Sam Presti runs the Thunder. Mike Brown coaches the Lakers. Tony Parker quarterbacks the Spurs. Once, they were tied together in San Antonio.
When Brown came through town last week with the Lakers, he told the story of how Parker came to the Spurs. We know that the San Antonio brass long as credited Presti with finding Parker as a draft jewel. Brown endorsed the story.
In 2001, Parker was a 19-year-old Frenchman who was not high on the draft radar. Presti was a 25-year-old Spurs intern. Brown was a 31-year-old Spurs assistant coach.
“He used to be into music,” Brown said of Presti, an accomplished drummer. “I don’t know if he is now, but he used to make me music CDs. I listen to all types of music. I like the jazz, smooth, mellow type. He turned me on to that a little bit. He’s a good guy. He worked extremely hard. You could tell he was bright.”
Brown said Presti indeed is the one who pushed for the Spurs to consider Parker. The Spurs agreed to work out Parker in a pre-draft camp in Chicago. Brown and Lance Blanks, now the Phoenix Suns general manager, were on the court with Parker.
“We worked him out and he was terrible,” Brown said. “We walked away as coaches like, ‘Man, we’re wasting our time.’ We told Tony that he needed to develop a medium game because he was quick. He couldn’t really shoot the ball and all he could really do was get to the rim, but against 7-footers that’s going to be hard to do all the time. We were done with him after that and Sam and R.C. (Buford, Spurs GM) convinced us to bring him back for a second workout in San Antonio.”
That day, the Spur staff saw what the NBA has seen for a decade. “His floater game was off the charts,” Brown said. “From that point on, everybody was praying, going to church, hoping he fell to us.”
The Spurs picked 28th overall. That was a heck of a draft, by the way. Kwame Brown was a bust at No. 1 overall, and Eddy Curry wasn’t much better at No. 4.
But Tyson Chandler went No. 2, Pau Gasol No. 3, Jason Richardson No. 5, Shane Battier No. 6, Joe Johnson No. 10, Vladimir Radmanovic No. 12, Richardson Jefferson No. 13, Troy Murphy No. 14, Zach Randolph No. 19, Brendan Haywood No. 20, Gerald Wallace No. 25, Samuel Dalembert No. 26 and Jamaal Tinsley No. 27.
Good ballplayers still awaited in the second round. Gilbert Arenas went No. 30, Mehmet Okur No. 37, Earl Watson No. 39 and Bobby Simmons No. 41. But the Spurs had their man. They took Parker at No. 28, and he’s been the point guard on three NBA title teams and made four all-star teams. Basketball-reference.com has a tool called similarity scores, in which it lists the players in history with the most common careers. The players most similar to Parker are Hal Greer, Bob Cousy, Earl Monroe, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Calvin Murphy, Isiah Thomas and Bill Sharman.
So it was a fabulous draft pick and helped stamp Presti as a basketball savant.
“This is a guy who had been in the league a year or two years at the time that it happened,” Brown said of Presti. “”You knew good things were going to happen to him.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s done to put this (Thunder) team together. He put it together in a way that I think most GMs around the league envision trying to put a team that’s not that good together, by being cost effective and getting young guys and mixing them with some older guys that are in their prime. Not necessarily guys that are on their way out, but guys that can still play and have a few years to help mentor the young guys that you’ve brought in and just creating a culture of winning. So, you give him a lot of credit.”