Sam Presti, Oklahoma City Thunder
Tomorrow is promised to nobody—and to no team.
Since advancing to the NBA Finals back in 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder have failed to replicate similar success. With cost-cutting directives coming from the top, the team made a surprising trade of James Harden, which shifted the balance of power in the NBA, and subsequently let Kevin Martin—the main prize of the trade—head to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a free agent.
Built around Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder do have what it takes to be an elite team in the NBA’s tough Western Conference, but to say that Sam Presti and coach Scott Brooks are both facing pressure to help this team re-ascend would be an understatement.
There has been some recent speculation that Durant—who signed with Roc Nation Sports back in June 2013—would welcome an opportunity to head to a bigger market when his current contract with the Thunder expires on July 1, 2016.
Though that is still two years from now, it is safe to assume that the one thing that will have Durant seriously considering a change of scenery when the time comes is his team failing to restock the cupboard that has been slowly diminishing in the quality of its contents.
Attempting to follow the blueprint of the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder are convinced that building the franchise begins with three featured stars and auxiliary pieces. While that may be true, it should be pointed out that even the Spurs understood the importance of acquiring and keeping pieces such as Steve Smith, Brent Barry, Malik Rose, Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter.
In many such instances, the Spurs were forced to spend a little bit more money than they wanted to, but they did it in the name of winning. To this point, the Thunder need to understand that there is fine balance that must be found between remaining below the luxury tax threshold but spending enough to compete against the likes of the conference’s other powers.
That, more than anything else, will be Presti’s challenge, especially as the hourglass toward the expiration of Durant’s contract continues to draw nearer.
In effect, the Thunder opted to hold onto Kendrick Perkins rather than amnestying him and reallocating the funds allotted to him to Harden. And even with the emergence of Reggie Jackson and the potential of Jeremy Lamb, this team simply needs to get stronger—right now.
Presti is just one of a few general managers across the league who has his work cut out for him this summer. However, if there is one thing that the NBA public has learned in this post-decision era, it is that superstars are seemingly unafraid to change addresses if they feel that their front offices have not done adequate jobs of surrounding them with talent.
And if there is one thing that today’s superstars hate more than anything else, it is cheap owners who—despite having playoff success and selling out their building every single night—pinch their pennies to the tune of allowing talent to walk away and thereby decreasing the team’s odds of competing for a championship.
As it currently stands, Durant’s current contract with the Thunder is drawing near and this is Presti’s second to last summer to prove that he is capable of helping Durant accomplish his ultimate goal of winning a championship.
He has two years to prove that and for sure, he is facing the pressure. If there is one thing we have learned in the recent past, it is that small market teams face and uphill battle as it relates to keeping their talent. Thunder fans are certainly hoping that Presti gets this one correct.
– Moke Hamilton