Presti-gious Plan: How OKC Prepared For Durant’s Free Agency

Jan 16, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti watches college basketball between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Oklahoma Sooners at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 16, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti watches college basketball between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Oklahoma Sooners at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Oklahoma City Thunder finally cleaned out their lockers and conducted their season end exit interviews, we all really wanted to hear from one specific individual. When Sam Presti took to the podium on Monday, we all sat up and paid close attention to the one guy who could possibly have any concrete insight into Kevin Durant‘s free agency. Was he confident about his star player returning? Did he think OKC did enough to keep him? There were plenty of questions, but his responses were meticulously thought out. It was vintage Presti, staying away from speculation and rumor fueling.

“We’ll get an answer from him at the appropriate time,” Presti said at Monday’s final exit interview. “I think it really is important for him to take his time, get away from things. Look, Kevin is a highly, highly intelligent person. He’s a mature person. He’s a rational person, and he’s going to work through the decision in a way that will help him do what he feels is best for him. We’ll react accordingly once we have that information, and we’ll try to be as prepared as possible.”

It was an impressive answer to a year long question that loomed over this Thunder team. Presti didn’t seem like a general manager afraid of a cornerstone player entering his first UFA period. After all, he managed to put together a roster ready to compete for the future through a series of controversial moves (or sacrifices i.e Reggie Jackson). His eight year free agency presentation came to an exciting finish as Durant and Co. shocked the world and pushed the Golden State Warriors to seven games.

Presti and assistant GM Troy Weaver exited the Durant residence back in 2010 with an eye on 2016 and how they could put the pieces in place to make there case as KD’s home.

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The Thunder’s decision to resign Serge Ibaka almost as soon as he was eligible in 2012 raised a few eyebrows, especially considering they were in the midst of a salary tug-of-war with James Harden.

Ibaka was a supremely talented defender whose offensive prowess was rapidly developing. While everyone was scratching their head at why Presti would essentially “choose” Ibaka over Harden, the fact remained that the NBA was evolving and a chance to secure a defensive stopper in the paint with potential stretch 4 qualities was something Presti wasn’t going to let slip away.

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Presti’s eventful 2012 wasn’t done just yet. After months of offseason negotiations and both parties saying the right things in the media, James Harden was suddenly dealt to the Houston Rockets in a move that sent shockwaves through the league  just days before the extension deadline. The Thunder received 2 first round picks, Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb in the deal, selecting budding young center Steven Adams, the only remnant of the deal, with one of those picks.

Coming off a Finals trip and non-stop league-wide raving about how this OKC team could be the next great dynasty, the Thunder found themselves on the other side of the spectrum with endless criticism about ownership, finances, and management. However, the mantra stayed the same in the following days with the Thunder preaching sustainability and long-term focus rather than risking the plan even if it meant cutting their losses with talented players like Harden.

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Fast-forward to 2015 and the Thunder looked to re-tool once again via the trade route. With a little over a month before the trade deadline, the Thunder once again used their flexibility to engage in a three team trade with the Knicks and Cavaliers. OKC acquired swingman Dion Waiters while sacrificing their 2015 first round pick (protected) and Lance Thomas.

Once again at the deadline, Presti managed to bring in a haul of depth players including Enes Kanter, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler all while shipping away disgruntled backup point guard Reggie Jackson and the rugged Kendrick Perkins.

This was a move not many teams with OKC’s type of payroll could maneuver, but OKC, who long claimed that the James Harden trade would bode well for the overall flexibility of the team, was able to execute these depth transactions.

"via ESPN’s Royce Young:What the Thunder got in return for Harden clearly doesn’t equal the player they gave up (though Steven Adams is a good player), but the overlooked piece they also landed was flexibility. And that flexibility is what enabled Presti to make two different trades this season that have rounded this Thunder roster into their deepest ever."

So, you’re probably how all of this is relevant to Kevin Durant’s free agency, right?

When KD enters free agency this July, he’ll have endless suitors including some unlikely ones (Warriors, Raptors, Rockets) and some future contenders (Miami, Wizards, Lakers).

However, when Presti and his front office team sit down with Durant and his representation, they’ll be able to lay out a plan which began when he first inked his extension. They will be able to reflect on their journey including the milestones and growth achieved during those years. Of course there will be a void when it comes to championships, but what team can say they’ve reached the Western Conference Finals 4 of the past 6 years? Or boasts a supremely talented starting rotation which ranks as one of the youngest in the league? Or a chance to play alongside a top-5 player in Russell Westbrook? The case for OKC is simply endless.

Next: OKC Hires New Assistant

When the two sides walk away from their meeting this July, Presti will know he’s done all he can to pull OKC apart from the rest while Durant will walk away knowing he has a GM who’s plan nearly brought him one win away from the NBA Finals.