As we approach the summer of 2014, the Thunder need to reload their role players. General Manager Sam Presti will be in his 7th offseason with the franchise, and that amount of history should give us a decent look at what he might do this summer. So, lets look back at many of the transactions Presti has made so we can gauge what might happen this summer.
The Summer of 2007 was arguably the most important summer in franchise history. There, they signed rookies Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. One of these two went on to become the MVP and the other trade bait. I think you know which is which. Just to remind everyone, Green was acquired from the Boston Celtics along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. In return the then-Sonics sent the Celtics Ray Allen and Big Baby. These were pivotal moves for both franchises. It was also not the last time Presti dealt with GM Danny Ainge. On July 21, Sam made his first savvy GM move in acquiring Kurt Thomas along with 2008 and 2010 first round picks from the Phoenix Suns for a second round pick. Most fans think of cap space in terms of acquiring free agents, as do most GMs. Presti used his cap space to acquire a player with a large contract from a team that was trying to get under the tax in order to get not one, but two first round picks. This will not be the only time Presti uses his cap space creatively. Thomas was not acquired for his basketball skills, but as a way to pry those first rounders from the cheap Suns owner Robert Sarver.
The summer of 2008 was another extremely important summer for a team with endless potential, because they drafted Russell Westbrook and DJ White. One would become a perennial All Star, and the other eventually a Bobcat. Presti also made a trade to acquire Oklahoma State hero Desmond Mason and forward Joe Smith in a three team deal. This deal was made after the move from Seattle to Oklahoma City. Bringing in Desmond Mason was a smart deal that brought some familiarity to fans, as well as a great ambassador for the city. Presti also re-signed Robert Swift, who at the time was still a big man with potential. December of 2008 began the Nenad Krstic era in OKC. Presti signed Nenad away from his team in Russia. Although Krstic is the punchline to a lot of jokes to Thunder fans, he was a major upgrade at the center position at the time.
On February 17, 2009 one of the biggest "What Ifs" in Thunder history happened when Presti put together a strangely lopsided package for center Tyson Chandler. The Thunder gave up Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith, and the rights to center DeVon Hardin… that’s it. The Thunder going forward could have had Westbrook, Harden, KD, Green, and Chandler with Ibaka developing from the bench. This even more than the Harden trade might have affected OKC’s chances for a championship with its young crew. You take Chandler away from Dallas, and they don’t win in 2011. This clearly paves OKC's way to the Finals to play a Heat team that didn’t look ready to win it. What a massive "What If"! Instead, the next day the deal is retracted because of a toe issue and Presti deals Wilcox for Malik Rose and some cash. Also this year in a trade deadline deal, Presti gave the Chicago Bulls a first round pick (which eventually became Taj Gibson) for shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha.
In the summer of 2009 Presti had another fantastic draft and signed rookies James Harden and Byron Mullens. Again, one became a perennial All Star and the other eventually a Bobcat. Presti also brought over a super raw prospect by the name of Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was drafted the previous summer, but was brought over to the team in 2009. Presti also signed guard Kevin Ollie, a hard working backup who left a real imprint on this team with his leadership. With the summer of 2010 just around the corner Thunder fans were dreaming of signing a free agent big man like Chris Bosh or David Lee. The Thunder looked like they were going to have a lot of cap space and with such a young up and coming team it seemed plausible. On December 22, 2009 those hopes vanished when Presti traded away the rights to the 2002 draftee Peter Fehse for the injured Matt Harpring and rookie point guard Eric Maynor. This was another crafty way to use cap space in order to get assets. Maynor was a fantastic back up until he had his knee injury, and this trade by all accounts was a great move seeing that Peter Fehse is still a complete mystery of a human being. This again showing the Presti values cap space differently than most of the league, and thus uses it differently.
The summer of 2010 came with the 5 year max extension for All Star forward Kevin Durant and the team trading two first round picks for the rights to center Cole Aldrich. I’m not going to lie, I was excited about both of these moves. Aldrich, at the time, was touted by guys like Bill Simmons to be a starting center in this league. Presti appeared to have done it again. But this move, as we know, turned out to be a major blemish on Presti’s record. He could have had guys like Ed Davis, Patrick Patterson, or Larry Sanders. But alas, no one is perfect. In this draft Presti also dealt the number 18 pick, Eric Bledsoe, to the Clippers for a future first rounder. So the 2010 draft wasn’t Presti’s best, but he did get Tibor Pleiss in a deal! Let’s go back and I’ll tell you how the Thunder acquired the 18th pick. In a trade before the draft OKC sent the Heat the 32nd pick in the draft for guard Daequan Cook and the 18th pick. Why did the Heat do this deal? They were clearing cap space to sign Lebron, Wade, and Bosh. So let’s all try to forget that Presti helped the Heat clear space for those 3, OK?
