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NBA in OKC: Presti makes decisions for the long haul

By Darnell Mayberry Published: August 10, 2008
Sam Presti's plan is one that can easily be lost in translation.

When the general manager of Oklahoma City's NBA franchise talks about how he wants to rebuild his roster, he uses words like methodical and meticulous, flexibility and sustainability, development and discipline.

But there's meaning behind each of Presti's sometimes mystifying words. And it's important to understand Presti's language because every move he has made to this point — and each one he'll make from here on — will link back to that terminology.

Presti's No. 1 goal is to build a roster that one day consistently competes for championships.

He isn't likely to make many decisions aimed at addressing the short term.

Most every transaction is made with the future in mind.

It's a philosophy that sometimes will appear to be a one-step-backward-two-step-forward approach.

But it's one Presti and his staff can live with so long as the franchise creeps closer to consistent championship contender.

"Everyone has gone through a period where they've got a transition with their team,” Presti said on July 10. "And when that comes about there's a way that you can do it and try to overhaul it really quickly, or you can try to build in a way that allows it to grow and sustain over time.

"We're choosing to not skip the steps so that we can grow and sustain it over time.”

To understand which direction Presti is headed with the roster he's brought to Oklahoma City, you have to understand his rationale behind the moves he made in Seattle that began shaping this team.

Presti shook the NBA world less than three weeks after his hire when he traded franchise guard Ray Allen to Boston in a draft-night deal for guard Delonte West, forward Wally Szczberiak and that year's No. 5 overall pick, which Presti used to select Jeff Green. Less than two weeks later, Presti parted ways with the team's second-best player, forward Rashard Lewis, sending him to Orlando in a sign-and-trade deal that paid Lewis $118 million over the next six seasons.

Many outsiders not-so-quietly charged Seattle executives with cutting costs under the new ownership group and aiming to sabotage fan interest in preparation for a move to Oklahoma City.

Instead, the two bold moves were the start of Presti's rebuilding plan.

At the time, Allen was weeks away from his 32nd birthday, old and entering a declining stage by NBA standards. He was coming off ankle injuries that limited him to 55 games that season and was due $52 million over the next three years.

Despite averaging a career-high 26.4 points the previous season, he did little to help the team win. Only once in Allen's full four seasons in Seattle did the Sonics finish with more than 37 wins and make the playoffs, this despite Allen and Lewis each averaging 20-plus points in their final three seasons together.

Presti had studied the team's stagnant ways and decided a change was needed.

By dealing Allen and Lewis, Presti avoided putting the franchise in a long-term salary cap jam. Allen and Lewis would have eaten up nearly $35 million in cap space this coming season, a hefty price tag for two players who weren't leading Seattle to the playoffs.

They would have tied up nearly $38 million in 2009-10, making it even harder if not impossible for Presti to add complementary pieces.

And so Presti decided to turn coveted players into value.

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Sam Presti


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