July 4th, 2016 and the Rise of Sam Presti
"A day that will live in infamy." That's how most Thunder fans view July 4th, 2016.
"It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career." Those were the worlds that Kevin Durant wrote in the Players Tribune as he was spurning Oklahoma City for the 73-Win Golden State Warriors.
As fans and media, we acted predictably, calling Durant at "traitor" burning jerseys, and forcing the owners of his restaurant to change the name. You can't blame us; we had just lost our first love, to the prom king, but the one person who rose above all the petty nonsense was the one who had the most to lose, Sam Presti.
Facing reporters just hours after Durant's decision dressed in sweater more appropriate for late fall vs. the 93 degrees it was in Central Oklahoma that day, Presti was asked how the state should feel about Durant. "They should feel thankful, grateful. They should not -- I can't tell them not to be disappointed, but the one thing I would also say is the city should be incredibly proud of what they've helped create for the Thunder."... "It's not possible without that."
"They need to carry that on."..."They need to carry on the spirit and the fight and the grit because that was here before the Thunder."... "That was here before the Thunder, that spirit, that ability to continue to press forward."... "That's in the water here."
Part high school coach whose team just lost the state championship, part civil servent trying to keep rioting from happening in Downton streets, give Presti credit for not going Dan Gilbert at that moment. On the one hand, he's paid a hefty salary to deal with high-pressure situations on the other his must have been spinning.
He just lost the man that was going to make his organization a dynasty, and yet he remained measured in his tone and comments. If we were ever going to see Presti crack, it would have been then, while we thought Russell Westbrook was taking over the Thunder, after all, he would be a free agent a year later, what we were seeing is that Presti was firmly in control.
Any doubts about Presti's ability to handle superstars' temperamental natures' were erased when he raked the Clippers in the Paul George trade. Presti could have orchestrated a deal from the point of weakness and not gotten the five first-round picks he did.
Instead of merely giving into George's demand, Presti ceased on the chance to alter his franchise. "I wouldn't say that we were going to appease the request simply because it was made, but more than anything, it was because of the fact that we were able to get the return that we did, which then allowed us to accommodate what he was looking for, as well."
This brings us to where we are now, and over the next few years, though more trades and draft picks, we will see Presti rebuild the Thunder in his image. July 4th, 2016 wasn't the end of the Kevin Durant era in Oklahoma City; it was the cementing of what the Thunder has been since 2007 (when he was named GM of the Sonics) Presti's organization.
As long as he is in charge, Oklahoma City will operate in a controlled manner that will leave the overreaction to us. At times he's not the GM we want (James Harden trade) but considering, the NBA is about to go into choppy uncharted waters, he's the GM Clay Bennett needs.
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