Storyline: Thunder Front Office

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Adams, back in New Zealand for his just completed kids’ coaching camps and a looming Friday charity golf event in his name, was asked about the curious George addition (OKC have him for a year before he becomes a free agent), and his response was pure Steven Adams. “It should be good, man,” he told the assembled media at his Auckland coaching camp. “The front office does a good job of not bringing in … (a less than complimentary term beginning with D is proffered) … I’m not going to use that word. But along the lines of that. “They bring in really good people who fit well into the locker-room because all that matters, because you could bring in a really good player, but if they screw up the locker-room you’ll still lose games. And the whole point is winning games.

The expectation is that the Thunder will meet with Westbrook at the start of free agency and offer him that five-year extension. If he takes it, he’ll solidify himself as the face of the franchise, and the hub around which Presti will try to reconstruct a championship contender. But if Westbrook isn’t willing to commit, it would almost certainly set off a frenzied bidding war for Westbrook’s services — and, in doing so, give Presti the chance he didn’t have with Durant: to get something in return for a departing star.

This was the third-youngest team in OKC franchise history, older than only the 2009 and 2010 squads. Presti will be quick to point that out whenever given the opportunity. And given the financial position the Thunder find themselves in, run up over the cap and not overloading with inherent flexibility, it’s the exact reason why he believes improvement within the core is most likely to come internally, not from the outside. “Those guys have gotten better every single season they have been in the league,” Presti said. “I really don’t have a concern that they will continue to, but there’s no question, Victor, Steven, those guys have to get better for us to continue to get where we want to go, and I think they are going to work to get to that point.”

Presti has prevailed in a large majority of trades he’s made, except the one everybody remembers, when he cast off Harden five years ago in a deal he didn’t want to make but deemed necessary because of oncoming luxury-tax penalties and the Beard’s ambitions. The next season Oklahoma City still won 60 games. “I put my trust in Sam,” Westbrook says, “and he always makes sure we have a chance.” Presti’s history of unearthing gems—he drafted Ibaka and Reggie Jackson at No. 24, Adams at No. 12—inspires faith that he can eventually dig out another. “You know how long my interview was for this job?” asks second-year coach Billy Donovan. “Ten hours. Sam is going to turn over every rock, flip it around and study it from every angle. You take comfort in that level of preparation.”

“Are you sustainable right now?” Donnie Strack asks Presti, because exercise, meditation and a stringent diet don’t ensure anything. “I’ve read the stories about Urban Meyer,” says Strack, Oklahoma City’s director of medical services, in reference to Ohio State’s hard-driving football coach. “That’s what Sam used to be like. Twenty-four hours a day. Maniacal.” In addition to the PowerPoint presentations and scouting dossiers, Presti held individual exit interviews with everybody in the organization and filled pages of a journal late at night, sometimes by the light of the memorial. He constructed a buttoned-down franchise that embodied the order he lacked as a kid, lawn at the facility meticulously mowed, labels on organic juice bottles forever facing out. “I like dealing with Oklahoma City,” says one prominent agent, “because it’s no-nonsense. It’s corporate.” You just have to decipher the Silicon Valley lexicon, deploying a “challenger spirit” instead of a “scarcity mind-set.”

Speaking after Golden State’s Monday morning shootaround in OKC, Steve Kerr disputed the report. “I don’t agree,” Kerr said. “(Thunder GM) Sam Presti’s a friend of mine. I know (Thunder owner) Clay Bennett. It’s a class organization all the way, so I don’t really pay any attention to a story like that unless there’s an actual name name that’s put on it. I assume it’s just sources. Is it ‘sources’? I don’t know who that is. It’s nobody with the Warriors. We have great respect for them. Sam’s been a friend of mine forever. They’re first-class, so I don’t know where that comes from.”

Presti is calculating in every move. He is one of the league’s more astute and prepared general managers. He will have the Thunder competitive and improving, but the question is whether this smaller market can keep its best players. “Those of you have been around us with the eight years we’ve been here, we’ve never been impulsive, we’ve never been reactionary, we’ve never been careless with putting this franchise in the best positive position to be healthy and be competitive,” Presti said. “We wouldn’t change that right now. We’ll be intelligent with how we go forward. Although the organization will be different without Kevin, the principles he helped establish.”
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