By: Sam Agnitsch
“When we arrived in Oklahoma in 2008 we did so with a vision to ultimately build, enhance and sustain a team, while also constructing an organization that had the endurance to accept the various cycles and challenges that exists in professional sports.”
That was Thunder General Manager Sam Presti shortly after the infamous James Harden trade in 2013. Laying out the consistent and unwavering blueprint he envisioned for the Thunder. Not just to take the next step as NBA elites but creating a system for our small market Thunderers to stay in the spotlight once they got there. No easy task for the nation’s 45th largest T.V. market, devoid of the lucrative T.V. deals and revenue streams normally seen in the L.A.’s and NYC’s of the world. Mr. Presti knew quite well to create sustained success in our folksy corner of the Midwest it would take building through the draft, shrewd cap maneuvering and above all… balls. It’s one thing to talk the talk but trading the best shooting guard in the league for a handful of draft picks, a young Jeremy Lamb and a stop gap solution in Kevin Martin shows you everything you need to know about Presti’s belief in his vision. Rather than risking the luxury tax and endangering roster flexibility by overpaying the mercurial guard, Sam stuck to his guns and sent Harden packing much to the chagrin of critics both local and national. It’s important to make this distinction because it’s the reason our beloved Thunder are currently one game away from returning to the finals. It’s the reason we have the deepest roster in the league and it’s also the reason the trade is still paying off.
In what is perhaps the last unknown vestige of the Harden trade, besides Steven Adams seemingly limitless ceiling, is the 2013 32nd overall pick. That pick later became Spanish draft and stash project Alex Abrines. For those unfamiliar, Abrines is a 22-year-old, 6’6 smooth shooting guard currently playing for European powers F.C. Barcelona. He was the winner of the Euroleague Rising Star Award this season after averaging 9.5 points per game and shooting 44.7 % from three off the bench. He beat out Sixers lottery pick Dario Saric and added his name to a list that includes the likes of Ricky Rubio and Danilo Gallinari. There is still speculation as to whether or not Abrines will ever make the transition to the NBA, as he is signed on through the 2019 season with Barcelona. However, his contract does include an NBA buyout clause. Also considering Presti brought him over to tour the facilities last summer and he was seen taking in summer league games with Presti as well as Coach Billy Donovan, it’s safe to say the Thunder have considerable interest in bringing over the highly skilled shooter sooner rather than later. Thus adding yet another potential young piece in this ever growing Thunder arsenal. Even if Abrines never plays a minute at the ‘Peake, he brings value via trade, which lord knows what the Thunder brass could reap from. We saw how another draft and stash prospect, and basketball mannequin, Tibor Pleiss allowed us to bring in Kanter last year, in what is increasingly becoming a very lopsided trade.
In the brief 8-year history of Thunder basketball in the plains, Sam Presti has built up a war chest which has become the envy of almost every GM in the league. So much talent, there isn’t even enough roster spots and that is exactly the point. Banking on the collective rather than the selective of the roster. The process, value, high character and intrinsic ability have been a lot more than just boring Prestisms, this guy really believes in it. He also has the balls to execute it.