Serge Ibaka, Sam Presti

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

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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.

Glenn Robinson III does his best to salvage Dunk Contest, gets victory in process

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NEW ORLEANS — This year’s NBA All-Star Dunk Contest was doomed to disappoint, it was never going to match last year’s epic battle. It started in a hole.

It never climbed out. Don’t take my word for it, check out what JaVale McGee thought.

Saturday was an underwhelming night of dunks punctuated by a couple of moments of brilliance.

The Pacers’ Glenn Robinson III had the most of those moments — which is why he won the event. His strong night started with his first dunk, which may well have been the best of the contest.

The final one from Robinson, the one that sealed the victory, may be the other best dunk of the competition — dunking over Paul George, the Pacers mascot, and a Pacers dancer.

“I originally planned for it just to be PG (Paul George),” Robinson said afterward. “I knew I had to bring out something special. We added the mascot and the cheerleader. I really just wanted to get up high and dunk that thing hard, man. My adrenaline was going. It felt like I was looking at the rim. All I knew was the crowd go crazy. I pointed like this because, man, everybody seemed to sleep on me, didn’t really think I was going to win this thing.”

Event favorite Aaron Gordon, who should have won a year ago, opened the contest with an innovative idea — a drone dunk — but he couldn’t execute it and there were a few attempts before he nailed it.

Gordon didn’t advance out of the first round, and his first dunk summed up the 2017 Dunk Contest — interesting ideas that didn’t quite pan out like planned. (To be fair, Gordon has been battling injuries recently, that may have thrown him off).

If it wasn’t going to be Gordon, a lot of people expected it to be the bouncy Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. who won, and he reached the Finals in part thanks to this spectacular dunk that woke the Smoothie King Center up.

DeAndre Jordan was okay, but without Chris Paul throwing him lobs it didn’t quite feel the same. Jordan can dunk with such power in game, but we didn’t see that Saturday.

In the end, it was Gordon who was making the plays.

“I’m not really a known dunker,” Robinson said. “I practiced. I prepared. I know I’m a jumper. And like I said, I’m a guy that stays out of the way. But when it’s time to shine, that’s my thing. That’s what I wanted to do. I knew all along I had some things planned, and I just wanted to show the world.”

Glenn Robinson III wins underwhelming dunk contest on over-people, below-rim dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — Glenn Robinson III won the dunk contest with the second-best dunk of the night, going over a few people and under the rim — a narrow path to slamming victory.

It would’ve rated as the event’s best dunk if he were truly under the rim rather than somewhat in front of it. And he did have the best body of work to win the contest.

But the best single dunk was still by runner-up Derrick Jones Jr., who went between the legs on a pass off the side of the backboard.

NBA stars shoot threes to raise $500,000 for Sager Strong Foundation in touching moment

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NEW ORLEANS — The spirit of Craig Sager is strong during All-Star weekend in The Big Easy and he’s going to get a spot in the Hall of Fame, deservedly so.

After Eric Gordon won the Three-Point Contest, he and the other finalists Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker stayed on the court to shoot threes to raise money for the Sager Strong Foundation — they would shoot threes for a minute and for each make the foundation would get $10,000. Then they brought out help — Reggie Miller, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, DJ Khaled, and others to knock down shots. That raised $130,000.

Stephen Curry tried to push that to $500,000, but it was Sager’s son that actually did it (with an assist from Shaquille O’Neal).

It was a touching moment for a great cause.

Derrick Jones Jr. catches pass off side of backboard, jams between-legs dunk (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — With defending runner-up Aaron Gordon eliminated in the first round, Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr. might be our best hope to save the dunk contest.