February 24, 2011 changed the Thunder forever. Presti dealt Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the first rounder from the Clippers to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Thunder fans were elated. We finally have our franchise center, and to tell you the truth Perkins did help this team considerably. This was now a tough team in the middle with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins and not the soft "get anything you want in the paint" team with Green and Krstic. The Perkins extension is what gives Presti another blemish on his record. The 4 year $36 million extension came very quickly, like this happened in less than a week after the trade. This has proven to be a contract bigger than what Perkins is worth, and thus we say the word amnesty more than defensive stopper when we mention him.
The Summer of 2011 was a quiet one. In that season, OKC selected little known guard Reggie Jackson with the 24th pick. Jackson didn’t do interviews, workouts, or even attend the combine before the draft, yet Presti saw something special. When the 2012 Playoffs rolled around, the Thunder didn't yet trust Jackson and also needed to replace the injured Eric Maynor. OKC made a move, signing free agent point guard Derek Fisher for a playoff run. As you remember. the Thunder eventually made it to the finals and fell short. This version of the Thunder seemed like a dynasty in the making with the core of Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka, but there were some crucial decisions to be made in the offseason.
In the summer of 2012, the Thunder drafted Perry Jones III. He was brimming with talent but seemed to lack what they call a "motor" (still trying to find his motor). This was the least exciting thing to happen during the 2012 offseason. Serge Ibaka signed a 4 year $49.4 million extension (which was, and is an absolute steal). Next came negotiations with 6th man of the year James Harden. When it came down to it OKC didn't have what Harden wanted. He wanted to be a star. He wanted max money. OKC already had two ball dominant super stars and weren't ready to commit max money to a player that might not be worth it (OKC wasn't the only team wavering on his projections as a player either). The Thunder offered Harden $52 million over 4 years, which would make him the highest paid 6th man, but he balked. So on October 27th the Thunder traded James Harden, Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward to the Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and two future first rounders (one being Steven Adams and the other the Dallas pick; #21 in this coming draft). I will spare everyone the analysis on this deal and just say that Steven Adams is so awesome. Derek Fisher was a late season add to help fuel another run to the Finals, which was unfortunately cut short by a knee injury to some star point guard. FUN FACT: This was the first full season after the lockout and during this time they either assigned or recalled young guys from the D-League 80 times. That seems like a lot.
This past summer the Thunder drafted Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Grant Jerrett, and Alex Abrines. We all know Adams, Roberson, and Jerrett, but Abrines is a bit of a mystery. He does play for one of the best teams in Europe in FC Barcelona and averaged 7 points on 46% from the field and 42% from 3 in 17 minutes of play. This could potentially be another great pick by Presti, as Abrines is only 20 years old. Presti’s last move before this summer was bringing in Caron Butler to fill the void of inconsistency off the bench. You could argue whether this worked or not. I’ll say it worked sometimes.
This all brings us to the summer of 2014. Presti is armed with the 21st and 29th picks in the draft, a $7 million trade exception, a mid-level exception, and some cap space which is going to be more than expected because of a jump in the salary cap. Thabo, Fisher and Butler are likely gone so the Thunder have some moves to make. Judging from what Presti has done in the past, what might we predict? I think it is reasonable to say that he will be aggressive with his first round picks. I would be surprised if he takes a player at both 21 and 29. I think it is a serious option to package these picks and trade up. Another question is Jackson. He has already stated he wanted to start, and being that his primary position is point guard, it would not be surprising to see him on the move as well. The Thunder need to upgrade their bench, and these picks and Jackson could get a very nice piece or potentially a lottery pick.
Regarding cap space, it is not in Presti’s character to go after a big name free agent, just because they tend to cost more money than they are worth (see Kevin Martin’s deal). But this is a different position than Presti has been in the past. This team can and needs to win now. Will he go after a guy like Luol Deng or Shawn Marion in hopes of talking them into a cheaper deal? These are the types of deals that championship teams make. Deals for veterans that have made a significant amount of money but now want to win. Luol Deng is probably a pipe dream, but you get the idea.
The Thunder have a lot of options this summer, but for next season, it’s championship or bust. They have the assets in place and a GM who has proven to be very savvy. Let’s hope he pulls off a big draft day deal or lures a big time free agent. Although the latter has yet to happen for OKC, this may be the summer that it does.
Write in the comments below your draft or free agent ideas and we will talk about them in our future podcasts.