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Thunder GM Sam Presti admits ‘good fortune’ was key to OKC’s rebuilding success

Jun 22, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

Serge Ibaka, Sam Presti AP

The Thunder have emerged as a perennial contender in the Western Conference, thanks in large part to the job that the team’s general manager, Sam Presti, has done in rebuilding the franchise.

But even he himself will tell you that luck played an important part in that success.

Many have touted the OKC model as the proper way build a team when you’re essentially starting from scratch, and there’s some truth to that when you consider that bottoming out and accumulating draft picks is the easiest way to acquire multiple players capable of becoming stars while being relatively inexpensive on their rookie contracts.

It’s also a bit flawed, however, because not everyone is going to be as fortunate to have draft picks in consecutive seasons work out as well as they did in Oklahoma City.

From Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:

Kevin Durant was the second overall pick in 2007 of the Seattle SuperSonics, who became the Thunder. That was an easy choice after the Portland Trail Blazers selected center Greg Oden first overall. A year later, the Sonics selected at No. 4 Russell Westbrook, who wasn’t such a consensus pick, and later in the first round, general manager Sam Presti grabbed Congolese forward Serge Ibaka and allowed him to stay with his Spanish team for another season.

All three of those picks worked better than expected. Durant and Westbrook are perennial All-Stars, and Ibaka is one of the best defenders in the NBA. Presti was astute, but he admits luck played its part.

“We’ll be the first to say that we’ve had a tremendous amount of good fortune. Nobody in our organization is taking credit for the development of Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook,” said Presti, a Concord native and former Emerson College player. “Our focus was on building a team that was capable of sustainable competitive success. We felt like building through the draft and building an identity for a team over a period of years was the best approach for us. It’s really so much about the individual team and organization and how they see their envisioned future.”

Rebuilding through the draft is indeed a sound strategy, for all the reasons we’ve already mentioned. But it requires sharp scouting and quite a bit of that “good fortune” Presti mentioned in order for it to truly work out to perfection.

  1. patfic5 - Jun 22, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    Presti and Brooks are both incredibly fortunate to have lucked up with such a squad. Of course their shortcomings are apparent in the sense that they can’t develop player. Russ is still Russ. Durant is naturally getting better. Oh and they still hold on to Perkins instead of freeing that $$$ up and getting a quality big man. Pau Gasol could be had by the way Sam. Afflalo is there too….. But let’s avoid that tax.

    • asimonetti88 - Jun 22, 2014 at 8:08 PM

      Avoiding the tax isn’t necessarily Presti’s fault. I’m sure that Clayton Bennett has a lot to do with that. Too bad, maybe if they were in a larger market like, oh say, Seattle, they’d be able to afford to go over the tax line.

      • patfic5 - Jun 22, 2014 at 8:40 PM

        Agreed. I just hate watching this team piss away the chance to win a ring.

      • spursareold - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:07 PM

        Can’t blame you.

        “Our focus was on building a team that was capable of sustainable competitive success.”

        Not one word about championships.

  2. antistratfordian - Jun 22, 2014 at 5:53 PM

    Well, no kidding. If the ball bounced differently in 2007 the Sonics could’ve easily ended up with Greg Oden or Thaddeus Young.

    • apkyletexas - Jun 22, 2014 at 6:57 PM

      Imagine how “unlucky” the Sonics/Thunder would have been if they had the first pick in the Oden draft and took him over Durant.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 22, 2014 at 7:37 PM

        There was no scenario in which Durant was going to go #1 in that draft.

  3. ss3walkman - Jun 22, 2014 at 5:54 PM

    OKC’s rebuilding process? Their 3 best players were Seattle picks!

    • sportsfan18 - Jun 22, 2014 at 6:03 PM

      Seattle’s Best Choice…

      Those guys must have gone to work for the Seahawks…

      Oh, the M’s wish someone would send those guys there way…

  4. yesser12 - Jun 22, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    They have had some good drafts. Though getting young guys is just the 1st step, it is up to Brooks to actually play them.

  5. kinggw - Jun 22, 2014 at 6:43 PM

    Duh. For many months Sixers fans on this blog have talked about how bright their future is going to be because if all the young talent they have coming in. I’ve always cited the Cavs as a reason not to get too excited. What happened with OKC was the exception not the rule. Trying to replicate what they did is an exercise in futility.

    I doubt we’ll ever see a team do what the Thunder did with those four first rounders over three years. I believe teams like the Sixers who seem to be going with nothing but young guys are going to be in the lottery much longer than they envisioned.

  6. hojo20 - Jun 22, 2014 at 9:28 PM

    Yeah great job on signing Perkins to that big contract and letting Harden go.

  7. bigx21 - Jun 22, 2014 at 11:33 PM

    Letting fear da beard Harden out of OKC was one of the worst move they’ve done!! Happy that Harden went to Htown!!!

    • yesser12 - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:27 AM

      Much rather have Ibaka than Haren dude plays on defense at all and would have always been the 3rd option.

  8. 1historian - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    Organizations win championships.

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