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.
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.