Sam Presti press release on Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul: 3 Key takeaways

OKC Thunder: Russell Westbrook and general manager Sam Presti (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
OKC Thunder: Russell Westbrook and general manager Sam Presti (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder offseason and free agency
Kevin Durant, President and General Manager Sam Presti, OKC Thunder offseason and free agency (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Presti’s magician reference grew via sleight of hand moves:

Many times during Sam Presti’s tenure as OKC Thunder GM he was dubbed ‘The Magician”. This came about when the Thunder were seemingly handcuffed without assets to trade for viable upgrades.

Two examples were the trade of Cameron Payne Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lauvergne to add a veteran forward in Taj Gibson with extensive playoff experience, quality defense and rebounding prowess along with Doug McDermott whom Presti thought could offer perimeter efficiency.

The second example ironically was the trade to get Paul George which at the time was considered a huge win fall for OKC given the cost was Victor Oladipo (who hadn’t performed to the level the Thunder were hoping, albeit in a role which changed with the exit of Durant) and rookie Domantas Sabonis. Depending on what becomes of the George trade for a bevy of draft picks (and two draft swaps), as well as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander growth and what he does long term with Danilo Gallinari, could be the true jewel in Presti’s crown.

Based on the moves Presti made at the start of the moratorium indicates the OKC Thunder was still committed to being competitive. How Presti shifted to navigate the trade demand from Paul George wasn’t just done with a magician’s adeptness but could very well define Presti’s career.

Firstly, there are the draft picks Presti obtained which Albert Nahmad does an excellent job detailing in his tweet:

All tolled, eight, first-round draft picks and four potential swaps. Never mind the assets which may include a future All-Star in Gilgeous-Alexander.

Yet, the true genius of what Sam Presti pulled off was how he leveraged the Clippers and Rockets by insinuating there were other offers on the table. In the case of the Clippers, they were led to believe the Raptors were the competing squad to nab George. In reality, Masai Ujiri never considered trading Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet let alone four unprotected draft picks Presti reportedly requested.

Rather, it’s far more likely Ujiri knowingly agreed to appear as if Toronto were in the mix to land George simply to make the Clippers bleed. If the Raptors were going to lose Kawhi Leonard, they could at least get some payback for the outright tampering by the Clippers all season which went unpunished. Immediately after the trade Ujiri made it clear he knew Toronto was being used for leverage and never took the Thunder request seriously.

If the Clippers put out feelers on the validity of the Raptors interest it’s reasonable to assume Ujiri wouldn’t have done a thing to dissuade them from that belief. In the aftermath of this deal considering George is coming off two shoulder surgeries the fact Presti got arguably a better haul than the Pelicans did for Anthony Davis is nothing short of miraculous.

Yet, Presti went on to complete the same sleight of hand leverage versus another desperate squad (the Rockets) who thought they were bidding against the Heat for Westbrook. The reality was Miami wasn’t willing to cough up two young assets and the Thunder already held their 2021 and 2023 draft picks via the Clippers trade leaving them without picks to barter until 2025.

In reflection, these moves won’t be fully gradable until we see what Sam Presti does with the horde of draft picks. But what Presti did to leverage two teams to cough up so much believing they had to outbid another team when those teams weren’t even in play was absolute mastery.