NBA Rumor: Thunder Front Office

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Celtics considered pursuing Sam Presti

Before hiring Stevens, league sources say Celtics ownership considered other internal candidates and even pondered pursuing Sam Presti, a Massachusetts native who has run the Thunder since they were still the Sonics. Presti is a proven front-office boss who steered a small-market team to great success through savvy acquisitions and wise draft picks. Stevens has no front-office experience, and has been in the NBA since only 2013, when the Celtics plucked him from Butler.

Why was this the right time to go all-in on the future rather than running things back with virtually the same roster? Presti: At times in any of our lives, we can tend to make decisions based on what we prefer as opposed to what’s best. We couldn’t afford to do that given the system we operate in and our goal for sustainable high performance. When you step back and take a clear-eyed, rational view of the season we had last year, and all of the randomness that occurred in our favor, the loss of future value we would be relinquishing for a small probability of replicating those performances, it was clear that the most objective path was to prioritize the future. That’s without factoring in how a healthy Warriors, Blazers, or Pelicans team affects the competitive landscape around us. It wasn’t an easy decision, but serving the long-term interests of the organization was necessary after what has been a decade plus run of high performance.

As previously reported, Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf is doing due diligence on multiple candidates and multiple options. He’s seeking feedback from a wide variety of sources on a wide variety of candidates. Surely, the Bulls are performing due diligence on big names like Presti and Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Talk around the league is that the Raptors wouldn’t let Ujiri go but that Presti is so close with Thunder owner Clay Bennett that Bennett would let his friend pursue other opportunities if Presti wanted.

The title bump may have looked ordinary, but it is a highly visible marker of a growing trend — as Silicon Valley types have flooded NBA ownership ranks, front offices have adopted their ranking hierarchy with no consistency among organizations. A handful of positions are a major departure for the sport: The Oklahoma City Thunder, for instance, has vice presidents of “insight & foresight” and “identification & intelligence,” while former sportswriter Lee Jenkins serves as the Los Angeles Clippers’ “executive director of research and identity.”

But now, free agency is irrelevant to the Thunder. They can either keep the vast majority of the picks and use the draft to replenish for the long haul, or they can bundle multiple firsts to get anyone who has given off the slightest whiff of unhappiness wherever they currently play. Or, if they sell off their remaining high-salaried players, the Thunder can be a conduit for just about anyone needing a third team to facilitate a deal. And that would likely bring in even more picks down the line. “They know they will never attract free agents,” one head coach said. “They will have to do it exactly that way.”

Thunder general manager Sam Presti is almost always a major player at the trade deadline, and he has indeed been active in looking for a fix ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET buzzer, according to multiple league sources. As one executive put it: Presti knows that he needs to maximize his core of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. Both George and Anthony can be free agents this summer. George will almost certainly opt out of the final year of his contract, and the anxiety surrounding the idea that he will go home to Los Angeles will begin to set in.
3 years ago via ESPN

The growing expectation is the Thunder make a move by Thursday’s deadline, because there’s just too much riding on this season to not. The chain reaction of Roberson’s injury could have a lasting effect on the Thunder if their season goes bust just when it seemed on the verge of finally booming. The uncertainty around the roster is well-documented, but nothing recruits better than success. Roberson wasn’t the key to that by any stretch, but he was unquestionably a part of it.

The Thunder’s front office put a plan in place in July 2016 to answer one simple question: How do they go from the middle back to the upper tier again, without bottoming out? They identified stars to pair with Westbrook, the more available the better, and George was as the top of the list. “He’s done an amazing job. He’s done a great job ever since I’ve been here,” Westbrook said of Presti. “He’s finding ways to constantly keep making us a better team. … You definitely are very, very thankful to have somebody like that in charge of making those decisions.”
4 years ago via ESPN

Whether this trio works out, the Thunder’s front office put a plan in place in July 2016 to answer one simple question: How do they go from the middle back to the upper tier again, without bottoming out? They identified stars to pair with Westbrook, the more available the better, and George was as the top of the list. “He’s done an amazing job. He’s done a great job ever since I’ve been here,” Russell Westbrook said of Thunder GM Sam Presti. “He’s finding ways to constantly keep making us a better team. You know … you definitely are very, very thankful to have somebody like that in charge of making those decisions.”

“Those people really mean a lot to me to this day,” Kevin Durant says. “No matter if they talk to me or they’re mad at me. Whether it’s Sam Presti or Troy Weaver or Russell Westbrook or Nick Collison. Whether it’s Wilson Taylor or Clay Bennett and his family, I love them from the bottom of my heart. We’re not talking, but eventually we will. “I didn’t have that perspective at first. I didn’t have it when I went back to OKC. I was like, ‘F–k all of them.’ I didn’t have it when they gave my number away. I was, ‘F–k all of them.’ My best friend works for the team, I told him, ‘F–k all y’all. That’s f–ked up.’ Then I had to get out of my head, tell myself, ‘It’s not that serious, it is what it is.’ I understand it’s not my number anymore, they can do whatever they want with it, but you hand that number to a two-way player, you’ve got to be, like, ‘Nah, we’ve got too many good memories with this number, man.’ But at some point, that thing’s going to be in the rafters anyway; it’s all good. I did something they didn’t like. They did something I didn’t like. S–t happens. If I was on my death bed, I guarantee you Sam Presti and Russell Westbrook would come check on me. So I’m going to look at it that way rather than the other way.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder named Rob Hennigan as Vice President of Insight & Foresight and promoted Will Dawkins to Vice President of Identification & Intelligence, it was announced today by Executive Vice President & General Manager Sam Presti. In his role, Hennigan will oversee key functions that include Strategic Planning, Data Science & Solutions and Information Management & Counsel. Dawkins will lead the Thunder’s Amateur Evaluation and oversee the Pro Evaluation function.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Rob back to the Thunder. He was here in the earliest stages of the organization in 2008 as we built the foundation for the Thunder that we are continuing to build from as we enter our 10th season in Oklahoma City,” said Presti. “Will has proven to be a true, organic, rising talent within our organization having held several roles and now moving into a vice president and pillar lead position within our executive management team.”

The source says George has been impressed by the culture of the Thunder and how meticulous general manager Sam Presti and the organization are in building the roster and the franchise. George was impressed that the front office “had the (guts),” in the source’s words, to put everything on the line in getting him, and followed it up by getting Anthony without giving up any of the team’s core group. (The Thunder showed who it thought was more important to the team by re-signing defensive hound/offensive liability Andre Roberson for $30 million over three years, while including the offensively potent but defensively sieve-like Enes Kanter in the Anthony trade.)
4 years ago via ESPN

Thunder general manager Sam Presti and Knicks GM Scott Perry had been talking on and off about a possible deal for weeks. Talks intensified in the 24 hours before Saturday’s agreement, league sources said. As training camp loomed next week, Perry increasingly wanted no part of the circus that awaited his franchise with media day and Anthony’s arrival both on Monday. Around the organization and Anthony, there was a belief that the unresolved saga would become a suffocating daily issue. Perry started to feel the urgency of making a deal on Friday, and engaged Oklahoma City in more serious dialogue, league sources said.

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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