable sixth man off of the bench as Oklahoma City has needed a player that can somewhat fill the void that Harden left when he was traded a few years ago. Earlier I talked about Adams and McGary and how they are asserting themselves with the Thunder. In 2013, Adams was the 12th overall pick of the NBA Draft while McGary was the 21st overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. Adams is currently sidelined with a broken hand, but when healthy he has shown drastic improvement this season as he is averaging 7.4 points and 7.0 rebounds. At 7’0″, Adams came to the Thunder being rather “green” after spending just one year in college at the University of Pittsburgh. Adams has a tremendous wing span and his overall game is only going to improve due to his athleticism. Like Adams, McGary left school early as well. After two years at the University of Michigan, McGary declared for the 2014 NBA Draft. But due to injuries and a positive test for marijuana, McGary’s stock fell; however he has found a home with the Thunder. And after missing the majority of the season due to injury, McGary has appeared in ten games for the Thunder as he is averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest.
And as if that weren’t enough for the Thunder, Presti added a slew of depth to his squad just prior to the NBA’s trade deadline. The Thunder acquired point guard D.J. Augustin from the Detroit Pistons. After being a first round pick of the Charlotte Bobcats in 2008, Augustin has bounced around the NBA and the Thunder are the sixth team that he has played for in the league. For his career Augustin has averaged 10.2 points and 4.1 assists and he can be veteran presence coming off of the bench for the Thunder. Presti also made a big splash when he acquired center Enes Kanter from the Utah Jazz. Kanter’s numbers have improved in each of his four years in the NBA and at 6’11”, he is another big body in the Thunder’s frontcourt to go along with Ibaka, McGary, and Adams as in the Western Conference you can never have enough big bodies when the postseason rolls around.
The Thunder have won nine out of their last ten games and they are currently in possession of the final spot in the Western Conference, but they are mowing down opponents in spite of the injury to Durant and that is mainly due to their depth which comes as a result of the ability of Presti. With the exception of selecting Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder have drafted in the later part of the first round and they have come out smelling like a rose due to the fact that most of the teams that have been picking in front of Oklahoma City are clueless which makes Presti’s job that much easier. Presti has continued to push the right buttons with the Thunder and regardless of where they are seeded when the NBA Playoffs begin this spring, they are poised to contend for the NBA Championship.