From the start of his career as a general manager, Sam Presti has been regarded as one of the best general managers in the NBA. He is the executive who assembled a core of three MVP-level talents in consecutive years and turned a small market team into legitimate title contenders.
His 15 years have been nothing short of exceptional and yet the honour of Executive of the Year eludes him. Sam is one of the best executives in the league and has been so for the last decade but that trophy has never landed in his cabinet. It is honestly pretty remarkable when you think about what Sam has achieved.
Oklahoma City have won five division titles and one conference title in 2012. Four All-NBA players have worn Thunder Blue, an impressive feat when you consider the difficulty associated with acquiring high level talent. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Chris Paul are some of the best players of their generation and they all had huge, memorable moments in Oklahoma City.
It has not been an easy road in the slightest for the Thunder but Presti’s work at the negotiating table has sustained the Thunder’s success. When Serge Ibaka’s abilities were waning, he flipped the Congolese enter for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Those two players were enough for the Thunder to land Paul George and prise open the title window that many thought has closed when Kevin Durant left town. The Westbrook-PG era ultimately came to nothing but Sam Presti did an amazing job in putting the best roster possible around Westbrook in his prime years.
He is a savvy operator who wants to extract value out of every single deal, the Cameron Payne trade in 2017 is probably the best example of Presti’s persuasiveness. In the run up to the trade deadline in 2017, there was a lot of talk about the Thunder giving up future assets to make the team better to meet short-term needs. The likes of Andre Roberson and Steven Adams were on the table.
Oklahoma City were able to steal Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second round pick for Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lauvergne. The Thunder landed two solid, serviceable veterans for a injury-hit young player, a defensive liability and an immobile center.
There are countless examples of these small, marginal trades where Presti has been able to find value and add to the current roster on the cheap. You only need to look at the 2020 offseason as a testament to Sam’s relentlessness.
By no means is Sam Presti, his draft record in the first iteration of the Thunder left a lot to be desired. There was an intent focus on taking athletic wings who needed to be taught the basic fundamentals of basketball.
When the first era of Thunder basketball eventually reached an end, there was a feeling nationally that Presti may have been willing to move on with his career. It is hard to build a team that is sustainably good for an 5-year window, it is even harder to do that for a second time. He took on the challenge and reshaped the Thunder’s future on July 6 2019.
Paul George was dealt for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a haul of draft picks. Gilgeous-Alexander is now one of the best guards in the NBA and is a better player than Paul George. The draft picks are in the process of conveying but the Thunder have already found value in the draft with LA’s selections.
Jalen Williams was taken with one of those picks and J-Dub already looks to be an impressive player. In his rookie season, Williams is playing winning basketball and has meshed seamlessly with Gilgeous-Alexander.
Presti then fleeced Houston in the Chris Paul trade and the Thunder’s rebuild has never looked back. Oklahoma City’s focus on acquiring picks and young players was sniggered about by many media members nationally. A week would not go by without some sort of comment about Presti’s desire to build out an NFL roster.
It was frustrating to hear as a fan because we could see the strategy paying dividends. Over the last four years, Oklahoma City have added JRE, Chet, Aaron Wiggins, Tre Mann, J-Will, J-Dub, Ous, Josh Giddey and Pokusevski through the draft alone.
The draft has not been perfect but the Thunder have found at least three solid role players and possibly two star level talents through the Draft. It is a fantastic hit rate and value has been found across the board, the likes of Wiggins and JRE were picked in the second round.
Oklahoma City have also made shrewd moves in free agency that have paid off massively. Isaiah Joe has been a revelation this season and was picked up on a minimum deal after Philly waived him. Lindy Waters III came through the G League and now finally looks like a useful two-way wing.
A roster that was derided at the start of the season for having little known players is now brimming with talent. The front office has done an excellent job of adding individuals who play selflessly and who can think for themselves.
The Thunder’s overachievement is in part down to a very good roster but the success can also be credited to Mark Daigneault. Hiring Daigneault was a ballsy decision by Sam, Mark has never coached in the NBA before and there was a risk in handing him the keys during a formative stage in the team’s growth.
It is a choice that has paid dividends. Daigneault is the best coach in the Thunder’s history and has created a competitive environment where young players have a chance to prove themselves.
Sam Presti has assembled a team with a bright future that can be consistently excellent over the long-term. His work as a general manager has been undeniable and deserves to be recognised with an EOY trophy.