Clippers' loss further shows why Presti is biggest fleecer in the NBA

After the LA Clippers' Wednesday loss, the genius of the Thunder's GM is becoming even clearer.
Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder
Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder / BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY

The Oklahoma City Thunder are enjoying an unprecedented time of success. After being one of the most relevant Western Conference contenders for all of the 2010s, the direction of the franchise took a sharp turn in 2019. In trading away Russell Westbrook and Paul George, it was clear the organization was stepping into a rebuild.

That process of rebuilding was ultimately delayed by a year as Chris Paul stepped in for a season to provide leadership and help the Thunder eke out one final playoff appearance. But after that, it became obvious Oklahoma City was in a time of transition. There was no telling how long it would take before the Thunder's massive collection of draft picks translated into a winning basketball team once again.

As it turns out, the process was shorter than nearly anyone could have imagined. Oklahoma City spent the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons at the bottom of the conference, but by 2022-23, they were finishing just a single game away from the playoffs, losing their second Play-In game to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Anyone that was paying attention could see what the Thunder were about to become.

Fast forward to the current season, and OKC was one of the best teams in the association all regular season, earning the top seed in an absolutely stacked Western Conference. Led by the star power of Jalen Williams, Chet Holmgren, and of course, MVP finalist Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder are back in the hunt for an NBA championship once again.

With Gilgeous-Alexander acting as the centerpiece to Oklahoma City's title pursuit, it only makes sense to go back to when the Thunder first acquired him in 2019. After the LA Clippers' brutal defeat on Wednesday night that put them one game away from elimination in the playoffs, it seems an appropriate time to harken back to the trade that started this whole era.

The Thunder trading Paul George was an all-time fleece

When the Clippers acquired Kawhi Leonard in 2019, they had struck figurative gold. The player that just willed the Raptors to a championship strongly desired to go back home to Southern California and play for his hometown team, and he was reportedly not going if he did not also get the services of his running mate Paul George as well.

Employing George at the time and more than happy to oblige given the proposed return, the Thunder shipped PG to Los Angeles in exchange for an absolutely massive haul — five first-round picks and an additional two first-round pick swaps. The Clippers were willing to mortgage their future in an attempt to go all-in on the present.

They absolutely found both regular season and playoff success with their superstar wing duo, but they have not been able to achieve the ultimate goal of lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy. Wednesday night's loss may have all but ended the Clippers' season. And for their third playoff run in a row, LA will be missing the services of either Leonard or George when it matters most.

Now, the Thunder could not have predicted back in 2019 that the Clippers would encounter this level of injury trouble in four consecutive years. But the fact that they have fallen flat over and over again does point to the genius of OKC General Manager Sam Presti. Seeing the opportunity they had to bridge one generation of Thunder basketball to the next, Presti took a swing on a talented young guard from the Clippers, banking on him eventually becoming a franchise cornerstone.

His uncommon vision for the future and negotiation skill netted Oklahoma City an unbelievable stash of draft picks that have played a big part in accelerating their rebuild and getting them back to the top of the Western Conference in no time. As time moves on and the ramifications from the Paul George trade become clearer, it has never been more obvious that Presti is one of the most trade-savvy executives in the NBA.