It’s hard to equate Sam Presti with excellence – especially if you live in Seattle. As GM of the Seattle SuperSonics, he oversaw two mediocre seasons while the promise of a truly great team never materialized, while looming ownership issues eventually saw the one-time NBA Champions leave town for good.
But if you live in Oklahoma City (or even Boston), Sam Presti effectively may as well be basketball God. He’s brought basketball to OKC, and almost immediately turned them into a true championship quality team, led by one of the league’s few true superstars.
Though it certainly didn’t look like it when Presti first took the reigns of the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007. Presti almost immediately dealt Ray Allen / Jesus Shuttlesworth to Boston, in exchange for effectively nothing. Jeff Green (who would return to Boston later), Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West would hardly make their impact as SuperSonics. Then he hired P.J. Carlesimo, dealt Rashard Lewis for nothing, and the Sonics went 20-62..
But the same day he dropped Ray Allen, Presti drafted Kevin Durant with the second pick in the draft. Here was the beginnings of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rashard Lewis deal allowed Presti to pick up two first round picks from Phoenix, the first of which became Serge Ibaka.
Meanwhile, figures in Oklahoma City were begging for basketball, and making plans to make it happen.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Hornets played their home games for two years in Oklahoma City (700 miles away, but nevermind that), and the city acquired a love of basketball. Watching Chris Paul play has that effect on people.
At the same time, the city of Seattle was dragging its feet on renovating KeyArena, failing several times to raise the needed funding to renovate the aging arena. Almost to rub it in, Oklahoma City approved $120 million to renovate the Ford Center for an NBA franchise.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, Presti drafted Russell Westbrook in the 2008 draft, effectively creating the beginnings of a truly dominant team. Seattle would never see Westbrook as the team packed up and went to Oklahoma before the season would start, in a move two years in the making.
Presti’s career is so closely tied to the draftings of Westbrook, Durant and Harden, as well as the move to OKC, it’s hard to judge him clearly as a GM.
Is he a profile in excellence or failure? Drafting Westbrook and Durant was brilliant, and the move to OKC meant the franchise didn’t have to spend a penny on renovating the aging KeyArena. But those decisions were scouting and ownership decisions surely.
At the same time, acquiring the components necessary (Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher) to help Westbrook, Durant and Harden to the finals requires its own share of cunning and ability – but the failure to retain Harden will be a blot on his career.