Sam Presti spoke at length Sunday about his chief goal as the general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's one that hasn't changed in the franchise's four years of existence.
At a press conference announcing guard Russell Westbrook's contract extension, however, Presti offered a reminder that his main mission has been to build a team that, above all, has long term sustainability.
“Nothing really changes in terms of what our vision for this organization is,” Presti said. “This is just another step in that direction.”
Consider it the third of a five-step program.
Step one was inking Kevin Durant to a long-term deal.
Step two was acquiring and extending the contract of Kendrick Perkins.
Now comes the most critical part of the process.
Steps four and five will be re-signing James Harden and Serge Ibaka. They're now the most critical cogs to the franchise's ability to sustain success.
Many have wondered over the past two seasons how the Thunder could possibly retain its core, which quickly became cluttered with talented parts. But the picture finally is beginning to crystallize. And in between pre-written paragraphs praising Westbrook, Presti on Sunday provided the most telling answer as to how it will be done.
“Days like today are made possible because of our owner, Clay Bennett, who's shown unwavering support in our efforts to build and sustain an elite basketball organization,” Presti said. “We're fortunate to have an owner as committed as Mr. Bennett is.”
Translation: Bennett is prepared to dig deep. He and his partners who make up the Professional Basketball Club, LLC are primed to back up the Brinks truck to two more houses if need be and do what it takes to continue to compete.
That would mean this Thunder team could soon be headed into luxury tax territory. But when that day comes, it will be viewed as a justifiable business expense because the building blocks that have been put in place have been model pieces.
A major part of the organization's vision has been to identify and insert certain types of player. The front office has aimed to bring in players who can grow together, players who are hard workers and have high character and a commitment to winning and community. That's precisely what the current core embodies, and the brain trust appears ready to ensure it remains intact.
Though he declined to take credit for it, Westbrook had a direct hand in helping the franchise complete that objective. The explosive All-Star could have held out for a larger contract. Had he been selected to a second All-NBA Team this season, he could have demanded the “super max” contract that pays players whose performance exceed their rookie scale contracts 30 percent of the salary cap. Instead, Westbrook signed now and showed he is content with the regular maximum of 25 percent of the salary cap, roughly $80 million over five seasons.
To average Americans, that's no big sacrifice. To pro ballplayers, it's a difference of about $15 million. And to the Thunder, it could be the difference of whether Harden or Ibaka, or both, stay or go.
“That wasn't my objective,” Westbrook said. “My objective was to find a spot where I'm happy and where I have an opportunity to win championships.”
What about Ibaka and Harden?
“Sam and them guys will find a way to figure things out,” Westbrook said. “I'm not sure how that's going to work. But I know now we have a great team and hopefully we can keep everybody together.”