The Thunder again pays the price Thursday night for NBA success. It picks late in the draft.
The days of cushy draft slots for Sam Presti are long gone. Barring trade, the Thunder chooses 28th, where if you're lucky you can get a Tony Parker (2001, Spurs), and if you're not, you're stuck with a Priest Lauderdale (1996, Hawks).
Lauderdale was a 7-foot-4 prospect out of Central State-Ohio, and that's exactly how long Lauderdale played in the NBA: 74 games.
So yeah, the draft is a little bit roulette. But even picking 28th, or worse, you can get some things accomplished.
Presti himself is given credit for the Spurs taking a flier on Parker. Presti, then a Spurs peon, urged the Gregg Popovich brain trust to take another look at the French maestro. Now Parker is Hall of Fame bound.
And with the Thunder, Presti has turned stone soup into pumpkin pie.
“We've always valued the draft, because we look at it as a way to improve,” said Presti, about to conduct his sixth draft as general manager of the Thunder/Sonics.
In the second round or this late in the first, Presti said: “The odds are clearly not in your favor. But we value all draft picks. You're just trying to shift the odds … trying to find someone that fits your organization, that fits your ideals going forward.”
Sometimes, you swing away and take your chances. Which is how the Thunder ended up with Serge Ibaka, taken 24th overall in 2008. And sometimes you play card shark and swindle the saps at your table. Which is how the Thunder ended up with, Serge Ibaka.
The Thunder had that 24th pick in 2008 because Presti traded for it — he took on Kurt Thomas' contract with the Phoenix Suns and in return only had to ship out a second-round 2009 draft pick.
Presti has made all kinds of deals like that to build the Thunder roster. We all focus on the successive lottery picks of Kevin Durant (second), Russell Westbrook (fourth) and James Harden (third), but much of the rest of the NBA Finals roster was built through late first-round or second-round picks.