As the Oklahoma City general manager, Sam Presti had an idea. Realizing if players come from the draft, that he needed to get draft picks. Through a series of trades, he has acquired a massive draft capital. Even if only a quarter of his first-round picks within the next 7 years shine, that’s still almost full starting five. It may seem complex how he was able to do so, but Presti has been behind the league’s back preparing for a massive onslaught. Besides his pick department, he too has an assortment of talented players to develop.
How Presti Acquired The Picks
With a possibility of 17 picks in 6 years, Presti can bring in as many players as he needs. However, he did not get these picks from subtle trades here and there. Instead, a large chunk of these came from headline-grabbing blockbusters. From taking on one of the league’s worst contracts to flipping a superstar, Sam Presti has done it all.
Parting with Paul George
When Paul George was sent packing, the Thunder received a king’s ransom for perhaps the league’s best two-way wing. Besides acquiring an under-the-radar guard by the name of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and seasoned vet Danilo Gallinari, the Oklahoma City Thunder also received three Clipper first-round picks and two Heat first-round picks, along with the option to swap with the Clippers for two seasons. Although it seems the 2022 pick from Los Angeles and the 2023 pick from Miami won’t hold much value, the LA picks in 2024 and 2026, and the one from South Beach in 2025 are too far away to tell. Could the Thunder land Mikey Williams with one of those picks? That indeed could be a possibility. Will Mikey Williams be all he is cracked up to be? Well, that’s a question for a different day. Since leaving for Cali, Paul George and teammate Kawhi Leonard have.
Removal of Russel Westbrook
A legend in Thunder history, Russell Westbrook had decided to go back and team up with former teammate James Harden. Besides acquiring former superstar Chris Paul, the Rockets gave OKC a boatload of picks. Sam Presti was able to convince Houston to give in return 2024 and 2026 firsts, and swaps during both 2021 and 2025. Even though they had lost arguably their biggest star in franchise history, all was not for naught. With those picks, the Thunder kept on piling the picks up high. Considering only two trades the Thunder had received 5 additional first-round selections. After a short stint in Houston, Russ demanded a trade and was sent over to D.C. for John Wall. Shortly after that, James Harden sat out until being sent to the Brooklyn super team.
Completion of Chris Paul
Only a season after being traded to Oklahoma, Sam Presti pulled the trigger on allowing him to depart. He was sent to the Arizona desert for a large package of players and a 22 first-round pick. One of those players, Kelly Oubre, was later flipped for a conditional first. Also in the package were Ricky Rubio, Jalen Lecque, and Ty Jerome. A no-brainer for a rebuilding team, the Thunder practically turned Westbrook into even more assets. Although not every trade for a pick is a big one, participation in 3 massive trades during 2 years sure helped.
More Than Just Picks
Although Sam Presti’s main shtick is acquiring as many first-rounders as possible, there is a lot more than what meets the eye? Besides acquiring future picks, through smart drafting and trading, Sam Presti has acquired a somewhat competitive team for today and the near future.
As of their current roster, the future leader of the Thunder is SGA. Slotting in at either the point guard or the shooting guard, he provides some versatility to compete in positionless hoops. After being sent to OKC his sophomore season, he showed a breakout that Coach Calipari originally saw when he was brought to Kentucky. Since leaving TMZ, he has been averaging 20 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists. Throw in a steal and .7 blocks for the full package. His PER so far this year of 22 shows him to be a quite efficient player. If he could find a way to raise his percentage from the line, he may join the elite 50/40/90 club.
The Thunder originally acquired Svi from the Pistons, along with a second-round pick for Hamidou Diallo. Although he has not yet stepped onto the court wearing Orange and Blue, he should be part of their future. However, unlike Gilgeous-Alexander he has not truly proven himself. During the last couple of seasons, he has been shooting .377 from deep. If the Thunder choose to keep him, he could be a valuable third option behind Shai and a future draft pick if he develops his rebound or assists game. We know from his previous experiences in Los Angeles and Detroit that although not a star now, he has all the fundamentals for sure covered.
Where will the Thunder be?
All rebuilds end in two ways. Success, or utter failure, there is no in-between. If all goes to plan, the Thunder may have a 15-year championship window. Of their current roster, besides Shai and Svi, players like Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Lu Dort may have significant roles in the future. Combined with their many draft picks, and the Bill Russel Trophy may be coming to the Sooner State. For argument’s sake, even if they make the playoffs each year, there is still a big chance of having a lotto pick. A good direction to go in is to try to compete, and hope for the previously acquired picks to have value. If their young core develops, along with a couple of good 2021 firsts, they would only need to throw in one free agent to make everything work. Perhaps if they sign someone like Derrick Rose to complement Shai and draft a physically strong big, they could be in shape for a deep run in ’22.