Another trade deadline passed on Thursday, and Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti procured more draft picks.
Over the past few seasons, Presti has accumulated 34 draft picks – 18 first-rounder and 16 second-rounders through 2027.
Presti is more active than a floor trader on a stock exchange.
Two summers ago, Presti began trading All-Stars. First, it was Paul George, then Russell Westbrook. The following year in 2020, he traded Chris Paul.
Those three trades yielded eight first-round picks. And Presti has picked up more first rounders in deals with other teams, including New Orleans, Denver, Golden State and Philadelphia.
The Thunder are apparently pleased with their stockpile of draft picks. In their gameday notes for the media, there’s a section titled “Draft Horse,” which says, “After executing an NBA record 11 trades with 15 other NBA teams during the 2020 offseason and more prior to the trade deadline, the Thunder now holds 18 first-round draft picks over the next seven years in addition to 16 second-round picks.”
The Thunder then list their first-round picks year-by-year.
Thunder GM Sam Presti has a history of building a team through the draft. Over a three-year span, he drafted James Harden (13), Kevin Durant (35) and Russell Westbrook, three former league MVPs.
Some of those draft picks have protections, meaning if they fall in certain range (say top six or top 14 picks), the pick may not convey and it might turn into a second-rounder. But Presti knows how to deal, and unless something drastic happens to Denver, Miami and Phoenix over the next few seasons, the Thunder will have nine first-round selections in the next three drafts.
What does this mean for Oklahoma City?
It gives the Thunder a chance to build a sustainable winner, mainly through the draft but with enough assets to add quality players through trades, too.
It’s the draft that should excite Thunder fans.
While not as brazen as former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie’s “Process,” the idea is similar: Obtain as many first-round picks as possible, preferably lottery picks, and try to draft transformational players.
No team hits on every draft pick. But the more lottery picks a team has, the better chance there is of drafting that player.
For every Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, there are double the misses.
But all you need are players like Embiid and Simmons and assets to trade for a Tobias Harris. Then teams can build around that with other draft picks, trades and free agency. But the Thunder are smart enough to know free agency will only nab a handful of players in that market.
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In Oklahoma City and other markets (see what Orlando and Detroit are doing and what Denver and Utah have done), this is the way to build a team that can win for a decade and possibly compete for a championship. The Thunder and Presti already did it once.
It’s not a novel approach. Build with talented young players and grow. The Los Angeles Lakers were trying it with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. But LeBron James decided to sign with the Lakers, and they traded Ingram, Ball and Hart for Anthony Davis.
Now, New Orleans has those young players, plus Zion Williamson. Memphis is doing the same. Utah and Denver drafted their stars.
It’s the plight of small-market teams. They know it’s improbable to sign a LeBron James, a Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Kevin Durant, a James Harden, a Russell Westbrook in free agency in their primes. Growing from within is often the only viable option. Some of those draft picks can be used for leverage in trades to add complementary players to drafted stars.
Presti is a skilled evaluator with a great history. He drafted Durant, Westbrook and Harden and from 2010 through last season, the Thunder reached the playoffs in 10 of 11 seasons – all them winning seasons, including seven seasons with a winning percentage above .600. They reached the Finals once and the Western Conference finals four times.
Because of draft picks like Kevin Durant (35), Oklahoma City advanced to the 2012 NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
There is no championship, but that’s a lot of winning and a decade of relevance for the small-market Thunder.
Presti’s track record gives Thunder fans optimism and reason to be patient. No fan base likes losing seasons, but short-term struggles are forgiven for long-term winning.
Of course, there’s no guarantee this works for any team. But Presti’s record indicates it’s more possible than not.
Even for a franchise that wants more lottery picks, Presti still put together a competitive team that at 19-27 would be in the playoff race in the East. As it is, the Thunder are just 3½ games from the play-in scenario in the West.
It’s not normal to think in these terms (GMs do though), but in 8-10 years, the Thunder have a great chance to have a great team. Those three first-rounders Oklahoma City have in 2026? In all likelihood, they’re not even in high school yet.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GM who drafted Durant, Harden and Westbrook has 18 first-round picks
Published: 2021-03-30 12:05:31
Tags: #drafted #Durant #Harden #Westbrook #firstround #picks #years